K-W still a COVID-19 hot spot not ready for reopening, epidemiologist says

Waterloo region has been given the green light to move into Stage 2 of the province’s COVID-19 reopening plan but University of Ottawa associate professor and epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan does not agree with this decision.

Reproduction rate shows virus 'a little bit out of control,' says Raywat Deonandan

Signs in Victoria Park in Kitchener, Ont., remind people to keep a physical distance between themselves and others. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Waterloo region has been given the green light to move on to Stage 2 of the province's COVID-19 reopening plan but University of Ottawa epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan does not agree with the decision.

Deonandan says the region's public health unit does not meet what he considers the most important indicator of readiness — the effective reproduction number.

The effective reproduction number is the number of new cases — on average — that an old case produces. It's a way of measuring the spread of COVID-19.

"We like to see that number to be one or less than one … and most of Ontario right now it's more than one but that's driven by a handful of regions in southern Ontario," Deonandan told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.

"The [Kitchener-Waterloo] area I believe is 1.3, I think downtown Toronto is about the same, 1.3 also. That's a bit high, so I would qualify those regions as hot zones based on that indicator."

At his daily briefing Monday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford outlined the details of Stage 2 of Ontario's plan to lift restrictions on its lockdown, implemented to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Twenty-four of the province's 34 public health units will be allowed to move into Stage 2 on Friday. The remaining 10, concentrated primarily in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and near the U.S.-Canada border, will need to wait until new daily case numbers consistently decrease. 

Deonandan says he fully supports the regional approach to reopening, adding that there's no reason why places like Kingston that have no active cases should be under the same restrictions as downtown Toronto that has 100 new cases per day.

"The caveat is of course that people are going to travel, and how do you restrict people from a hot zone from feeding a previously cold zone? So that where I believe more effort needs to be done," Deonandan said.

"I personally would [consider Kitchener-Waterloo a hot spot]. I understand why the province would not, given the relatively low number of new cases," said Deonandan. "I don't like the reproduction number being that high. It shows that there's still some things a little bit out of control."

(Peter Kovalik/Scott Galley/CBC)

But Deonandan said there may be some detail and data used by the province in determining the areas ready for Stage 2 that he's unaware of. 

"For example, are these outbreaks occurring in long-term care facilities? If that's the case then they're better contained so perhaps Public Health Ontario has information I am not privy to that indicates that it's better controlled than it used to be," he said.

Additionally, Deonandan said while he arrived at his position from an epidemiological standpoint,  "This can't be a one-science does all the decision-making process."

The following rate of infection map created by Public Health Ontario appears to show that Waterloo Region Public Health and Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health have the same, or greater rates of infection as Windsor, Toronto and Hamilton.

CBC News contacted Public Health Ontario to confirmed this information but was referred back the Medical Officers of Health for the two regions. Those requests have so far gone unanswered.

(Public Health Ontario)

In Stage 2 of the reopening plan, residents will be allowed to gather in groups of up to 10, and many more businesses and services will be allowed to begin operating.

Restaurants, bars and food trucks will be able to open for outdoor dining on patios and in parking lots or adjacent premises. The province is allowing licensed establishments to set up or expand their outdoor eating spaces without an application fee to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.

The government also says places of worship will be able to welcome congregants again with a 30 per cent capacity limit.

With files from Carmen Groleau and CBC News


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