New restrictions announced for parts of SWPH region

Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) has announced it is adding new capacity limits in some areas to promote physical distancing in an effort to curb rising case counts.

The new rules will take effect at midnight on Thursday and will last for at least six weeks in:

  • Aylmer
  • Bayham
  • Blandford-Blenheim
  • Malahide
  • Norwich
  • South-West Oxford
  • Tillsonburg
  • West Elgin

The municipalities have been selected because they have a weekly COVID-19 incidence rate of 80 cases or higher per 100,000 or a vaccination rate lower than 80 per cent for those 12 years of age and older. Larger cities like St. Thomas and Woodstock are not included.

SWPH's Letter of Instruction sets capacity limits at 50 per cent -- as they were during Stage Three of Ontario's reopening plan -- in a number of indoor settings including:

  • meeting and event spaces
  • restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments with no dancing
  • personal care services locations, even with mandatory vaccination
  • sports and recreational fitness activities
  • indoor recreational amenities
  • concert venues, theatres and cinemas

In addition, gathering limits for weddings, funerals and religious services where proof of vaccination is required are also set to 50 per cent.

“For several weeks the cases in our region have risen steadily. Our test percent positivity, our number of cases per 100,000 people, and the pressure on our hospitals all indicate measures must be put into place to stem this rise,” said Dr. Joyce Lock, SWPH medical officer of health in a statement. “These high case counts are taxing local health care providers and disrupting both workplaces and schools.”

Malahide Township Mayor Dave Mennill supports Lock's decision, saying safety and public health come first.

"Obviously they're looking at those areas with the lowest vaccination rates and Aylmer, Malahide and Bayham are certainly one of the lowest in all of Elgin County. "

Karen Davies, CEO of St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, said hospitalizations remain high, varying between 11 and 18 patients over the past two weeks. Currently, there are five unvaccinated COVID-19 patients in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

"We have sent five COVID patients requiring the highest level of ICU to other hospitals in the last 10 days. We've sent four to (London) and one to Stratford...We've got about 15 patients who are currently admitted with swabs pending, and I would say it's a very dynamic situation."

SWPH officials are also asking that anyone with symptoms get tested, and are urging people to get vaccinated as the majority of cases ending up in hospital are unvaccinated.

And with the holidays approaching, Mennill added the upcoming season of get-togethers is likely also a factor in the decision.

"And so I think they're looking at looking at the fact that there's going to be Christmas gatherings, and we want to keep people as safe as possible. And I I understand why there are they're doing this. I guess the good news is it's not a complete lockdown."

At Aylmer Nails and Spa, Owner Thi Pham says the restrictions will hurt, but agrees that at least it's not a full closure and they'll abide by the rules.

"It's not a great news, but better than closed...Maybe (customers) have to wait on the outside until the appointment comes up, so they cannot wait inside here anymore."

Full details on the limits and restrictions, which are in place until at least Jan. 10, 2022, are available here.