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Ontario sends extra contact tracers to Windsor-Essex, region on verge of lockdown

Windsor-Essex entered the red level of the province's colour-coded pandemic response framework on Nov. 30

December 2, 2020  The Canadian Press

The Ontario government has sent reinforcements to Windsor-Essex as the region teeters on the verge of a lockdown and grapples with numerous outbreaks of COVID-19.

Two dozen contact tracers are set to provide relief to the overworked team at the Windsor-Essex Public Health Unit, Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Dec. 2.

“We are aware that there is a considerable concern regarding public health resources in Windsor-Essex,” she said during Question Period. “There is some more significant community transmission there, which is why we’ve been putting further restrictions in that area.”

The region entered the red level of the province’s tiered, colour-coded pandemic response framework on Nov. 30 — just two weeks after advancing from the green level to yellow, and then to orange.

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As of Dec. 2, there were 17 active outbreaks in the region, said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex.

Earlier in the week, he warned that the region was “at risk of going into a lockdown.”

“Given the increasing case counts…we will be on the verge of collapsing the public health capacity and also the acute care system capacity now that we have two outbreaks in the hospital system,” he said.

The public health unit is sending regular updates to the province regarding the nature of the outbreaks, he said, given that there isn’t a set threshold for entering lockdown.

Of particular concern, he noted, is the impact on schools, with two elementary schools currently closed due to outbreaks.

At one school, 29 students and nine staff tested positive for the virus.

“When you have more background cases in the community, it does pose risk inside the school system,” Ahmed said, adding that more schools could be forced to close.

Also at issue, he noted, is the region’s proximity to the U.S.-Canada border.

He said he’s hopeful that the public health restrictions that come along with entering the red zone — which is the strictest short of a lockdown — will make a dent in the current caseload.

The Windsor-Essex Public Health unit recorded 41 new cases of COVID-19 on Dec. 2, along with two new deaths.

The province as a whole, meanwhile, reported 1,723 new cases of COVID-19 on Dec. 2, and 35 new deaths due to the virus.

Elliott said there are 500 new cases in Peel Region, 410 cases in Toronto, and 196 cases in York Region.

In the province’s long-term care homes, 664 residents currently have COVID-19 and 22 new deaths were reported. The province said 111 of its 626 long-term care homes are experiencing an outbreak.

It also reported 166 new COVID-19 cases related to schools, including at least 140 among students.

Those bring the number of schools with a reported case to 742 out of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools.