'Make the right choice' and avoid holiday gatherings, Windsor health unit says

One week into lockdown, the local health unit is looking to see stricter measures implemented in Windsor-Essex to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Health unit announces 127 new cases of COVID-19

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported 127 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

While the province has ordered a lockdown across all of Ontario starting Boxing Day, Windsor-Essex health officials are asking locals to go above current lockdown restrictions. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Monday that all of Ontario would go into a lockdown starting 12:01 a.m. Dec. 26 until at least Jan. 23, 2021 in the province's 27 southern public health units. Yet this measure doesn't add any new restrictions for Windsor-Essex. 

In Ontario's north, the lockdown is set to expire Jan. 9, 2021 as the daily case numbers have been significantly lower. 

Yet, prior to this announcement, Windsor-Essex's medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed and several other top health officials from health units in Southern Ontario said in an emailed statement that people should avoid any gatherings over the holidays, including outdoor get-togethers. 

But the current provincial lockdown measures allow outdoor gatherings, as long as physical distancing is maintained and there is a limit of 10 people. 

During the health unit's daily COVID-19 briefing Monday, Ahmed said if anyone is infected, they can potentially infect everyone, and it could spread it those most vulnerable such as seniors. 

Medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed joins other health officials in restricting gatherings both indoors and outdoors. These go one step beyond provincial COVID-19 lockdown measures. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

"I would just want to make sure people understand the risk, what is at stake, and make the right choice," he said.

There is an exception on gathering limits for those who live alone — they can join one other household.

The provincial government also identified a list of 15 "high priority communities" that it will provide funding to increase testing, create community outreach and engagement programs and establish isolation centres.

Though the local health unit has said Windsor-Essex's case rate is "increasing at a rapid rate, much higher than the provincial rates," it was not identified as one of these top priority areas. 

"The province will continue to work with Ontario Health and Public Health Units to expand the list of priority communities, which could include Hamilton and Windsor," a media release from the province reads. 

Monday marks a week since a lockdown went into effect in Windsor-Essex. The health unit announced 127 new cases of COVID-19. Overall there are 1,141 cases active in the region along with 35 active outbreaks.

The health unit is calling for stronger restrictions, saying that anything that doesn't need to stay open should close.

"When we are calling something a lockdown … it better be a lockdown," Ahmed said. 

"That means people are forced to stay home to protect lives, to save lives everywhere."

Prior to the province's COVID-19 briefing, Ahmed said that if new provincial measures don't go far enough, the health unit will introduce some. 

"We definitely want to see stricter recommendations and stricter measures put forward by the province but we'll have to wait and see what recommendations come forward," he said.

Yet, Ahmed did not announce any further restrictions on Monday. 

Chatham-Kent bumped from yellow to grey

While the province-wide lockdown changes nothing for Windsor-Essex, Chatham-Kent will be jumping three zones by the weekend, going from the 'yellow-protect' COVID-19 category to lockdown by the weekend. 

As of Monday, the region had 37 active cases and three deaths. 

Bartender at Chatham's Elephant's Nest Barb Withington told CBC News that she understands the call the province is making. 

Exterior shot of a building.
Chatham-Kent has 37 active cases and three deaths Monday, yet it will also be moving into lockdown along with the rest of the province starting Dec. 26. (CK Public Health/Facebook)

"I saw it coming, was just unaware of when it was going to happen," she said. "I'm not surprised I guess, I feel it's probably the right thing to do."

Withington said she was prepared for it and started saving up ahead of time to get her through the holiday season.

"I think it's what we need to do for public safety for sure," she said. 

Vaccine arrives in Windsor-Essex

Windsor Regional Hospital says the first batches of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine have arrived in the region, and the first shots will be administered Tuesday.

"This is an exciting time in our community as we receive the initial supply of long-awaited doses to vaccinate against the COVID-19 virus," WRH President and CEO David Musyj said in a statement.

"We know this is just the start, and that initial vaccinations will be limited. However, like all communities across Canada, we look forward to the opportunities next year to bring vaccinations to individuals across Windsor-Essex."

Front-line workers at seniors' facilities have been identified as the first priority for vaccination.

Snapshot of the pandemic in Windsor-Essex

There are 83 people in the hospital with 13 in ICU. There are also 118 suspected cases in Windsor hospitals.

Of the new cases announced Monday, 16 are related to outbreaks, three are contacts of confirmed cases, two were community acquired and 106 cases remain under investigation.

Throughout the pandemic, 98 deaths related to COVID-19 have been recorded by the health unit.

Overall, there have been 5,861, COVID-19 cases recorded in the region since the pandemic began.

The region's 35 active outbreaks include three at hospitals, one at Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare and two on different floors at Windsor Regional Hospital's Met campus.

Two school outbreaks are also taking place, at L'Essor Catholic secondary school and  L.A. Desmarais Catholic Elementary School.

There are three outbreaks in community settings, Manor Lodge House, Victoria Manor Supportive Living and Assisted Living Southwestern Ontario.

There are 14 workplace outbreaks:

  • Four in Leamington's agriculture sector.

  • Four in Kingsville's agriculture sector.

  • One in Lakeshore's health care and social assistance sector.

  • One in Essex's health care and social assistance sector

  • One in Leamington's finance and insurance sector.

  • One in Windsor's manufacturing sector.

  • One in Kingsville's manufacturing sector.

  • One in Tecumseh's manufacturing sector.

There are 14 COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care and retirement homes.

  • Sunrise Assisted Living of Windsor with one resident case

  • Huron Lodge in Windsor with one resident case

  • Richmond Terrace in Amherstburg with one staff case

  • Chartwell Classic Oak Park LaSalle with one staff case

  • Sun Parlour Home in Leamington with three staff cases

  • Banwell Gardens Care Centre in Windsor with two staff and seven resident cases

  • The Shoreview at Riverside with one resident and two staff cases

  • La Chaumiere Retirement in Puce with one staff case.

  • Extendicare Tecumseh in Tecumseh with 32 resident and 13 staff cases.

  • Berkshire Care Centre in Windsor with 28 resident and 28 staff cases.

  • The Village at St. Clair in Windsor with 50 staff cases and 68 resident cases.

  • Country Village in Woodslee with two staff cases and two resident cases.

  • Chartwell St. Clair Beach in Tecumseh with 39 resident cases and eight staff cases.

  • Village of Aspen Lake in Tecumseh with two staff cases and one resident case.