Thunder Bay mayor, residents asking Ontario government why district isn't considered COVID-19 hot spot
Thunder Bay District Health Unit has the highest number of active COVID-19 cases per capita in the province
As Ontario celebrated the one-millionth COVID-19 vaccine dose being administered in the province on Wednesday, Thunder Bay's mayor and city residents are demanding to know why more vaccines and support aren't on their way to help the struggling district.
According to data posted on the provincial government's website, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit has by far the highest number of active COVID-19 cases per capita compared to the rest of Ontario.
And that fact has Thunder Bay's mayor asking why the district was left out of the province's pilot project to expand the roll-out of Astra-Zeneca's COVID-19 vaccine.
The province "certainly [has] to be aware of the data … it's posted almost on a daily basis. And if you're not considering Thunder Bay a hot spot now, I don't know when you would," said Bill Mauro in an interview with CBC's Power & Politics.
In a video statement released earlier in the week, Thunder Bay's medical officer of health Dr. Janet DeMille said, "COVID-19 is essentially everywhere. It's in many different places, and it's spreading,"
Province ramping up Astra-Zeneca vaccine distribution
Meanwhile at a press conference Wednesday, the provincial government announced a pilot project that will see a number of public health units in southern Ontario begin offering appointments for people aged 60 to 64 to receive the Astra-Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a local pharmacy or by a primary care physician.
The Astra-Zeneca vaccine was approved for use by Health Canada on February 26.
"I think we're left to wonder why — and there may be a reason, but I'm not aware of what it might be — we're not included in this pilot project roll-out," said Mauro.
"We have 414 active cases today. The community of Kingston is part of this roll-out and they have, I think, about 20 active cases today. So we all have some questions that we're curious about," he added.
Mauro said the province's COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force has previously told mayors across the province that if a health unit was in the "red" or "grey" zones of the provincial lockdown framework, they would receive a larger proportional share of the vaccine doses as they became available.
"We need the vaccine. This is the ultimate solution. I appreciate that there are other areas of the province that need it as well, but certainly we'd have to be considered a hotspot. Certainly we fit into the policy that they articulated two or three months ago," he said.
Ontario providing support for hospital, COVID-19 contact tracing
In response to a question from CBC, Ontario's Minister of Health Christine Elliott did not indicate when or if the pilot project would expand to Thunder Bay.
"What we'll be dealing with in terms of the allocation of vaccines is going to be on the basis of population size primarily, but also based on risk because we want to make sure that we can get to the people over 80 first of all."
The minister also said she was aware of the COVID numbers in Thunder Bay, and defended the work the province has done to help the district.
"We are providing support both in terms of increasing hospital capacity, but also providing people on the ground to help contain the spread and follow up with the case and contact management."
"We also do know that the outbreaks that have happened in the correctional facility and in the jails are coming under control, but there is still a significant outbreak in homeless shelters and some areas of congregate living," said Minister Elliott. "That is another issue that we're turning our attention to and providing additional support."
'We're looking for help': Thunder Bay residents launch online petition
But some residents in Thunder Bay don't think enough help is being provided.
Mike Pozihun and Carlo Cappello started an online petition demanding Ontario declare Thunder Bay a COVID-19 hotspot and prioritize the district to receive supports and vaccinations.
Within hours of being published online, the petition already had hundreds of signatures.
Capello said they hope the petition brings greater recognition by the province of "the crisis" that Thunder Bay now finds itself in.
"We're looking for help. But it would seem that Thunder Bay traditionally, even though we're part of the province, tends to be an overlooked part of the province," Capello said.
"We need some support from our government right now."
With files from Matt Vis, and with files from Power & Politics