Health officials in London-Middlesex reported 129 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday as the region and province entered the first day of a planned four-week stay-at-home order.
In addition, 32 local cases have screened variant positive, and more pharmacies in London-Middlesex are expected to begin offering the AstraZeneca vaccine soon.
Thursday’s update is the largest single-day case increase the region has seen since Jan. 10 and marks the fifth time this month that a daily increase in the triple digits has been recorded.
It brings the pandemic case tally for London-Middlesex to 7,952, of which 6,770 have resolved, an increase of 83 from the previous day. At least 190 deaths have been reported during the pandemic, most recently on Saturday.
At least 992 cases are considered active in the region.
According to the Middlesex-London Health Unit, London-Middlesex has seen at least 769 cases just since the start of the month.
The region’s seven-day rolling case average stands at 109.8 as of Thursday, up from 66.4 the seven days previous.
The local test positivity rate stood at 5.9 per cent as of the week of March 28 based on 10,313 tests, about the same as the provincial rate. The tally is up from 3.2 a week earlier (9,587 tests) and 1.6 two weeks earlier (9,343 tests).
Of the 129 new cases reported on Thursday, 125 are from London and four are from Middlesex County.
As has been the case for previous days, those infected skew younger, with 82 cases, or roughly 63 per cent, involving people under the age of 30.
At least 40 cases involve people 19 and younger while 42 involve people in their 20s. Twelve cases involve people in their 30s, 14 are in their 40s, nine each are in their 50s and 60s, and three are 80 or older.
Health unit data shows that at least 537 of the region’s 769 cases this month, roughly 67 per cent, have involved people under the age of 30. According to the health unit, people aged 18 to 22 alone were responsible for nearly 50 per cent of cases seen over the last five days.
With local contact tracing efforts hampered by the recent deluge of infections, 123 of the 129 cases reported Thursday have pending or undetermined exposure source data. Four are due to close contact, one has no known link and one is outbreak-related.
At least 498 of the region’s cases have screened positive for one or more spike gene mutations consistent with a variant of concern, an increase of 32 from the previous day.
Another nine have since been confirmed through genomic sequencing to involve the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the U.K. The tally is unchanged. Many other cases are currently undergoing such sequencing.
According to the health unit, people under 30 account for roughly 70 per cent of all cases that have screened variant positive in the region so far during the pandemic
Health unit data shows variant cases have been making up more and more of the region’s caseload. Upwards of 38.4 per cent of cases whose episode date was during the week of March 28 screened variant positive compared to 13.8 per cent the week of March 7.
(The MLHU defines “episode date” as being the earliest date reported for the onset date of symptoms, the date in which the person was tested, or the date the case was reported to public health. In contrast, the “reported date,” which is referenced for daily case numbers, is the date on which MLHU was first notified of the case, regardless of when they became ill or were tested.)
Note for the above graphic:
- According to Public Health Ontario, the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant has been found to have only the N501Y spike gene mutation, while variants B.1.351 and P.1, first detected in South Africa and Brazil, respectively, have been associated with spike gene mutations N501Y, K417N, and E484K.
- As a result, the province is now presuming that any cases that screen positive for just the N501Y mutation involve the B.1.1.7 variant and are not sending them for further genomic sequencing. It’s unclear whether the MLHU plans to add these presumed cases to the ‘confirmed’ tally in the future, despite not undergoing full genomic sequencing.
During Thursday’s media briefing, Dr. Chris Mackie, the region’s medical officer of health, said London-Middlesex is seeing case counts “virtually as high as we’ve ever seen” that are close to the peak seen during the second wave of the pandemic.
“The death count remains very low. Hopefully, that continues. We know that it will increase from the zeros that we’re getting now as we go into this third wave. But we anticipate it will increase a lot less,” Mackie said.
New data from researchers monitoring for the coronavirus in local wastewater suggests case counts in the coming week will likely be equivalent to what was seen at the peak of the pandemic’s second wave.
Mackie was hesitant to offer predictions but did note that case counts Thursday reflect transmission that occurred as much as two weeks prior.
“Even if the lockdown measures work perfectly, we won’t see the effects of that for at least two weeks. So there’s no sense that we’ll be out of this any time in the very short term,” he said.
