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Health officials in Grey Bruce ask everyone to consider themselves a COVID-19 carrier as cases surge

The Grey Bruce Health Unit is asking everyone in the region to consider themselves a COVID-19 carrier and only leave their homes for essential purposes, after a threefold increase in cases. 

People are asked to stay home while health unit manages large number of close contacts

Health officials have identified at least 498 people as high-risk close contacts of positive cases, but that number is set to double with Wednesday's new cases. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Grey Bruce Health Unit is asking everyone in the region to consider themselves a COVID-19 carrier and only leave their homes for essential purposes after a threefold increase in cases. 

On Wednesday, the health unit logged 73 new cases of the disease within the last 36 hours and said it expects more cases will be added to the tally. Of the new cases, 25 were reported earlier on Wednesday and 48 more were added this evening. 

"We've reached a critical juncture because we expect these cases to potentially have hundreds of close contacts," Dr. Ian Arra, the region's medical officer of health, told CBC News. 

"We're asking the public to help and consider themselves a carrier for the coming two days until we reach all of the cases and contacts on our lists. If this is completed, we have the ability to maintain control over the pandemic. If not, it will spiral out of control locally." 

Arra said transmission of the disease is coming from people who are not following the stay-at-home order and are visiting others while symptomatic. Additionally, social gatherings and parties attended by high-school aged youth have also increased the spread. 

"The situation is augmented by the fact that people who are being identified as cases are not being truthful to public health when we contact them," he said. 

So far, health officials have identified at least 498 people as high-risk close contacts of positive cases, but Arra said that number is set to double with Wednesday's new cases.

Health unit strained, considers closing vaccine clinics

The urgent need to reach those who have been exposed to the disease is putting a tremendous strain on the health unit's contact tracing and case management team, Arra said. It's prompted the health unit to redeploy staff from other programs, such as the vaccine clinic, to assist with contact tracing.

Arra said the large vaccine clinic planned for Saturday will be cancelled as most staff will be needed to contact positive cases in the region and manage their contacts. He said, for now, the remainder of vaccine clinics will continue to operate, but the health unit is considering closing next week's clinics.

A section 22 class order has also been issued to reinforce the need for people to follow public health guidelines, Arra said. The order specifically calls on people who have tested positive to abide to public health measures and requires people who are symptomatic to get tested. 

"We continue to stay confident that our community will respond positively and stay the course for the last push here," Arra said. "If we control it, in a few days the numbers will start coming down ... and we can put this pandemic behind us with the vaccine rollout." 

As of Wednesday evening, Grey Bruce had 159 active cases, including at least 25 cases that have screened positive for variants of concern, according to data from the health unit. 

Over the course of the pandemic, the region has logged 959 cases and five people have died after contracting the disease. 

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