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Simcoe Muskoka hospital officials sound alarm about rising COVID-19 levels

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Hospital chiefs of staff in North Simcoe Muskoka wrote a joint letter warning about rising COVID-19 levels following the health unit voicing concerns on rapidly growing wastewater signs.

"The level of COVID-19 in the North Simcoe Muskoka region is on the rise," the letter issued Tuesday states.

The physicians point to an increase in the region's positivity rate and hospitalizations.

"Hospitalizations are experiencing record levels of staff and physician absence due to illness and exposure to COVID at home, in schools, and in the community," it reads.

"We are concerned about everyone and the impact on our ability to provide timely care."

Simcoe Muskoka's chief medical officer of health (MOH), Dr. Charles Gardner, held a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, urging residents to continue wearing masks, noting a jump in case counts since the province lifted mandates.

"We have seen elevated case counts," Dr. Gardner said. "The pandemic is not over, and we cannot let our guard down."

The province removed mask mandates in most indoor settings on March 21.

According to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), the region saw a 79 per cent increase in case counts in the first week of April compared to the weeks before mandates were removed.

The SMDHU reports the region's sharp spike outpaced the province's incidence rate at that time.

"The number of cases, outbreaks and hospitalizations we are seeing in Simcoe Muskoka is very concerning," Dr. Gardner noted.

In the letter, the region's seven hospital chiefs of staff and the MOH "highly recommend" four ways to protect against COVID-19 and help slow the spread.

  1. Get vaccinated with all eligible doses;
  2. Limit close contacts;
  3. Wear a mask in indoor public spaces; and
  4. Stay home if sick and get tested with a rapid test at home or, if eligible, a PCR test.

Local health officials encourage limiting Easter weekend gatherings to household members or holding outdoor or virtual gatherings.

"Virtual gatherings or events are still the safest way to celebrate, and if you opt to host or attend a gathering or event, remember that outdoor gatherings are safer than those held indoors," the SMDHU stated.

On Thursday, Premier Doug Ford said he would extend the remaining mask mandates, which require masks in health-care settings, if Ontario's top doctor recommended.

Masking in retirement homes, long-term care homes, hospitals and public transit are set to expire on April 27.

Ontario's top doctor has yet to recommend extending that timeline, only saying he is considering it amid the sixth wave.

Meanwhile, the province's science advisory table's latest modelling points to COVID-19 transmission possibly having peaked, but the experts noted it's uncertain which way the trend will shift.

Ontario's expert group said the modelling suggests hospitalizations and ICU admissions would rise but wouldn't likely hit levels recorded during the previous wave.

With files from The Canadian Press

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