“The variants of concern being in our community in a big way is the big unknown. Especially with the rapid rise that we’ve seen recently, we could easily see case counts as high as 200 over the next couple of weeks before things turn for the better.”
At least 6,897 cases have been confirmed in the city of London since the pandemic began, while 289 have been in Middlesex Centre.
Elsewhere, 245 cases have been in Strathroy-Caradoc, 103 in Thames Centre, 60 in Lucan Biddulph, 45 in Southwest Middlesex, 44 in North Middlesex, 14 in Adelaide Metcalfe and two in Newbury.
At least 126 cases have pending location information.
Twenty-seven inpatients with COVID-19 were listed as being in the care of London Health Sciences Centre as of Thursday, unchanged from the day before.
Of those, 13 are in critical or intensive care, an increase of one from Wednesday.
Active staff cases within the organization number eight, down one from a day earlier and down two from Tuesday.
During Tuesday’s media briefing, Dr. Adam Dukelow, chief medical officer with LHSC, said that at least five of the people listed in intensive care were under the age of 60, while at least seven had been transferred to LHSC from the GTA and Thunder Bay.
“With climbing hospitalizations across the province, we anticipate receiving more ICU and ward-level patients from other cities this week, as do some of our partner hospitals that surround London,” he said.
Increased admissions at LHSC, both local and from out-of-region, will result in a need for more local ICU beds, likely meaning a decrease in surgical activity in order to staff them, he said.
At St. Joseph’s Health Care London, meantime, no COVID-19 patients were listed in the care of St. Joseph’s Hospital, however several cases are located elsewhere within the organization.
Eight patient cases remain active at Parkwood Institute’s Mental Health Care Building as a result of an ongoing outbreak in the facility’s G2, G5 and H2 units, the organization reported Tuesday in its most recent update.
At least 16 staff cases are active within St. Joseph’s Health Care London, with 11 linked to the Parkwood outbreak.
At least 394 people have been hospitalized in London-Middlesex for COVID-19 during the pandemic, with at least 71 needing intensive care.
No new institutional outbreaks have been declared and three remain active.
The outbreaks are active at Henley Place Long-Term Care Residence in its Victoria Unit and at Parkwood Institute’s Mental Health Care Building.
The Parkwood outbreaks are located in units G2, G5 and H2, according to the health unit.
Elsewhere, a non-institutional outbreak remains active at the city’s jail.
At least eight inmate cases remain active at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre as of Tuesday, according to provincial data. Active inmate cases at the jail numbered one on March 31.
The EMDC outbreak was declared on Jan. 18 and has been associated with at least 37 inmate and 29 staff cases. The number of current active staff cases at the jail was not immediately available.
Elsewhere, non-institutional outbreaks are also active at six separate Western University student residences.
A non-institutional workplace outbreak is also still active at Cargill, according to the health unit.
Earlier this week, Mackie confirmed that upwards of nine cases had been identified at the facility in London as a result of an outbreak. Updated numbers weren’t immediately available.
At least two new school cases have been reported in London-Middlesex, both involving Ashley Oaks Public School.
Three active cases are currently associated with the school, which has closed to in-person learning for the remainder of the week.
The move came as a result of “widespread exposure” to COVID-19 at the school that resulted in “a high number of students and staff at Ashley Oaks Public School… required to quarantine,” according to the Thames Valley District School Board.
Next week is the April break, meaning students not identified as being a close contact of those positive will return to in-person learning on April 19.
At least 20 cases are active in the region that are associated with local schools. A full list can be found on the MLHU website.
Outbreaks are still active involving five local schools:
- Ekcoe Central School
- Holy Rosary Catholic School
- Northridge Public School
- Riverbend Academy
- Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School.
The health unit says that at least 279 cases have been reported at local elementary and secondary schools during the pandemic, with an additional 32 that have been reported at child care and early years settings.
At least two cases associated with child care/early years were listed as active Thursday by MLHU, with one active at Misty’s Home Daycare and one at Rowntree Park Early Childhood Learning Centre, both in London, according to the health unit website.
Despite the provincewide stay-at-home order, the Ontario government and The Thames Valley District School Board say schools will remain open.
