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Simcoe-Muskoka top doc calls for rollback on social circles for a while

Dr. Gardner recommends people go back to close contact only with those in their household, as the region sees 'worrisome' trajectory
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Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, delivers an update to the media via Facebook livestream from his home office on Sept. 15. Screenshot

A “worrisome” increase in COVID-19 cases in the region, some of which are connected to “social interaction,” has the local medical officer of health recommending a rollback on social circles. 

Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, said today he is recommending people go back to limiting their close contact to those in their own household. 

This month, the health unit is tracking nine clusters of cases, six of which are at multi-unit dwellings where young adults are cohabitating.

In the last 10 days, the region’s health unit has confirmed 54 new cases of COVID in Simcoe-Muskoka. There were 38 new cases in Barrie residents, and 33 of those were individuals between 18 and 34 years old. In the first week of August, the health unit reported a total of four COVID cases. 

For the first time since the pandemic began, the average age of new cases in the region is 30 years old. 

Gardner said some of the new Barrie cases were students who were living in a multi-unit dwelling and were close contacts. In some cases, one person acquired the coronavirus in the community and it spread through the household. 

“There’s social interaction links,” said Gardner, noting he hasn’t specifically been told of house parties linking cases. 

There are now more than 50 active cases of COVID-19 in the region, compared to some weeks in August where there were fewer than a dozen active cases in Simcoe County and Muskoka District. 

“The trajectory is definitely going up in a very worrisome way,” said Gardner. “I think we need to revisit our control measures in the community.” 

The doctor is officially advising residents in the region go back to just household members for close contact and shrink down their social circles. 

Social circles were introduced through the province’s reopening strategy as part of Stage 3. The idea was to have a group of no more than 10 individuals in an exclusive social circle who could have close contact. 

Gardner said the increase the region and the province is seeing now goes back to the statistics and levels of COVID in Ontario during the first phase of reopening. 

He also cautioned people against attending large informal gatherings, even if they fall within the province’s allowable levels of 50 people indoors or 100 people outdoors. 

“I would recommend you shrink that down as much as you can, below 10 if possible, and keep your physical distance of two metres,” said Gardner. “Think in terms of what is essential.” 

More than 65 per cent of the cases reported by the health unit this month are community-acquired or close contact. Another 20 per cent are under investigation still. 

“We have to address transmission in the community,” said Gardner, referring to the upswing and clusters of cases in the region, particularly in Barrie. “That takes us right back to reducing social and public gatherings.” 

The health unit is monitoring the regional and provincial trajectories closely to see what other recommendations it will make for control measures. 

“There’s inertia that comes with an upswing in cases … there’s the cases we know about and the cases we don’t know about that are incubating,” said Gardner. “When it’s going up, there’s a very high likelihood that what you don’t see is bigger than what you see today. So, it’s really important that we do all that we can to get on top of this and bring it into control again … if we don’t, it has all the potential of becoming a substantial second wave.” 

The doctor acknowledged that it will be hard for those who have returned to work or whose children have returned to school to keep close contact limited to their household and not have anyone in their social circle. 

“Control what you have control over,” said Gardner. “You can control the contact you have in your social life.” 

He noted workplaces and schools have become controlled environments due to health measures and guidelines issued by the province and local health units. 

“The great risk … is the connection we make in our social lives,” said Gardner. 

Currently, the reproductive rate of COVID-19 in Simcoe-Muskoka is 1.3, which means every person with the virus infects another 1.3 other people.