Thunder Bay

Public health trying to limit COVID-19 spread among Thunder Bay's vulnerable populations

The medical officer of health for the Thunder Bay District says the city’s isolation shelter has been operating at full capacity over the last few weeks, following a number of COVID-19 exposures among vulnerable populations since the start of January.

Four cases of COVID-19 reported on Thursday, the lowest single-day increase since Jan. 18

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

The medical officer of health for the Thunder Bay District says the city's isolation shelter has been operating at full capacity over the last few weeks, following a number of COVID-19 exposures among vulnerable populations since the start of January.

Following multiple meetings of the Thunder Bay's municipal emergency control group, a state of emergency was declared earlier this week specific to health and social services related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The declaration calls on the provincial government to provide immediate assistance, particularly with additional funding and support for staffing and social services for the city's homeless and precariously housed populations.

Dr. Janet DeMille said an isolation shelter, which has been in place since last year, has been used to try to prevent spread but has been filled recently due to case and contact management.

"If we were looking at broader spread, broader number of exposures where there's more high risk contacts, where there's more individuals with COVID, we would need a lot more room than the current shelter could accommodate," DeMille said.

Thunder Bay District medical officer of health Dr. Janet DeMille says COVID-19 remains a serious situation. (Logan Turner / CBC)

DeMille said one of the challenges with an outbreak among vulnerable populations is that it might not be immediately clear that it's happening.

"An outbreak could be happening, and we're not aware of it," DeMille said, adding people may be reluctant to come forward or could face hurdles in accessing testing. 

"These individuals often have significant, complex needs that can make it challenging for them and for us if they were to have COVID to be able to take all the measures to try to prevent the spread."

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit announced four new cases on Thursday, which is the lowest single-day increase since Jan. 18.


All four cases are located within Thunder Bay and the surrounding area, with one of those at the Thunder Bay District Jail.

Outbreaks at two correctional facilities — the jail and Thunder Bay Correctional Centre — have spiked over the last few weeks with dozens of cases in each setting.

DeMille said getting those outbreaks under control is a priority.

"That's a very challenging environment to operate in and control an outbreak," she said.

"In both facilities at the present time there's ongoing testing being done, both of staff and inmates so that we can monitor what's happening there."

DeMille said, particularly with the jail, inmates who are COVID-19 positive or are a high risk contact could be released at any time.

The health unit has a process with the jail to know when somebody is being released but depends upon where they're going, she added.

"That has been a bit of a challenge in terms of finding people and moving forward with what we need to do promptly," DeMille said.

There are 134 known active cases across the Thunder Bay District.

"This is a serious situation," DeMille said. "It's not over, and we all have to take the precautions. It can happen anywhere."

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