“At this time, our local public health units support schools remaining open because we continue to have very low school-based transmission of COVID-19. The data demonstrates that our schools are safe,” Mark Fisher, TVDSB’s director of education, said in a statement Wednesday.
Fisher added he also approved of the province’s plans to make education workers who “provide direct daily support to students with special education needs” eligible for the vaccine during the April break.
Education workers in high-risk neighbourhoods in Toronto and Peel will be vaccine-eligible starting next week, expanding to other high-risk areas later.
In the post-secondary world, meantime, six outbreaks remain active at six Western University student residences, declared on:
- April 4 at Essex Hall
- April 2 at Delaware Hall
- March 30 at Elgin Hall
- March 31 at Medway-Sydenham Hall
- March 26 at Saugeen-Maitland Hall
- March 25 at Ontario Hall.
Together, the six are linked to at least 89 cases, according to the health unit, with the outbreak at Saugeen-Maitland Hall tied to the largest number of cases with 30.
“(We’re) really encouraging students, and Western is as well, to get tested before they return to their home communities, because we don’t want them spreading COVID there,” Mackie said earlier this week.
“(We’re) actually encouraging all students, even if they don’t get tested, to quarantine when they return home.”
In a bid to curb the spread of the virus, Western announced last week that the majority of in-person classes and final exams would be moved online starting April 5, and encouraged students in residence to move out early if possible, offering prorated refunds to those who do before April 11.
Vaccinations and testing
As of Thursday, local health officials say at least 100,000 vaccine doses will have been administered in London-Middlesex since the start of immunization in late December 2020.
Local vaccination bookings began earlier this week for people 65 and older, with people aged 60 and older expected to become eligible as soon as next week pending vaccine availability.
(A note that the Middlesex-London Health Unit uses its own local booking system alongside Southwestern Public Health instead of the province’s, meaning recent news that the provincial system will allow people 60 and older to register does not change things here.)
Three mass vaccination clinics are operating, with plans for a fourth, however, low vaccine supply has kept it from opening. Health officials have previously described the local vaccination strategy as “earn and burn,” meaning the health unit is doling out vaccine quickly or quicker than it’s arriving.
Eligible residents are asked to visit the local vaccine booking website or call 226-289-3560 to book an appointment. Online appointments are encouraged due to the high call volume.
More information on eligibility can be found on the MLHU’s website.
Doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine are continuing to be administered to people 55 and older through two local pharmacies, with more expected to come soon.
London Mayor Ed Holder unveiled during Thursday’s media briefing that the region is set to see a “significant increase” in the number of pharmacies offering doses as part of the provincially run pilot project.
Holder had criticized the province earlier this week for the low number of pharmacies initially taking part as the number was similar to cities with much smaller populations and lower case rates.
“As well as my understanding these pharmacies will be spread out across all quadrants of the city, providing easier access for those who qualify,” Holder said.
“In addition, I’ve told (Premier Doug Ford) if there’s extra vaccine, London will take it. If there are communities or regions unable or incapable of effectively distributing what they’ve received, London will gladly take it.”
Holder said was “perplexed” as to why the province didn’t designate London, or a specific area of London, as a COVID-19 hot spot, adding he planned to talk to Ford about it.
Earlier this week, the province labelled dozens of postal codes across 13 Ontario health units as being hot spots, prioritizing them for more vaccine doses and allowing for younger age groups to be immunized.
The only postal code listed as a hot spot near London-Middlesex is N5H in Elgin County, which is centred largely around Aylmer.
“We acknowledge that there some exceptionally significant places that represent more than 50 per cent of the population in the GTA, so with that, we acknowledge that for Ontario to get better, that area has to get better,” Holder said.
“Based on our numbers recently, if London-Middlesex isn’t considered a hot spot, I’m not sure how a designation like that might be applied.”
Mackie noted that the MLHU was not consulted and that such a designation is at the province’s discretion.
“The province has the data that we have, and so they’re making their decisions based on data. We are investigating whether there is room for input,” he said.
“As much as the cases have really climbed here, we’re still well off where the GTA communities that are currently defined as hot spots are. As much as we wish cases were lower, we’re also very glad that they’re not at the same rates as Peel, Toronto, etc.”
