As COVID-19 numbers rise, Sudbury health unit calls for people to work from home

With COVID-19 rates in Greater Sudbury “unacceptably high” Public Health Sudbury and Districts has invoked new measures to help slow the spread of the virus.

There were 274 active COVID-19 cases in the Sudbury area as of Nov. 25

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe is the Medical Officer of Health with Public Health Sudbury and Districts. (Submitted by Public Health Sudbury and Districts)

With COVID-19 rates in Greater Sudbury "unacceptably high" Public Health Sudbury and Districts has invoked new measures to help slow the spread of the virus.

On Monday, Nov. 29, employers in Greater Sudbury will need to ensure their workers can work remotely, unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site at the workplace.

The health unit's medical officer of health, Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, said that while the reinstatement of capacity limits in businesses like restaurants and bars on Nov. 8 helped suppress rapid growth of COVID-19, she said case rates remain unacceptably high.

 "We're basically rolling back the clock to mid-July, when the work remotely regulation was in place under the Reopening Ontario Act. So this is legally enforceable," Sutcliffe said.

Schools in Greater Sudbury will remain open, but the health unit has recommended school boards make rapid antigen tests available to their students, and require a rapid antigen test screening or proof of vaccination for students participating in certain extra-curricular sports.

"We are trying to do all that we possibly can to prevent the closure of schools for in-person learning," Sutcliffe said.

 "In some instances already in our jurisdiction the school boards have had to make that decision on their own because with the number of dismissals, just logistically, they were not able to keep some schools open."

On Nov. 25 there were 371 ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks across Ontario. Of those. 198 were in education and childcare settings. 

With a vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11 now available, Sutcliffe said there are around 3,000 vaccination appointments for that age group in the region so far. She said there are about 14,000 children between the ages of five and 11 in the area.

"We have seen in other parts of the world, in other jurisdictions where vaccines have been used in younger age groups,  the risk of transmission certainly has diminished," she said.

The health unit said the Sudbury area is among the top three most affected jurisdictions in Ontario. As of Friday, Nov. 26, there were 288 active COVID-19 cases in the Public Health Sudbury and Districts area. That represented an increase of 23 active cases over the previous day.

"COVID-19 is not to be underestimated," Sutcliffe said in a press release. 

"We have high vaccine coverage rates and are now offering vaccines to elementary school-aged children. It is truly remarkable how far we have come. However, the highly transmissible COVID delta variant requires that we layer on as many protections as possible."

Sutcliffe said 38 people in the region have died due to COVID-19 since the pandemic started. She said seven of those deaths were in the last five weeks, and five of those people were in their 50s and 60s.

In addition to the new recommendations for schools and businesses, the health unit has asked that individuals limit their outings, work from home if possible, get vaccinated, wear a mask and keep two metres distance from others when outside of the home.

High rates in Algoma

Meanwhile, Algoma Public Health has called for all four school boards in Sault Ste. Marie to suspend close contact extracurricular activities for the next 28 days.

The health unit said only extracurricular activities where participants can maintain both masking and physical distancing at all times should be able to continue during that time.

"In local areas where there has been an increase in COVID-19 activity, such as Sault Ste. Marie, there is a vital need to put key protective measures in place and reduce the highest risk activities," said Algoma Public Health medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Loo. 

"At the same time, we must work together to minimize impacts on student learning and student engagement in activities that support their physical, mental and social health and wellbeing."

As of Friday, Nov. 26, there were 258 active COVID-19 cases in the Algoma region.