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Doctor in Sioux Lookout, Ont., area says spike in COVID-19 cases is a ‘wake up call’

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A small spike in COVID-19 cases in northwestern Ontario Indigenous communities is a “wake-up call” for the area, a public health physician said Saturday as the province reported 2,063 new cases of the illness and 73 more deaths.

Dr. John Guilfoyle with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority said Saturday that eight total active cases recently detected across five First Nations communities — Poplar Hill, Webequie, Pikangikum, Lac Seul and Nibinamik — appear to have been contained, according to contact tracing and testing so far.

Guilfoyle described the containment as good news, but said the situation is a reminder that taking precautions is more important than ever, especially given that cases were reported in four communities in a single day this week.

Read more: First COVID 19 vaccines administered in Sioux Lookout, Ont., long term care home

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“This is really a wake-up call that the virus is close to our communities,” Guilfoyle said in a Saturday video update.

“To get cases in four communities in one day is absolutely new, and this is a pattern we don’t want to see repeated.”

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He reminded people to stick to essential travel and continue following public health guidance by physically distancing from one another, wearing masks and staying within social bubbles. He noted such measures are more important than ever as a new and potentially more infections virus variant emerges in the province.

The variant known as B.1.1.7 that first emerged in the U.K. last year has been detected in health units across the province since it was first discovered in the Toronto area just over a month ago. Provincial health officials have said current research suggests the new strain is more infectious and potentially causes more severe illness.

As of Saturday, the province had confirmed 57 cases of the U.K. variant, with cases reported in new regions including Halton and Waterloo.

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Public health officials in the Kingston, Ont., and Barrie, Ont., areas have said they suspect the actual number of U.K. variant cases is higher than the confirmed total.

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In Barrie, an outbreak driven by the variant that began in a long-term care home has since infected well over 200 people. The region’s top doctor said this week he’s confident every case in the outbreak is the U.K. strain.

Ontario reported a provincewide total of 2,063 additional cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, and 73 more deaths linked to the virus.

Of 1,273 people hospitalized as of Saturday, the province said 353 patients were in intensive care and 216 were on ventilators.

The province reported 9,373 COVID-19 vaccine doses administered Friday, for a total of 336,828 across the province.

Guilfoyle also spoke to the importance of inoculations on Saturday, as the Sioux Lookout area prepares to roll out vaccine deliveries in several communities next week.

“The vaccination is key, it will protect you,” he said. “It is a lot better to get the vaccine than it is to get COVID.”

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