Meantime, the region’s two main assessment centres, at Carling Heights and Oakridge Arena, remain open and operating by appointment.
According to the health unit, roughly 3.2 per cent of tests were coming back positive as of the week of March 21, up from 1.6 the previous week and 1.2 the week before that.
Ontario is reporting 3,295 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 19 more deaths linked to the virus.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 933 new cases in Toronto, 649 in Peel Region and 386 in York Region.
She also says there are 165 new cases in Durham Region and 160 in Ottawa.
More than 63,800 tests were completed since the last report.
There are 1,417 people hospitalized in Ontario because of COVID-19, with 525 in intensive care and 318 on a ventilator.
Ontario says 108,563 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered in the province since Wednesday’s report.
It’s the second straight day more than 100,000 vaccines have been given out in the province.
A total of 2,834,784 vaccine doses have been given in Ontario so far.
Elgin and Oxford
Sixteen new coronavirus cases were reported on Thursday by health officials in Elgin-Oxford.
They bring the regional pandemic case tally to 2,936, of which 2,752 have resolved, an increase of 13 from the day before. At least 69 deaths have been reported, most recently on March 29.
At least 115 cases are active in the region, according to Southwestern Public Health, with 39 in Woodstock, 24 in St. Thomas and 11 in Aylmer.
Five people are currently in hospital, with two in the ICU, according to the health unit.
The number of cases that have screened variant positive rose by 18 to 113, according to the health unit. At least 37 are still active, making up 33 per cent of the region’s active caseload.
Of the 113 screened positive cases, six have undergone further genomic sequencing and have been confirmed to involve the B.1.1.7 variant, first detected in the U.K.
Health officials say at least 101 cases are presumed to involve the B.1.1.7 variant as they screened positive for only one spike gene mutation — N501Y.
- According to Public Health Ontario, the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant has been associated with only the N501Y spike gene mutation, while variants B.1.351 and P.1, first detected in South Africa and Brazil, respectively, have been associated with spike gene mutations N501Y, K417N and E484K.
- As a result, the province is now presuming that any cases that screen positive for just the N501Y mutation involve the B.1.1.7 variant and is not sending them for further genomic sequencing.
Three cases, two active and one resolved, have screened positive for the E484K spike gene mutation, while another three cases, also two active and one resolved, screened positive for both E484K and N501Y.
Genomic sequencing is ongoing to determine the specific variants involved in those six cases.
SWPH says roughly 25,000 residents in its jurisdiction have seen at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with more than 1,000 doses being administered per day.
Health officials say people aged 60 and older will be eligible to get the vaccine at a local mass vaccination clinic soon, along with education staff who work with children who have special needs, and people with certain comorbidities as outlined in Phase 2 of the province’s vaccine rollout.
“While these groups are not yet eligible in our region due to vaccine supply, they will become eligible very soon, and we are starting to develop a registration process for essential workers so that when their turn comes, they will be able to make an appointment easily,” Dr. Joyce Lock, the region’s medical officer of health, said on Thursday.
Eligible residents are asked to visit the area’s vaccine booking site or call 226-289-3560 (9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.) to book an appointment. Eligibility information can be found on the health unit website.
Elsewhere, vaccine doses are also being doled out through at least one primary care practice in the region and at least five area pharmacies. The pharmacies are administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to those 55 and older. Appointments should be made directly with a participating pharmacy.
This week, the province named the N5H postal code, centred around Aylmer, as an Ontario COVID-19 hot spot, meaning more vaccine doses are expected to come to the area and younger people set to be eligible.
The N5H postal code is one of dozens across 13 public health units that the provincial government designated as a hot spot, and is the only one in the London area.
“Vaccinations are underway in that region, and we’re currently starting with large congregate settings such as the Ontario Police College,” Lock said of Aylmer.
Later in the briefing, Lock said the ministry had made it clear that the additional expected hot spot doses were being given to neighbourhoods where people may be at higher risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19.
“We will be looking at our data from the last year at the type of cases and outbreaks we had within Aylmer and the region around it to determine where we could be most impactful in terms of administering additional doses of vaccine,” she said.
