Expert advises wearing a mask as COVID-19 cases rise in Simcoe Muskoka

The emergence of the new BA.5 COVID-19 variant has seen case counts increase in each of the last two weeks in Simcoe County, with 44 new this week by Monday alone.

"There is good reason, not for panic, not for dire - you don't have to be sleepless about it. But there is reason for concern and to take action," said Dr. Barry Nathanson, a physician in the intensive care unit at Southlake in Newmarket.

With residents not testing as often, medical officials have had to resort to other ways to spot and predict COVID-19 trends.

"We're really reliant upon wastewater signals as an early or leading indicator for where we are in the pandemic, and we are seeing a rise in general wastewater signals for viral loads," said Dr. Nathanson.

Doctors say the latest variants are a much more formidable opponent for our immune systems.

"It seems to be able to re-infect previously infected and immunized persons after about two to three months," said Dr. Colin Lee, an Associate Medical Officer of Health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.

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While the doctors say they are always concerned about viral infections, some remain more concerned than others.

"In the last couple of weeks, we are seeing signs of increase. I think the honeymoon period in terms of COVID activity might be coming to an end soon," said Dr. Lee.

"I think the key thing is that because we are vaccinated and because we have treatments, even though those numbers are rising, we're seemingly getting mild cases right, not severe cases, so I think that's important," added former Ontario Medical Association President, Dr. Sohail Gandhi.

"Our health services system continues to struggle mightily. Not only with COVID but volumes in general. Emergency departments, hospitals really are very, very tight," reminded Dr. Nathanson.

As for how we proceed going forward, it's not a new formula, according to doctors.

"Without meaning to be disrespectful to our leadership, I'd like to see our government and public health leaders demonstratively pull their heads out of the sand. The pandemic is not over, and they are acting as though it is, and that's a false, unhelpful, harmful message. We need to ramp up testing. You don't even hear about it anymore," suggested Dr. Nathanson.

"One thing I'm recommending is that we really need to put a focus on ventilation because COVID is an airborne virus, and so we need to make sure public places or places where people congregate have high-efficiency ventilation," said Dr. Gandhi.

"At this time, I think the best way to protect yourself is if you haven't worn your mask for a while, it's time to start wearing it especially indoors, especially when it's crowded or if you'll be spending more than just a few moments there," said Dr. Lee.

The associate medical officer of health emphasized that although people earned the right to go out and be social again given the state of recent COVID numbers, they still need to be mindful of others and especially the vulnerable.