Thunder Bay

Variants of concern driving COVID-19 case increases in Greenstone area: DeMille

Eleven new cases were reported on Thursday, with five in First Nations communities, four in district communities and two in the Thunder Bay area.

Geraldton District Hospital reporting 45 active cases in Greenstone area, including nearby First Nations

Dr. Janet DeMille, the medical officer of health for the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, said variants of concern are driving case counts in Greenstone and Long Lake 58 First Nation. (Gord Ellis/CBC Thunder Bay)

A recent cluster of COVID-19 cases in the Greenstone area over the last couple of weeks are mainly being driven by a more infectious variant of concern, says the medical officer of health for the Thunder Bay district.

After constantly dropping throughout most of May, case numbers began increasing again over the last week. The Thunder Bay District Health Unit reported 11 new cases on Thursday. Five are located within First Nations communities, four are in district communities and two are in the Thunder Bay area.

As of Thursday, the Geraldton District Hospital was reporting 45 active cases in the Greenstone area, which also includes nearby First Nations communities.

"It's one or two people and then it spreads in households," Dr. Janet DeMille said on Thursday. "We're actively working with our partners to track down where the spread is happening and to really contain the spread.

"Unfortunately, this is largely driven by a variant and it's a bit more infectious."

Long Lake 58 First Nation declared a state of emergency last week, with nearly two dozen cases reported at the time. 

DeMille said the health unit is working with community leadership, with the response including broader testing.

It appears that many of the people who tested positive have not had access to vaccines, she added.

Targeted vaccination clinics

Earlier this week, the health unit announced that it would be launching clinics specifically for youth and families, as well as in targeted neighbourhoods in Thunder Bay, during June. Other clinics are also being planned for rural areas outside of the city.

DeMille said the clinics are meant to address access challenges, like transportation or time, as well as to answer potential questions about vaccine hesitancy.

"As our numbers go up in terms of people accessing vaccination, we're starting to look more at how we get people who may not have as easy access or making vaccine access very convenient to them and going out to where people are," she said.

More than 100,000 total doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered throughout the Thunder Bay District Health Unit area, with over 50 per cent of the total population having received at least a first dose.

DeMille said the supply of Moderna has been less predictable than Pfizer, and while both the provincial and federal governments anticipate there will be substantial deliveries into the country during June, she said it's unknown when it will arrive and how much will be allocated locally. 

She said over the coming months she expects anyone who received a first dose of AstraZeneca will also be able to get that as a second, but they would also be able to receive a second dose of Pfizer or Moderna instead.

DeMille said while not surprised, she was disappointed by the province's announcement on Wednesday that students across the province won't return to the classroom until the fall.

She also said the province has not provided any indication there will be any regional differences in its reopening plan.