Ontario health units issue new COVID-19 recommendations as cases rise

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Several Ontario health units are recommending stronger precautions against COVID-19 as infections rise, including advice to limit indoor holiday gatherings to fully vaccinated guests other than young children.

The guidance comes as Ontario’s cases continue an upward climb — 1,290 new infections were reported Thursday — more cases of the Omicron variant crop up, and the province’s science experts predict the health system is likely to be strained in the coming weeks.

Three public health units in southwestern Ontario issued joint recommendations Thursday, saying residents should limit social gatherings and work remotely if possible.

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Huron Perth Public Health, Middlesex-London Health Unit and Southwestern Public Health said they were making the three recommendations in an effort to curb transmission of the virus.

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“We know people are tired, but we hope they’ll understand why we’re asking them to take extra steps to prevent further spread, especially as we approach the holidays,” said Dr. Alex Summers, acting medical officer of health with the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

“We know that this means adjusting plans, which is a big ask, but the number of new cases and the arrival of the Omicron variant have shown we can’t let our guard down.”

The health units recommended that everyone should limit indoor social gatherings in private dwellings to no more than 10 people, and all attendees aged 12 and older should be vaccinated.

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All unvaccinated people 12 and older are advised to avoid any non-essential indoor contact with those who are not part of their household, the health units said.

Residents were also advised to work remotely where possible, they said.

In the Kingston, Ont., area, the region’s top doctor instructed businesses and organizations on Thursday to implement strict mask use and screen staff and patrons more thoroughly for symptoms of COVID-19.

“Social interaction in businesses and organizations have the potential to increase COVID-19 transmission, especially when staff and patrons are symptomatic and remove their mask,” said Dr. Piotr Oglaza. “This letter of instruction adds protection against the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

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Meanwhile, the health unit for Sudbury, Ont., and surrounding areas said COVID-19 restrictions currently in place in the Greater Sudbury area would expand to cover the Sudbury and Manitoulin districts as of Saturday.

“We are at a point where we need to double down on the basics like masking, physical distancing, and vaccination,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health with Public Health Sudbury & Districts.

“But local circumstances also mean that we also need some new rules, rolling back some relaxed measures, to further protect people who are unvaccinated, especially kids.”

The measures include reinstating capacity limits and physical distancing requirements that had been relaxed by the province in early fall, stronger masking requirements at organized public events, and a reinstated requirement that people work remotely, where possible.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 modelling indicates tough winter ahead for Ontario’s ICUs'
COVID-19 modelling indicates tough winter ahead for Ontario’s ICUs

Businesses and organizations must also limit the size of social gatherings and organized public events on their premises to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

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Ottawa’s top doctor also shared some COVID-19 advice Thursday.

Dr. Vera Etches said residents of the capital city should limit their contacts, wear masks, get vaccinated and tested as soon as they feel sick to “continue to keep us safe.”

“We have come so far since last December, thank you for your resilience this past year. Stay safe, Ottawa,” Etches wrote in a tweet.

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In its latest projections this week, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table predicted the province’s hospitals may be strained by mid-January, with close to 400 COVID-19 patients in intensive care and possibly 3,000 new infections reported daily, even without accounting for the new Omicron variant.

The province’s daily caseload reported Thursday was its highest since late May.

Provincial data show more than 90 per cent of residents 12 and older have received one dose, and 87.4 per cent have received two.Roughly 25 per cent of children five to 11 years old have received one dose so far.

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