These numbers show just how bad COVID-19 is in Windsor-Essex

COVID-19 modelling shows that Windsor-Essex is bearing the brunt of the pandemic's second wave harder than other regions in the province. 

The region has the highest positivity and new case rate in Ontario

The region has the fourth lowest testing turnaround time for results in the province. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

COVID-19 modelling shows that the pandemic's second wave is hitting Windsor-Essex harder than most other regions  in the province.

 And in some key metrics, the region is the hardest hit in the province. 

  • Windsor-Essex has the highest COVID-19 positivity rate in all of Ontario, sitting at 14 per cent.
  • The region also has the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases at 323 per 100,000 people per week, which is twice as high as all but five other health units in the province.
  • It also shows that Windsor Regional Hospital continues to have no free ICU beds at its Met campus and that half of these are with COVID-19 patients. 

The data was released Tuesday from the Science Table COVID-19 Advisory for Ontario. 

When the region entered lockdown on Dec. 14, it had the second highest COVID-19 rate, with Peel taking the lead. But a few days later, it took the lead and continues to remain at the top. 

As of Tuesday, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported 175 new cases and 16 new deaths. 

The region is poised to hit 10,000 total cases by tomorrow. With cases climbing so quickly, the strain appears to be taking a toll on testing with only 72 per cent of tests being returned within two days — while that might sound high, the region is ranked as having the 4th lowest testing turnaround time. 

All of this comes the same day that the Ford government announced additional provincial restrictions, with a stay-at-home order effective Thursday 12:01 a.m. This order is meant to restrict people's mobility and ensure they are not going on non-essential outings.

Ford also said that schools in Windsor-Essex will remain closed until Feb. 10, unlike most parts of the province where in-person learning is set to resume Jan. 25. 

"We see based on the data from the last couple of months that the restrictions that we've put in place just haven't been any where near as successful as reducing mobility as they were in March and April," said Jean-Paul Soucy, a epidemiology PhD student at the University of Toronto. 

Many southwestern Ontarians leaving home

The proof of that lack of mobility comes from cell data, which shows that people in south-western Ontario were some of the most mobile in the final weeks of December, specifically the week of Christmas. 

Windsor-Essex, Lambton and Chatham-Kent had some of the highest mobility rates from Dec. 21 to Dec. 25, according to data from Environics Analytics — a marketing company that has previously tracked the movement of people. 

Vito De Filippis for Environics Analytics (Chris Ensing/CBC)

In Windsor-Essex, 70 per cent of people were "out and about," for Lambton that increases to 74 per cent and for Chatham-Kent it was 79 per cent. Of these areas, Windsor-Essex was the only one already in lockdown. 

"As we're seeing, the cases in these areas tend to be pretty high and given that the vast majority of people are out and about, it maybe explains some of that trend," said Vito De Filippis, who works at Environics. 

Environics used anonymized cell phone data to determine the proportion of people who were "out and about," which De Filippis defines as anyone who stepped 500 metres beyond their home postal code. 

This could include anyone who went for a walk or to work and doesn't necessarily mean that people were gathering with others. 

Another point to keep in mind is that while a significant percentage of people were out, it was lower than last year at the same time. 

"We are seeing a reduction in mobility rates so people to some degree have been staying home and following the regulations," De Filippis said, adding that of those going out though, they are staying out longer than usual. 

"[This] indicates that they may be visiting friends or family and potentially not social distancing while they're out," he said. 

Environics Analytics found the percentage of people who went 500 metres beyond their home postal code over the week of Christmas. (Data from Environics Analytics)

Health experts say the data is useful and may help explain some of COVID-19's narrative in the region. 

"It tells us that people were travelling between health units, whether that was for shopping or whether that was for gathering, I think all of these things may have contributed to driving more transmission of the virus," Dr. Jeff Kwong, an infectious disease epidemiologist in Toronto told CBC News. 

Workplaces seeing many outbreaks

Soucy said data such as this is likely why the government is resorting to stricter measures that were in place when the pandemic first began. But even then, he said having people follow the guidelines is only one component. 

He added that leaders need to re-examine the policies they have in place, particularly around what is defined as an essential workplace as there have been a number of outbreaks in work environments. 

Soucy said to his knowledge workplace outbreaks are the second leading source of outbreaks, only behind long-term care homes. 

In Windsor-Essex, there are currently 19 workplace outbreaks, with the agriculture sector leading it at eight total outbreaks. 

Jean-Paul Soucy, epidemiology PhD student from U of T (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Manufacturing is one sector that Soucy said should be re-considered as to whether it's essential. 

He said sectors that employ temporary workers or have factories with people close together should be ones that receive targeted restrictions or financial supports for workers so that they can stay home.  

As part of Ford's announcement Tuesday, a new training campaign will be launched to protect workers of high transmission workplaces to promote "safe behaviour before, during and after work." This includes those in manufacturing, food processing, construction and other workplaces deemed essential. 

The government is also supplying funded paid sick leave at $500 a week for two weeks. 

New COVID-19 variant

The rate of spread across Canada has some experts wondering how much of the U.K. COVID-19 variant is present. 

The variant was officially found to be in Ontario on Dec. 26, but it has yet to be confirmed as to whether the strain is in Windsor-Essex. 

Locally, officials have been split on whether the variant has arrived. 

A few weeks ago, medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said the new strain was not present locally. 

But, chief of staff for Windsor Regional Hospital Dr. Wassim Saad said last week during the hospital's board meeting that based on the rate and pattern of spread, he suspects that the strain arrived weeks ago.

Soucy said it is "probably" spreading across Ontario. 

"The key now is the more that we reduce transmission the more chances we have to kind of slow down this more contagious variant, which will be harder to control and also we reduce the chances of seeing more mutations that could cause trouble," he said. 

"It just really underscores just how important it is to get transmission down as much as possible, immediately." 


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