Renfrew County's top doctor threatens targeted restrictions as COVID-19 cases rise

Fifteen people have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week, mostly in the town of Arnprior, Ont., and the nearby township of McNab/Braeside, Ont.

15 cases reported in Arnprior and McNab/Braeside, all tied to private gatherings

The town of Arnprior, Ont., could be facing tougher COVID-19 restrictions as the number of cases has gone up significantly in recent days. (Remi Authier/Radio Canada)

The head of the Renfrew County and District Health Unit says he may implement tighter pandemic restrictions in parts of the region following a sudden rise in cases in communities just outside Ottawa.

The health unit has confirmed 15 positive COVID-19 cases over the past week, mostly in the town of Arnprior, Ont., and the nearby township of McNab/Braeside, Ont., according to Dr. Robert Cushman, acting medical officer of health for the region.

Cushman said the people attended the same social gathering and then spread the virus by visiting several different households and businesses. 

"It appears to be just some, you know, 'Let's party. Let's have fun,'" Cushman said Saturday.

"I've heard about ice fishing, I've heard about indoor parties. I've heard about a lot of celebration."

According to the health unit, those who were infected then worked at or visited seven local businesses while contagious. The health unit closed one business, Cushman said, while several other businesses chose to temporarily shut down on their own.

The cases involve roughly five households, the health unit said.

"What you're seeing here, I think, is just sort of wanton disrespect and neglect," Cushman said. 

Mayor 'a little bit angry'

Renfrew County is currently green under the province's colour-coded COVID-19 risk assessment framework, which comes with the least severe pandemic restrictions.

McNab/Braeside Mayor Tom Peckett reiterated that just because the region is green doesn't mean people can ignore the rules. 

"Even if our area is in a green zone, the rules of keeping apart and not having large gatherings is still in effect," he said. 

Peckett said he was disappointed since most people are following the rules and the actions of a few could impact everyone else in the community.

"That makes me a little bit angry, that they're not thinking about anyone else but themselves," he said. 

'COVID fatigue'

In a statement, Ontario's Ministry of Health said it was in close contact with medical officers of health across the province in order to swiftly react to shifts in the pandemic.

While it's the province's decision to move the region into the more-restrictive yellow zone — a decision also based on more than a sudden spike in cases — medical officers of health have the power to impose Section 22 orders to target specific areas of transmission, the ministry noted.

It's a step Cushman isn't ruling out.

"We may be pushed to take more restrictive measures in a given town ... rather than apply them across the board to Renfrew County," he said.

The outbreak comes a week after Cushman released a video message warning residents the county was seeing an increase in the number of contacts per infected person. 

He said he was speaking out harshly now because he doesn't want rising case numbers to become a trend.

"People have all got COVID fatigue. And one thing that will give them more COVID fatigue is to close down the economy further," he said. "So we don't want to do that."

With files from Radio-Canada

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