'Really big problem': Waterloo Region logs the most new COVID-19 cases in Ont., 1 new death

Waterloo Region recorded the highest COVID-19 daily case count in all of Ontario Wednesday, adding 72 new infections.

One more person also died of the disease, bringing the region's total death toll to 259.

Wednesday's update continues the trend of an alarming rise in COVID-19 infections in the region, with active cases steadily climbing since last week.

It also marks the first time since the pandemic began that Waterloo Region had the highest amount of new cases in the province. By comparison, Peel Region logged 60 new cases Wednesday, and Toronto recorded 54.

There are now 494 active infections in Waterloo Region.

Ryan Imgrund, a biostatistician who works with several health units in Ontario, says he would recommend Waterloo Region scale back the recent reopening step.

"It's a really, really big problem," he said. "When you go ahead into Stage One and cases go up, and we are seeing a reproductive rate above one as well, and as you are seeing hospitalizations as high as they are, that's a sign that Stage One should not be happening."

Concerning how little media attention is being paid to COVID in Porcupine and Waterloo.

Things are going downhill fast in Waterloo. pic.twitter.com/BbT9TY7Jp6

— Ryan Imgrund (@imgrund) June 16, 2021

Imgrund said weekly cases are "at an extremely high level" and is urging a swift response to combat the spread.

"I would sound the alarm bells really, really loud right now," he said. "When you see that fire burning, you can't be waiting for it attack more building, you need to be going after that fire right away."

Health officials have now logged 16,787 cumulative COVID-19 cases in Waterloo Region, with 16,022 considered resolved.

Local hospitalizations declined in the past 24 hours, dropping from 52 on Tuesday to 45 on Wednesday. Intensive care unit admission also dropped by seven, with 15 people now receiving treatment in area ICUs.

Two more outbreaks were also declared Wednesday, bringing the total number of active outbreaks to nine.

VARIANTS OF CONCERN RISING

In the past day, another three cases were confirmed as variants of concern by health officials, with the total number of variant cases now sitting at 3,468.

The region's variant breakdown is as follows:

  • 3,054 are the Alpha variant, first identified in the United Kingdom and originally known as B.1.1.7
  • 11 are Beta variant, originally detected in South Africa and previously referred as B.1.315
  • 60 are the Gamma variant, initially discovered in Brazil and labelled as P.1
  • 37 are the Delta variant, first found in India and previous called B.1.617
  • 306 cases have had a mutation detected, but have not yet had a variant strain confirmed

Last week, the province identified Waterloo Region as a Delta variant hot spot. The variant, also known as B.1.617, was first identified in India.

The health unit says it can take longer to test confirmed COVID-19 cases for the new Delta variant, which they say is driving the region's infections up.

REGION OF WATERLOO'S RESPONSE

Wednesday afternoon, the region's medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang and Waterloo regional police Deputy Chief Shirley Hilton issued a joint statement regarding the rising COVID-19 cases locally.

"Waterloo Region is experiencing an increasing number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and outbreaks, believed to be due to the usual risk factors, combined with the spread of the Delta variant," the statement reads. "Residents should assume that the Delta variant is circulating widely in Waterloo Region and that there are much higher case numbers of this variant than can be currently confirmed."

The statement says individuals who are not immunized against COVID-19 are most likely to be infected with the Delta variant, adding it will "spread easily" in groups that are not following public health guidelines and are not inoculated.

Hilton and Dr. Wang are urging residents to remain vigilant and continue to follow public health guidelines. People are also urged to take the first vaccine offered and to move up a second dose appointment, if eligible.

"The Delta variant is here and spreading rapidly in our community," the statement continues. "If case rates do not decrease, we may not be able to move to Step 2 with the rest of the province."

The Region of Waterloo says it is doing the following to combat the spread:

  • Getting vaccine doses into arms immediately
  • Advocating for additional vaccine to be quickly delivered to the region
  • Expanding vaccine capacity, including through pharmacies, primary care, mobile teams and clinics
  • Adding new late evening clinics
  • Accelerating second doses, including in high priority areas
  • Encouraging residents to be tested, following public health guidelines and providing contact tracing

At Wednesday's Board of Health meeting, Dr. Wang said she is in discussions with provincial officials regarding Waterloo Region's current situation in Step 1.

"'We will need to watch the next few days closely," she said.

HELP FROM THE PROVINCE

Hilton adds that, because of their efforts and extra help being sent from the province, thousands of more vaccine appointment spots are being opened each day.

"Pinebrush [in Cambridge] has increased their capacity of administering and additional 1,000 doses a day, Boardwalk [in Waterloo] has increased their capacity, and more days will be open at the Wellesley clinic," she said.

