York Region's new top doctor's focus is keeping students in school

York Region is now in the hands of a new medical officer of health (MOH).

York Region announced Dr. Barry Pakes would replace Dr. Karim Kurji, who retired in September, as the area's top doctor.

Dr. Pakes has worked as a public health physician assisting with the region's pandemic response and in various public health roles around the country.

"I have been in York Region helping out in the response, but the MOH role is somewhat different," said Dr. Pakes via Skype on Wednesday.

Pakes is a public health preventive medicine specialist who trained at the University of Toronto and Harvard University.

He said taking on this role during the pandemic is challenging, but he is prepared to lead the region back to normality.

"I think we have our sight on the end game here. It's not going to come quickly, but we know that the light at the end of the tunnel is coming," he said.

In the meantime, Dr. Pakes is closely watching the COVID-19 situation in schools and stressing the importance of vaccinating the region's 91,000 eligible children aged five to 11.

"We have 13 active outbreaks in York Region right now. Only three are more than four cases. They're small. When we declare an outbreak, it could be as few as two kids, so that entire class needs to be dismissed, so it's quite a disruption to those kids learning," explained Dr. Pakes.

"Once kids get immunized, certainly fully vaccinated, even if they're exposed to a case, they're not going to have to self isolate," he mentioned.

Dr. Pakes said that the recent shipment of 38,000 child vaccines and 9,000 at local pharmacies would push the region will further protect the community.

The York Region Health Unit reported nearly 87 per cent of the available appointments were booked by Monday afternoon.