Niagara’s acting medical officer of health is “absolutely very concerned” about potential super-spreader events if large groups gather on the Easter long weekend as COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the region.
With spring weather upon us, and restaurants now allowed more capacity to host customers, Dr. Mustafa Hirji fears it may lead to a surge in cases.
“I’m absolutely very concerned about that,” he said. “I’ve been concerned that we are headed on an upward trajectory and the farther you get on this trajectory, the faster cases are going to start to pick up — that’s just the way exponential growth ends up working.”
Public health reported 82 new cases Saturday — the most since the 91 reported Jan. 29. The health department reported another 50 cases Sunday. The 500 active cases are the most since the 517 reported Feb. 5.
Om Monday Hamilton will be bumped back into the grey lockdown zone as its caseload has grown.
Both that city’s medical officer of health and Hirji have said most of the Golden Horseshoe — Halton through Niagara — should be considered a single zone for future lockdowns. That’s not happening for now, as Niagara remains in the less restrictive red control zone.
“I think it signals to the public that things are OK, we can relax, we don’t have to be as vigilant, when I think actually what we need is to be absolutely far more vigilant right now,” said Hirji.
“We are seeing cases grow pretty quickly (across Ontario) … and if this keeps up, I think there’s a good chance that we could, unfortunately, end up with another lockdown.”
He fears with Hamilton back in grey, “a bunch of people” are going to come to Niagara and “partake in things that are closed in their region.”
“Not very far to get to Niagara … and, likewise, you’re going to end up starting to see infections spreading in our region as a result.”
Hirji said while vaccines in Niagara are preventing people from dying of COVID-19, “at least right now,” there has not been enough vaccinations “that we can actually reduce the spread of infections in the community.”
“We’re not seeing outbreaks in long-term-care homes, retirement homes — we’re not seeing an extremely vulnerable group dying — so I think that’s absolutely something that’s helped with the vaccine,” he said.
“The groups that we vaccinated, while they’re the groups at most risk of dying, they’re typically not the groups who get hospitalized. They’re typically not the groups who end up in ICUs, and so we still have the risk of our hospitals and ICUs being overwhelmed.
“And, of course, some percentage of people who are sick enough to get into hospitals and ICUs, even if they are younger, are going to be at risk that that care is not going to be enough and they’re, unfortunately, going to die.”
In a Twitter post Friday responding to the state of COVID-19 across Ontario, Hirji wrote: “Oh dear. We may be reaching the end in this province of closing elective health care to expand ICUs to meet the #COVID surge (already twice the normal provincial capacity threshold). We are running out of time to prevent this getting much worse.”
In an interview, Hirji said “we are absolutely at risk of our hospitals being overwhelmed and absolutely at risk that we will eventually start to see death go up and go up in the younger demographic than we’ve seen before.”
He pointed to a recent announcement that a Toronto-area hospital was sending some of its intensive care unit patients to Kingston because “they’ve maxed out their ability to scale up and add more beds for their ICU.”
“You know that’s going to be what eventually happens here if things stay the way they are.”