More pop-up clinics are also on the way, according to the vaccine task force, as are evening and nighttime clinics, thanks in part to help from teams courtesy of the Ministry of Health.

"The Ministry of Health is sending two mobile teams to set up in Waterloo Region and assist in administering vaccine," said Hilton. "These are self-contained teams with trailers and tents and right now, we are in planning stages of deciding the best locations for these teams."

Chair Redman says she has spoke to Premier Ford and other provincial officials and has been assured they are aware and working on the situation in the region.

MOST CASES AMONG UNVACCINATED INDIVIDUALS

At the same meeting, Dr. Wang also presented data surrounding vaccination status of confirmed COVID-19 cases, with the vast majority of cases reported among unvaccinated individuals.

Among people hospitalized with COVID-19, 78.6 per cent are unvaccinated, with 21.4 per cent partially vaccinated. There are no breakthrough cases – someone who has had a second dose for at least seven days – hospitalized in Waterloo Region.

At a large, current outbreak in a local shelter, 87.5 per cent of cases are among unvaccinated individuals, with 9.7 per cent partially vaccinated. Only 2.8 per cent of the cases were in fully vaccinated individuals, but Dr. Wang noted they were not yet fully protected at the time of infection.

"Even one dose of any of the vaccines offered in Canada is very effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization," she said. "Two doses are even more protective and will offer even more protection."

Meanwhile, the majority of Delta variant cases are also among unvaccinated individuals. About 83.3 per cent of Delta variant cases are in unvaccinated people, with 13.9 per cent of cases in people who have been vaccinated but not yet fully protected.

Dr. Wang said the region has logged one Delta variant breakthrough case in a fully vaccinated individual, but that person showed no symptoms.

She noted the Delta variant is about 50 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant. Dr. Wang said immunization can "act like a wall" to stop the spread of the variant.

"If you get Delta in a group of people who are mostly unimmunized, it will spread very quickly," she said.

VACCINE UPDATE

Health officials in Waterloo Region administered 8,308 COVID-19 vaccine doses on Tuesday, bringing the total number of jabs put into arms to 428,131.

More than 72.8 per cent of adults have received at least one dose, while 13.29 per cent of people 18 and older are fully vaccinated.

"The situation in Waterloo appears to be Delta variant-driven," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said in a statement to CTV Kitchener. "As such, the province further expanded eligibility to help stop the spread of COVID-19 variants and protect communities with the highest rates of Delta (B.1.617) variant transmission, which includes Waterloo."

As of Monday, people who received a dose of Pfizer or Moderna before May 9 are eligible for an accelerated second dose, and the interval after AstraZeneca as a first dose has shortened to eight weeks.

The province said it's working with local public health unites to help them "fully utilize their vaccine inventory" and "will provide additional doses to Delta hotspots where local inventory has been fully utilized."

Public Health noted that it makes no sense for residents who are holding out for Pfizer over Moderna, as both are essentially the same and equally effective.

They are also reminding residents who are making multiple bookings to cancel unused appointments so no time goes to waste.

NDP MPPS CALL FOR MORE VACCINE DOSES

In the wake of the surging COVID-19 cases, NDP MPPs Laura Mae Lindo (Kitchener Centre) and Catherine Fife (Waterloo) issued an urgent call Wednesday for the province to direct more vaccine doses and additional supports to Waterloo Region.

"In early April, the province designated a central area in Kitchener as a COVID-19 hot spot. Now, the entire Waterloo Region has been designated a Delta variant hot spot,” Lindo said in a release. "Hotspots aren’t getting the extra doses or extra support they need, despite the increased health risk. Without the additional resources to our region, we cannot accelerate first and second doses like we need to."

Fife and Lindo point out that Waterloo Region is lagging behind provincial vaccination rates.

“It’s clear that barriers need to be removed to vaccine access for both first and second doses,” Fife said in the release. “Constituents are telling us that they are waiting longer than their neighbours in other communities, and many are travelling out of the region to secure a vaccine. More efforts need to be made to make vaccines available locally, perhaps through additional pop-up clinics like those in Peel and Toronto.”

PROVINCE-WIDE SNAPSHOT

Across Ontario, health officials reported 384 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, with the province's positivity rate dropping to 1.5 per cent.

Twelve more people died of the disease in the past 24 hours.

Wednesday’s report brings the total number of lab-confirmed cases in Ontario to 540,810, including deaths and recoveries.

Ontario is reporting 384 cases of #COVID19 and nearly 28,100 tests completed. Locally, there are 71 new cases in Waterloo, 60 in Peel, 54 in Toronto, 23 in Middlesex-London and 21 in Ottawa.

— Christine Elliott (@celliottability) June 16, 2021

With files from CTV Toronto.