The proportion of COVID-19 tests coming back positive in Brampton approached 10 per cent in late October, more than double its neighbours, indicating more tests are needed to track the spread of the virus.
During the week of Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, Brampton recorded a test positivity rate of 9.6 per cent, while Mississauga saw a rate of 4.4 per cent and Caledon recorded 4.6 per cent.
Brampton last saw a positivity rate that high in mid-to-late May, when positivity hit 15 per cent.
The region reported 258 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, with 199 of them from Brampton.
Peel Region’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Lawrence Loh, told CP24 that recent numbers could be blamed on a number of changes that occurred in October.
Testing centres moved to an appointment-only format from walk-in, the region was put back in Stage 2 on Oct. 10, and Thanksgiving occurred, leading some people to get together against the public health guidelines issued at the time.
“A little bit more time is needed to get some clarity on the picture of positivity but the reality is a 9.6 per cent rate is certainly concerning,” Loh said.
Ontario officials have used a “high alert” threshold of 2.5 per cent positivity to justify imposing new restrictions, and the World Health Organization (WHO) says five per cent positivity or higher should dissuade officials from loosening restrictions.
The WHO also says test positivity rates of 3 per cent or more indicate a jurisdiction needs more tests.
Positivity rates of similar size have been observed in neighbourhoods of Toronto at times.
But officials there have blamed them on relatively low rates of testing of residents in those areas, sometimes only a few dozen tests per week.
In Peel Region as a whole, more than two thousand test specimens can be collected each day.
Peel has been in modified Stage 2 restrictions, preventing indoor dining, fitness centre activity or movie theatre operations, since Oct. 10 along with Toronto and Ottawa.
Last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he wanted a “surgical” approach to future restrictions, arguing that businesses should be allowed to resume and restrictions be focused at a more specific geographic area such as a neighbourhood or city instead of a region.
“I think it’s pretty clear that we’re not in a position to return to Stage 3 in Peel at this time,” Loh said.
He said future restrictions need to reflect the “unique transmission picture” in each community, alluding to the fact that restaurants represented a miniscule number of known coronavirus outbreaks in Peel.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said the city’s increased positivity is due to the nature of its workforce.
“These are unsung heroes, essential workers, truckers, and people working in a food packaging plant. Without them going to work, we wouldn’t be able to maintain Canada’s supply chain,” he told CP24. “They go to work knowing of the higher risk and we’re seeing that in the numbers.”
He said the ending indoor dining on Oct. 10 actually increased virus transmission in his opinion.
“People who would go to a restaurant where it would be safe – where there would be masks and proper physical distancing – those smaller social gatherings have now moved indoors into private residences and offices, where’s there’s not the same adherence to public health.”
He said that he’s expecting some sort of reworking of the rules for November to allow indoor dining.
“(Patio dining) does not work in November in Canada and it is only going to get colder.”