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COVID-19: Here's the situation in the Sault this week

Health unit reports eight new cases in Algoma this week

New COVID-19 cases reported by the province ranged from 2903 on Tuesday, the lowest reported this month, and Sunday's high of 3,945.

Public health officials released COVID-19 modelling data this week, which shows a quarter of the province's hospitals now have no free ICU beds, while another quarter have only one or two beds free. There could be some 500 COVID-19 patients in intensive care by the middle of this month, with more than 1,000 by February under more severe scenarios, should data predictions released this week come to pass.

Federally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday that travel restrictions in place at the Canada-U.S. border have been extended another 30 days to Feb. 21.

Here's the latest local, provincial, and federal news regarding COVID-19 cases and funding that you need to know:

Algoma region sees surge in new cases of COVID-19

Over the last week, Algoma Public Health has reported 25 new cases of COVID-19.

As more cases were reported in the Sault and area over the past month than throughout the whole pandemic combined, Algoma Public Health answered some questions by SooToday in terms of their policy on releasing information on positive COVID-19 cases.

“Workplaces may choose to issue their own public notification as part of their organization's policy. However, this does not mean that there was a public exposure risk.  If there is an exposure risk to the public, APH would issue a notification with the times and locations of exposure, as well as public health instructions on next steps, and how to contact APH for further recommendations,” said Algoma's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Loo.

You can read the full explanation by Dr. Loo here.

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers from Algoma Public Health, updated on Friday at 1:30 p.m.:

  • 78,687 tested
  • 136 confirmed 
  • 31 (1)* active case
  • One currently hospitalized
  • 105 resolved
  • 0 deceased

* The number in brackets are active cases in non-Algoma residents who are temporarily in Algoma. These cases are not counted as part of Algoma’s confirmed case count. APH conducts contact tracing and monitoring of self-isolation for all cases within Algoma.

According to data on, a University of Toronto-led website which collects and analyzes data from Ontario's COVID-19 cases, 62 per cent of ICU beds in Algoma Public Health's jurisdiction are currently occupied. By this data, COVID-19 occupancy makes up eight per cent of the total occupancy.

Total confirmed cases by area of residence: 

  • 118 in Sault Ste. Marie and area, with evidence of community spread
  • 15 in central and east Algoma
  • 2 in Elliot Lake and area
  • 0 in north Algoma

For comparative purposes, here is a look at the COVID-19 case data reported by the Chippewa Health Department, which covers Sault Ste. Marie, Mi., as of Tuesday Jan. 14:

  • 1,620 confirmed cases
  • 1,132 recovered cases
  • 15 deaths
  • Four currently hospitalized

COVID-19 outbreaks at both Great Northern Retirement Home and Extendicare Maple View have been declared over by APH.

There are no new reported cases of COVID-19 at local schools and child care centres, however, in the last 14 days, Public Health Ontario did report confirmed cases at Child Care Algoma's Parkland location and at Francis H Clergue Public School. Both positive cases were staff members.

Provincial data shows that roughly 56 per cent of all positive cases of COVID-19 in the Algoma region have been under the age of 40. Read the full breakdown of regional cases here.

Province tightens COVID-19 restrictions

On Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency, the second since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is expected to be in place for at least the next 25 days.

While schools in this part of the province remain open, new health measures include masking for Grade 1-3 and requirements for mask wearing outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Additional restrictions under the state of emergency include a reduction in store hours for all non-essential retail stores and a requirement for staff who can work remotely to do so. The government has said crews can finish ongoing home renovations, but new projects must be put on hold.

The Ontario government has also temporarily paused residential evictions during the emergency declaration, in an effort to ensure people can stay safely in their residences while a stay at home order remains in place.

Ford also issued a stay at home order, which started yesterday, and requires everyone to remain at home with exceptions for essential purposes. The stay at home order is in effect until at least Feb. 11. Ford said he hopes that the 'bad actors' out there will heed the advice.

Amid confusion on how the stay at home order will be enforced, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the order doesn't give police the power to enter homes or stop vehicles solely to check if the measure is being followed.

More details on the stay at home order can be found here.

Here's how local school boards are handling the COVID-19 pandemic

On Friday, APH instructed local school boards to keep secondary students in the Sault home for the next two weeks, while asking boards to give parents the option of keeping elementary level kids home. 

While APH's recommendation to boards was that elementary students have the option of learning remotely or returning to school, Algoma District School Board (ADSB) said in a letter to parents that they are 'strongly encouraged', if possible, to continue with remote learning in order to reduce risk by lowering the number of students in school, as Northern Ontario's shutdown was extended another 14 days.

This comes despite the provincial government giving the all-clear for for Northern Ontario health units to return to the classroom on Monday.

On Tuesday, SooToday's Darren Taylor reported that in-person attendance at H-SCDSB elementary schools north and east of the Sault is at approximately 95 per cent. Meanwhile, in the Sault, in-person attendance varies from 33-55 per cent.

ADSB told SooToday that numbers vary across the city, from as low as below 10 per cent of students attending in class to up to 50 per cent.

Read more from the school boards here.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) are both calling for a provincewide extension of online learning during the state of emergency.

