From green to red in a week, eastern Ontario region serves as warning bell for others

The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit saw 76 new cases this weekend alone. Last week, it set a record with 139, its highest number of new cases within a seven day period. 

Leeds, Grenville and Lanark region seeing record new cases since start of pandemic

The Leeds, Grenville, Lanark region emerged from the provincewide lockdown in the green zone, the least restrictive of levels on the province's COVID-19 framework, on Feb. 16 — a status it enjoyed for about a month until it moved to yellow.

About a week later on Monday, the region entered the red zone.

The Leeds, Grenville, Lanark District Health Unit (LGL) saw 76 new cases this weekend alone. Last week, it set a record with 139 COVID-19 cases, the highest number of new cases within a seven-day period. 

Experts say it's a prime example of how quickly COVID-19 is able to spread and it serves as warning for other regions with looser restrictions.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paula Stewart points to a curling club in Perth, Ont., as the source of the outbreak and the reason for quick, widespread infection across the region.

So far, none of the cases have been identified as a variant of concern but the spread has been caused by "people in close contact with each other, many people together without masks," Stewart said.

Last week, Stewart told CBC reopening in green likely gave residents the wrong message that the pandemic for the region was over.

"I think people relaxed a little bit more," she said.

Outbreak 'could happen anywhere'

Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, said navigating loosened restrictions can be tricky. There's typically a greater chance for more contact in crowded places.

"There's potential to have a superspreader event or have a very rapidly spreading outbreak. There's the potential there in the green zone where there wouldn't be when you were on lockdown," Manuel said.

He said that's not to suggest regions should avoid moving to green if they're able to. The key to preventing widespread infection, Manuel said, is quick response when areas do see cases, pointing to Canada's East Coast or New Zealand as examples of places who have successfully quashed outbreaks.

In those cases, officials have been able to do extensive contact tracing, but it requires a lot of resources to manage all possible contacts, Manuel said. 

For her part, Stewart warned that the outbreak in her region "could happen anywhere," and that regardless of how many restrictions are in place "it's just so critical to follow the precautions."

It's a situation that led to pressure on the local health-care system, according to Mary Wilson Trider, president and CEO of both the Almonte General Hospital and Carleton Place & District Memorial Hospital.

Trider said staff and physicians have not escaped the "impact of infections in the community."

The challenge is making sure there is enough staff to keep hospital operations going, she said.

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