Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay District could end up in yellow stage of COVID-19 framework, DeMille says

The medical officer of health for the Thunder Bay District expects to know by the end of the week if the area will move into the yellow zone of the province’s pandemic protocol.

37 per cent of total cases in district have been reported since Nov. 6

Thunder Bay District medical officer of health Dr. Janet DeMille says the region is in the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

The medical officer of health for the Thunder Bay District expects to know by the end of the week if the area will move into the yellow zone of the province's pandemic protocol.

Since it was introduced at the start of the month, the Thunder Bay District has been in the lowest level — the green, or prevent stage — of Ontario's colour-coded COVID-19 framework. The scale has five stages — green, yellow (protect), orange (restrict), red (control) and lockdown — each with increasing levels of public health and workplace safety restrictions.

Since Nov. 6, there have been 69 confirmed cases, which accounts for 37 per cent of the local total since the start of the pandemic.

Dr. Janet DeMille said the Thunder Bay area has definitely entered the second wave.

"We certainly did do very well over the summer and first few months of the fall but that seemed to change very dramatically a couple of weeks ago," DeMille said.

DeMille said she is not fully aware of the process of how the province makes the decision to move health units into a different zone. 

Last week, a number of health units were elevated into a higher risk category with most being announced on the Friday to take effect the following Monday. Public Health Sudbury and Districts was the first northern Ontario health unit to be lifted out of the green zone.

The province considers a number of factors, including the number of new cases proportionate to the population and test positivity percentage. The next stage out of green is yellow, or protect, which the province's website said has enhanced targeted enforcement, fines and enhanced education.

"We're looking at what yellow would entail and if we do go that route, then certainly being able to support the businesses that are going to be impacted," DeMille said.

'Significant exposure'

The recent surge in cases has been largely linked to two instances of spread. An outbreak at the Adult and Teen Challenge of Central Canada's men's and women's centres in Thunder Bay has been associated with 24 cases, while the health unit said 29 cases have been confirmed in an outbreak related to pickleball players.

People who played pickleball, a type of racquet sport, between Nov. 3 and Nov. 13 in four indoor locations are urged to isolate immediately and contact the health unit.

"As we started to understand pickleball and how games and sessions are played, it raised a very significant concern that the virus could have been transmitted at those events," DeMille said. 

"It could have transmitted through a number of people and of course all these individuals have their own lives, their own households and work they go to. We knew potentially it could be a significant exposure with significant implications."

DeMille said the health unit is planning to have public health inspectors visit every food and drink establishment in the district, which she called a restaurant blitz, to check compliance with measures and restrictions.