Wikwemikong Nursing Home residents, staff among first in northeastern Ontario to receive COVID-19 vaccine

 Residents and staff at Wikwemikong Nursing Home on Manitoulin Island will be the first in the Sudbury district to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

They will also be among the first in northeastern Ontario to receive the vaccine.

Politicians in northeastern Ontario have complained that little information has been shared by government about the vaccine rollout in this part of the province.

On Jan. 7, the vaccine rollout started along the James Bay coast. Moose Cree First Nation received the first doses of the Moderna vaccine at the Weeneebayko General Hospital in Moose Factory.

Read more here.

Pfizer-BioNTech cutting back on vaccine deliveries to Canada due to production issues

Procurement Minister Anita Anand says production issues in Europe will temporarily reduce Pfizer-BioNTech's ability to deliver vaccines to Canada.

Anand says the U.S. drug-maker is temporarily reducing deliveries because of issues with its European production lines.

She adds that while the company says it will still be able to deliver four million doses by the end of March, that is no longer guaranteed.

This comes just days after the prime minister stated Canada has 80 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving this year, with more still to come.

In a press conference on Tuesday morning, Trudeau stated the federal government is on track for every Canadian who wants a vaccine to have one by September. 

Controversy over Sault Area Hospital CEO's trip west

Sault Area Hospital CEO Wendy Hansson traveled to British Columbia to visit immediate family and attend medical appointments, according to a statement from the hospital issued to the public Sunday evening.

A timeline for the out-of-province trip was not disclosed. The hospital says it will not be commenting further at this time, but you can read the full statement here.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA) released a statement to SooToday regarding Hansson's travel. it stated, "ONA believes that during the pandemic, public health guidelines apply to everyone – whether members of the public, front-line health-care workers, politicians or senior leaders at our health-care institutions. Those in leadership positions are no exception to this expectation.”

The ONA official acknowledged Hansson has followed self-isolation guidelines, while still maintaining the ONA’s stance on the matter. 

Porter Airlines grounded until at least March 29

Porter Airlines has once more delayed its plans to restart flights, setting March 29 as a new tentative date, just over a year since it first suspended operations.

The regional airline said in November that it expected to restart flights on Feb. 11, but revised those plans in light of a continued surge in COVID-19 cases and new public health measures.

Read more from the airline here.

Baawaating Family Health Clinic hosts free COVID-19 testing

Baawaating Family Health Team and Batchewana First Nation Health Centre are continuing their collaborative efforts with the support of Sault Area Hospital to host another COVID-19 testing blitz on Jan. 20 and 27 from 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.  

Indigenous individuals/families, ages two years and older are eligible for this free testing. Testing is by appointment only.

Local long-term care worker frustrated as province has yet to deliver promised pandemic pay raise

The Ontario government announced Oct. 1, 2020 its support for personal support workers (PSWs) in the province’s long-term care homes by investing $461 million to temporarily enhance their wages, a move designed to attract and retain workers needed to care for LTC home residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A PSW employed with a Sault long-term care home, who spoke to SooToday on condition of anonymity, said she and her co-workers at that home haven’t seen a dime of that money yet.

In response to SooToday's report, France Gelinas, NDP member for Nickel Belt in the Ontario Legislature, demanded Thursday the Ford government “flow the wage boost immediately and give PSWs a permanent raise.”

Read the full story about the NDP's response by Darren Taylor here.

Air Canada reduces first-quarter job capacity by 25 per cent

Air Canada has announced it will cut 1,700 jobs as it scales down operations in response to a new wave of lockdown restrictions.

Read more from the airline here.

Courts urged to limit in-person proceedings in light of new COVID-19 measures

Ontario's courts have been instructed to limit in-person proceedings as much as possible in light of the province's new COVID-19 restrictions.

The heads of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice have issued statements saying matters should be conducted remotely unless it is absolutely necessary to proceed in person.

Read more on COVID-19 procedures at the courts here.

Bishop urges local celebrations to be held virtually during provincial lockdown

The Bishop of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie, Thomas Dowd, issued a statement Thursday evening asking local churches to suspend all public celebrations in compliance with provincial stay at home guidelines.

Though some church gatherings are allowed with restrictions in place, the hope is that those services be held virtually for the time being. 

New visitor restrictions to begin at North Shore Health in Blind River

Stating Monday, new restrictions will be in place at NSHN, including a limit on length of visits. Visitors are not permitted with the exception of essential caregivers or paid support workers. Read more on the restrictions here.

International students frustrated by federal work limits during pandemic

Ottawa temporarily lifted restrictions on international students’ work hours last April, saying the change was aimed at easing the staffing crunch in health care and other essential workplaces.

The measure expired on Aug. 31, 2020, and has not been reinstated. 

The press secretary for the office of the federal immigration minister said the government is grateful for the role newcomers have played in Canada's pandemic response. 

"As more students returned to regular studies in the fall of 2020, the work hour restriction was reinstated at the request of provinces, territories and educational institutions, due to concerns about students working full time while also completing a full course load," Alexander Cohen said in a statement.

Ford ousts Tory legislator from caucus after anti-lockdown letter

Premier Doug Ford has removed a member of his government from caucus for speaking out against COVID-19 lockdowns.

Ford says today that legislator Roman Baber will no longer sit as a Progressive Conservative and cannot run for the party in the 2022 election.

The move comes after Baber issued a public letter today calling on Ford to end a provincial lockdown.