Simcoe Muskoka reports 75 new COVID-19 cases, plus 2 more virus-related deaths

Simcoe Muskoka has now lost 200 residents to COVID-19. The health unit listed two more Simcoe County residents, a man and woman, both over 65, who have died with complications from the virus.

As the region's death toll rises, so do daily case counts. The Simcoe Muskoka health unit reports a jump in the number of single-day infections Thursday.

There are 75 new COVID-19 cases, with 22 in Barrie, 17 in Bradford West Gwillimbury and 10 in New Tecumseth. The remaining cases are in Collingwood, Innisfil, Essa and Midland. Wasaga Beach, Orillia, Springwater, Muskoka Lakes, Gravenhurst and Adjala-Tosorontio each had a single case.  One location is pending.

The last time the health unit reported more than 70 COVID-19 cases in a single day it was later confirmed to be a lab data entry error.

Locally, there are 475 active cases, including 34 hospitalizations.

Premier Doug Ford announced a province-wide shutdown would come into effect Saturday at 12:01 am amid rising infection rates. The premier noted variants of concern as the main factor.

"This is a new pandemic. We are now fighting a new enemy," Ford said.

Variants have been a concern of Simcoe Muskoka's medical officer of health. The health unit has confirmed more than 900 UK B.1.1.7 variant cases in Simcoe Muskoka. Additionally, 18 residents have tested positive for the Brazil P.1 variant, while one person tested positive for the South Africa B.1.351 variant. Another 367 cases require further testing after screening positive for a variant of concern.

The province-wide shutdown aims to control case counts, with the expectation people will stay within their households and only leave home for essential reasons.

"As we continue to vaccinate more Ontarians, the end is in sight, but right now, these necessary measures will help to stop the spread of variants in our communities, protect capacity in our health care system, and save lives," said Health Minister Christine Elliott in a statement.

Ontario's latest shutdown has been added to its colour-coded framework as a white tier, with similar protocols and restrictions to the former grey zone rules.

Under the white zone, essential retail stores can open with a 50 per cent capacity limit. Other retail businesses are capped at 25 per cent, including big-box stores.

Personal care services and gyms must close, and indoor dining is not permitted.

This marks Ontario's third pandemic shutdown.

The government said schools would remain open, and the spring break would go ahead as planned the week of April 12.

Earlier this week, Simcoe Muskoka's top doctor cautioned the third wave could force the closure of schools before the end of the academic year. Dr. Charles Gardner said he would support a further postponement of the spring break if the province moved in that direction.

Meanwhile, the province expanded its pharmacy vaccination program to include several pharmacies across Simcoe Muskoka. Eligible residents 55 and older can now book an appointment at select pharmacies.

To date, 97,556 doses of the vaccine have gone into the arms of local residents.