Health officials are also looking to reduce vaccine hesitancy in the Aylmer area. Data from ICES looking at all age groups shows only six per cent of people in the N5H postal code had seen at least one dose as of March 29, the lowest in SWPH. The postal code N5C is the region’s second-lowest with 7.6 per cent.
On Wednesday, Ford said the province would begin vaccinating people aged 18 and older living in COVID-19 hot spots, including teachers and essential workers, over the next few weeks through mobile teams that would deliver doses in congregate settings, residential buildings, faith-based centres and large employers.
Regions would be selected based on patterns of transmission, severe illness and mortality from COVID-19, he said, with education workers in specific postal codes in Toronto and Peel eligible starting next week, to be expanded to other hot spot areas as supply allows.
Details remain limited about a local timeline for such vaccinations.
“It was said yesterday that it could go as low as 18, but we need to evaluate that before we commit to how low we’re going to go,” Lock said Thursday.
“What we’re trying to do is ensure that in these vulnerable communities, everybody is eligible to get vaccine, and in that way, helping to protect those at-risk individuals the most. We will be trying to determine how we can be most impactful within the Aylmer area… and how and what age brackets would be the best to hit and what settings would be best to hit.”
At the same time, the Ford government also announced that, as of Friday, the provincial booking system would be expanded to allow those in high-risk hot spots aged 50 and older to get a shot at a local mass vaccination clinic.
In an email, a spokesperson with SWPH, which uses its own booking system co-run with the Middlesex-London Health Unit, said residents 50 and older from the N5H postal code won’t be able to book a shot starting Friday, adding that the health unit is still finalizing its strategy. More information is expected next week.
Neither the Thames Valley District School Board nor the London District Catholic School Board reported any new cases.
According to the TVDSB, Central Public School in Woodstock remains temporarily closed. One active case is associated with the school currently.
School board officials announced early last week that the school would close temporarily, with all students moving to full remote learning “due to significant exposure and a high number of students and staff required to quarantine.”
At least nine schools have at least one active case associated with them. Full school case lists can be found on the websites of the Thames Valley District School Board and the London District Catholic School Board.
No new institutional outbreaks have been declared, and only one is active.
The outbreak was declared on April 2 at Caressant Care Bonnie Place in St. Thomas and is associated with one resident case and one staff case.
The health unit says a total of 631 cases have been reported in Woodstock during the pandemic, while 485 have been in St. Thomas, 475 in Aylmer and 358 in Tillsonburg.
Elsewhere, 211 cases have been in Norwich, 166 in Bayham, 144 in Ingersoll, 120 in East Zorra-Tavistock, 68 in Central Elgin, 61 in Zorra, 60 in Blandford-Blenheim, 59 in South-West Oxford, 32 in Dutton/Dunwich, 26 in Southwold, 24 in West Elgin and 15 in Malahide.
The region’s test positivity rate stood at 2.2 per cent as of the week of March 28, the same as the week before, but up from 1.8 the week before that.
Huron and Perth
Eight new coronavirus cases have been reported in Huron and Perth, local health officials reported on Wednesday.
They bring the region’s pandemic case tally to 1,446, of which 1,368 have resolved, an increase of one from the day before. Fifty-one deaths have been reported, most recently on Tuesday.
Four cases were reported in Stratford, while three were in St. Marys and one in South Huron.
At least 27 cases are currently active in the region, with nine in Stratford, five in West Perth, four each in North Perth and St. Marys, two in South Huron and one each in Bluewater, Central Huron and Huron East.
The number of variant positive cases in the region stands at 25, five more than the day before. At least 12 are active.
Three cases have been confirmed through genomic sequencing to involve the B.1.1.7 variant, according to the latest epidemiological report from Public Health Ontario.
Details on what spike gene mutations were detected through the screening process with the remaining cases were not available from the health unit. Such information may give an idea of what specific variant may be involved.
Roughly 25,308 vaccine doses have been administered in Huron-Perth as of April 6, according to the health unit. The tally includes first and second doses.
The health unit announced Wednesday that it was opening its local booking system to people aged 65 and older, including those turning 65 this year.
Local health officials say they will also connect with area school boards regarding the province’s announcement Wednesday to make education workers who provide direct support to students with special education needs vaccine-eligible over the April break.
