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The top doctor at the Eastern Ontario Health Unit says the region saw a record number of new COVID-19 cases on Friday and he's concerned the region could face more restrictions.

In a media briefing Friday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said the EOHU reported 43 new cases of COVID-19 across its region: 20 in Prescott-Russell, four in Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry (SD&G), 18 in Cornwall, and one in the northern portion of Akwesasne.

"We had a record number of cases added that are outside of a major outbreak," Dr. Roumeliotis said. "That's a big number; it's a big jump."

According to data from the EOHU, there are 178 active cases of COVID-19 in the region as of Dec. 4: 90 in Prescott-Russell; 32 in SD&G; 51 in Cornwall; and 5 in Akwesasne. The region has seen 942 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

The new figures were reflected in Ontario's daily COVID-19 update on Saturday. Ontario health officials reported 41 new cases of COVID-19 in the EOHU. Figures from the province sometimes differ from local reports due to the nature of how cases are recorded at the provincial level. 

MOVE TO ORANGE LEVEL POSSIBLE

The EOHU is currently in the "Yellow-Protect" zone under the provincial COVID-19 framework, but Dr. Roumelioitis noted that a move to "Orange-Restrict" is not out of the realm of possibility.

"We're really hovering above that red line for the most part. Above the red line, persistently, is orange and I'm quite worried about that," he said.

The "red line" is a weekly incidence rate of 25 cases per 100,000 population, which is one of the metrics that the province uses to judge whether a region moves to the "Orange-Restrict" level. The EOHU, as a whole, has been above 25 consistently since Nov. 23, according to the health unit's data.

On Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced increased restrictions on three regions in the province, but the EOHU was not one of them.

A move to the "Orange-Restrict" level would reduce the number of people allowed at tables for indoor dining to four from six, and require restaurants and bars close earlier. There would be limits placed on the number of people allowed in fitness spaces and sports and event facilities, including cinemas. Schools and childcare would remain open. 

"I am worried about these numbers and we will be keeping a very close eye on this," Dr. Roumeliotis said.

MOST NEW CASES LINKED TO CLOSE CONTACT

Dr. Roumeliotis said the majority of the new cases reported in the region are linked to close contacts at households or schools.

"The majority of these cases that we're seeing are contacts, so we know where it came from in our area," Dr. Roumeliotis said. "There is an (epidemiological) link in most of these, however the numbers are overwhelming."

The spike in new cases has been putting pressure on contact tracing, he said.

"This is still a huge burden of illness and infection and our area and certainly challenging in terms of our staff."