A lockdown in Hamilton could create more “openness” and more infections in Niagara Region should residents from the locked-down city region-hop to avoid limits at shops, restaurants and general attractions.
Acting medical officer of health Mustafa Hirji said putting just Hamilton in the grey-lockdown level of the province’s COVID-19 response framework may entice Hamiltonians to make the jump to Niagara or Halton for the upcoming long weekend.
“You know, I feel this is a bit of a rock and a hard place,” Hirji said in an update on Monday.
“So you put Hamilton in a lockdown that’ll hopefully help reduce their cases, but it’s going to perhaps lead to more of their residents traveling to Niagara.”
Hamilton entered the grey-lockdown level of the province’s reopening framework on Monday, which essentially discourages residents to leave home unless it’s for essential reasons, such as work, school, groceries, exercise, caring for vulnerable people, etc.
The move came when Hamilton’s medical officer Dr. Elizabeth Richardson admitted the city was at “a critical point” in terms of current control measures and in epidemiological numbers, which she said supported a move into grey.
Hamilton’s cases per 100,000 population have been hovering around 100 for the past month, a benchmark the city has considered a breaking point in remaining in the red-control framework.
With cases rising in both Niagara and Hamilton, the two top docs are proponents of a much larger lockdown that might encompass the entire Golden Horseshoe from Greater Toronto Area down to Niagara Falls.
Hirji says the higher level of restrictions are needed across the regions since select lockdowns don’t really keep cases under control.
“Hamilton went into that grey-lockdown back in December, it didn’t slow their growth of cases,” said Hirji.
“Toronto were in a grey lockdown in November. It wasn’t stopping their cases going up. They’re in lockdown right now. It’s not stopping their cases going up.”
Niagara reports 65 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday
Niagara public health reported 65 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and another bump in active cases.
Since Feb. 25, Niagara’s active cases have jumped over 300 per cent to 523 as of March 30. St. Catharines and Welland have the most at 130 and 100 cases, respectively.
The region added 22 new variant cases on Tuesday for a total of 296.
Eight have been identified as the B.1.1.7 variant. There are no confirmed cases for any of the other subtypes of the coronavirus.
Public health says there are 25 active outbreaks in the region.
The latest of significance is the surge at Brock University, where an outbreak declared on Friday has grown to 31 cases among students.
Niagara’s medical officer Dr. Hirji says the outbreak also involves a large number of people beyond those infected.
“It’s a quite a large number of people, I think, where high double digits, if not into the triple digits of persons who needed to be isolated as part of this outbreak and we’re continuing to monitor them going forward,” Hirji said.
The region has three minor outbreaks at retirement homes in Welland, Lincoln and Fort Erie. There’s also a surge at the Woodlands of Sunset nursing home also characterized as small, according to Hirji.
He attributes a significant decrease in infections at homes over the past month to the region’s vaccination program which has seen a good portion of populations at long term care and retirement homes vaccinated.
“Fortunately, one of those infections appears, and it really just seems to fizzle,” said Hirji.
“I think, a really strong indication of how great the vaccine is. It’s really protecting a lot of lives as a result of us being able to get those residents vaccinated.”
Niagara reported that close to 68,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered as of Tuesday, with Niagara Health giving out just over 45,000 doses and public health another 23,000.
Public health says about 74 per cent of residents over the age of 80 have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in Niagara. About 39 per cent of people aged 75-79 have received a vaccine while 7 per cent in the 70 to 74 age group have received a vaccine.