Information on who is currently eligible can be found on the health unit’s website. Those looking to book a vaccination appointment are asked to do so via the local booking system or by calling 1-833-753-2098.
“Please do not try to book an appointment if you are not yet eligible. At this time, HPPH is not taking pre-registrations for future eligible groups,” the health unit said in an update this week.
People aged 55 and older are also able to receive an Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as part of the province’s ongoing pharmacy immunization program.
Local health units are not directly involved in the initiative. Residents are asked to contact the pharmacies directly. A list of local participating pharmacies can be found on the province’s website.
One outbreak is active in the region, located at an unnamed workplace, according to Huron Perth Public Health.
No outbreaks are active at seniors’ facilities, hospitals, schools, child-care centres, or in congregate living settings.
No new school cases have been reported. Two are active in the region, one at St. Mary’s Catholic Elementary School in Goderich and the other at Jeanne Sauvé Catholic Elementary School in Stratford.
At least 574 cases have been reported in Perth County, with 354 in North Perth and 138 in Perth East, while at least 469 have been reported in Huron County, with 106 in South Huron and 102 in Huron East.
Stratford has reported at least 366 in total, while St. Marys has seen 37.
The region’s test positivity rate stood at 0.9 per cent as of the week of March 28, up from 0.4 the week earlier.
Sarnia and Lambton
Fifteen new coronavirus cases were reported Thursday by officials with Lambton Public Health.
They bring the region’s pandemic case tally to 2,955, of which 2,784 have resolved, an increase of 25 from the day before. At least 52 deaths have been reported, most recently on Wednesday.
At least 119 cases are active in Lambton, with nine people listed in the care of Bluewater Health, an increase of two from the day before.
Four additional cases have screened variant-positive, meaning they have been detected to have one or more spike gene mutations associated with a known variant of concern.
So far, at least 174 cases have screened variant-positive. Two have been confirmed through further genomic sequencing to involve the B.1.1.7 variant.
It’s unclear what spike gene mutation(s) were detected in the remaining cases, which may provide insight into what specific variant it may be.
People aged 60 and older are now eligible to book a vaccine in Lambton County, local health officials said.
The province opened registration on its booking system to people aged 60 to 69 and those who are turning 60 this year. Lambton Public Health uses the province’s online booking system, unlike Elgin-Oxford, Huron-Perth, and London-Middlesex which use their own.
People under 60 who have health conditions defined as ‘highest-risk’, ‘high-risk,’ and ‘at-risk’ by the province, along with one essential caregiver from each of those groups, are also eligible to pre-register for a vaccine.
Those who pre-register will see an email invite to schedule an appointment via the province’s booking system.
More information can be found on the health unit’s website. Those eligible to book a vaccine appointment are asked to visit the health unit’s online vaccine page for details on how to do so, or to call 519-383-8331.
At least 28,495 vaccine doses have been administered in Lambton County as of Wednesday, the most recent update available.
Three pharmacies in Lambton are also now offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to those 55 and older as part of the province-run pilot program. Residents are asked to book appointments with the pharmacies directly.
One new school case was reported in Lambton County, located at Northern Collegiate Institute and Vocational School.
Three school outbreaks remain active, located at École élémentaire Les Rapides (three cases), London Road Elementary School (two cases) and LKDSB Virtual Learning Elementary School – Petrolia (two cases).
Meantime, one new workplace outbreak has been declared, and an outbreak at a long-term care home in Sarnia has resolved.
The name and location of the workplace are not public, but the outbreak is linked to four cases. It’s among four workplace outbreaks active in the region, linked to at least 18 cases.
The resolved nursing home outbreak was located at Vision Nursing Home. Declared on March 31, it was linked to one staff case.
Two seniors’ facility outbreaks remain active, declared on:
- March 23 at Rosewood Retirement Village in Sarnia (19 resident, two staff cases)
- March 19 Afton Park Place in Sarnia (two resident, three staff cases).
The health unit says the county’s test positivity rate was 2.4 per cent the week of March 28, down from 3.3 the week before and 3.7 the week before that.
— With files from Jacquelyn LeBel and The Canadian PressView link »