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

APH has reported 11 new cases in the region this week
03-18-2020-Covid-19AssessmentCentreJH01
James Hopkin/SooToday

New COVID-19 cases in the province ranged this week between a low of 2,791 and a high of 3,732.

A positive milestone for the province in the battle against COVID-19, more than 5.5 million Ontarians have now been vaccinated, with the province saying it’s on track to have administered first doses to 65 per cent of Ontarians aged 18 and over by the end of May.

Additionally, Health Canada has approved the Pfizer shot for children 12 and up after promising trials out of the U.S, and Johnson & Johnson is expected to get the go-ahead for rollout of its vaccine, which is showing promise against variants of concern.

With mother's Day approaching, lockdown and social distancing are sure to impact any celebrations for the second year in a row. , While usual outings such as spa dates, brunches and some pre-pandemic traditions are on pause, there are alternatives to sett new ways to celebrate your mother, grandmother, aunt or even that special someone who means the world to you. Read more from Danielle Dupuis here.

Here's the latest on new cases in Algoma

Over the last week, there have been 11 new cases of COVID-19 in the area.

Tenaris's AlgomaTubes has reported that five employees tested positive for the virus, and workplace transmission has been confirmed.

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

  • 135,092 tested
  • 342 confirmed 
  • 23 active cases
  • 0 (2)* currently hospitalized
  • 319 resolved
  • 4 deceased
  • 65 cases screened positive for variants of concern

According to data on howsmyflattening.ca, a University of Toronto-led website which collects and analyzes data from Ontario's COVID-19 cases, 50 per cent of ICU beds in Algoma Public Health's jurisdiction are currently occupied, two of which are COVID patients.

While not providing a specific figure, Brandy Sharp Young, Sault Area Hospital (SAH) spokesperson, has confirmed the local hospital “has admitted COVID-19 positive patients from northwestern and southern Ontario. SAH expects to continue to receive patients depending on critical care capacity in our hospital.” 

The province has directed all hospitals, including those in the north, to receive COVID-19 patients as required as the virus puts a strain on ICU capacity in Ontario hot spots such as the GTA. 

The data also describes the community risk level for COVID-19 in our region as 'low.'

Total confirmed cases by area of residence: 

  • 265 in Sault Ste. Marie and area
  • 50 in central and east Algoma
  • 23 in Elliot Lake and area
  • 3 in north Algoma

Comparatively, in Chippewa County, which covers Sault Ste. Marie Mich. and surrounding area, the COVID-19 data as of Tuesday states:

  • 2,399 cumulative positives
  • 2,093 cumulative recovered
  • 33 deaths
  • 3 cases currently hospitalized

Here's the latest on COVID-19 vaccinations in Algoma

Algoma Public Health is continuing in phase one and is expanding into phase two of of Ontario's 3 Phase Vaccine Distribution Program. As of today at 9:37 a.m.:

  • 41,875 total doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered (37,957 Algoma residents, which is 39.2 per cent of eligible residents 16+ or 33.2 per cent of all residents)
  • 34,039 people have received their first dose (This number represents 35.2 per cent of eligible residents 16+, and 29.7 per cent of all residents)
  • 3,918 Algoma residents have been fully immunized with first and second doses (This number represents 4 per cent of eligible residents 16+, and 3.4 per cent of all residents)

Provincial data is showing that most adverse effects from COVID-19 vaccinations are not serious in nature. To date, there have been 19 reports of adverse effects in the Algoma district.

Last week, APH announced three new COVID-19 vaccination clinics at GFL (May 7, 14 and 15). More details on eligibility and those clinics can be found here.

Today, APH announced another 2,700 new COVID-19 vaccination appointments as well as expanded eligibility. More details on the most recently announced clinics can be found here.

On Sunday, the province announced it would expand COVID-19 vaccination booking to those 18+ in hot spots. The news came after what the province called "a stable and reliable increase in vaccine supply."

Health Minister Christine Elliott said more than 73,000 appointments were booked between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Monday.

The province is also proceeding with the launch of mobile vaccine units for small to medium-sized businesses in hot spot communities at select businesses that have employees who cannot work from home and have a history or risk of outbreaks.

This news comes as the health minister told media that Ontario might shorten the length of time between COVID-19 vaccine doses as it prepares to receive more supply this month.

The Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, Canadian Union of Public Employees, and Service Employees International Union said they've asked the province to accelerate second doses for health care workers, but have received no commitment.

Meanwhile, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they're offered.

NACI said Monday that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are "preferred" and that Canadians should weigh the risks of waiting for one of them before deciding whether to take a more immediate jab of either of the other two approved for use in Canada.

NACI's advice appears to contradict Health Canada's long-standing recommendation that the best vaccine is the first one available.

War Memorial Hospital wants to share vaccine with Canadian staff members families, hospital nurses

Sault, Michigan’s War Memorial Hospital (WMH) has 3,000 doses of Moderna and 1,500 doses of Pfizer currently in stock.

WMH says it wants to provide vaccines to at least the family members of Canadian WMH staff, and possibly other Canadians as well.

WMH has contacted the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and the department said it prefers a ‘U.S. citizens vaccinated first policy’ but hasn’t forbidden the hospital from sharing it with Canadian neighbours.

Read more on possible vaccine sharing here.

Ontario schools will offer online learning option for entire 2021-22 school year

Ontario says students can opt to take all their classes online when the new school year begins in September. 

The province says the option will be available for the entire 2021-2022 school year and it will be providing more information to parents in the coming months.

The government says it will increase funding to school boards by $561 million next year to help address continued pandemic-related costs.

Education unions, advocacy groups and parents are raising concerns about the plan, stating they are worried the government is considering establishing a permanent online learning stream.

Police anticipate fines for participants, organizers of last weekend's protest

It is expected fines will be issued to individuals gathered at a peaceful protest, held at Bellevue Park Friday, against COVID-19 restrictions.

Police spokesperson Lincoln Louttit confirmed that the police service is also aware of plans of ongoing protests at Bellevue Park, after a social media post on a public Facebook group surfaced promoting ongoing weekly protests.  

Speakers at the rally gathered despite COVID-19 restrictions, and speakers questioned COVID-19 science. Many faced backlash from passing motorists.

Trudeau pushes back on border closures following Ford government ad

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pushed back Friday against Ontario's ongoing calls for tighter travel restrictions, saying finger-pointing won't help Ontarians as the province grapples with the third wave of COVID-19.

Trudeau made the comment in response to an ad released Thursday by Ontario's Progressive Conservative party, which accuses him of failing to appropriately restrict travel into the province.

The prime minister said Ottawa is willing to work with Ontario on further limiting the number of people allowed to enter the province, but noted he hasn't heard from Premier Doug Ford on the issue since the province requested tighter controls at land borders last week.

LTC commission says nursing homes were neglected, sector needs reform

Ontario's neglected long-term care sector needs sweeping reforms to protect its vulnerable residents, an independent commission has found, pointing the finger in a scathing report at governments past and present for thousands of COVID-19 deaths at the province's nursing homes. 

Despite numerous past reviews, commissions and inquiries recommending improvements, the sector was completely unprepared for the pandemic, the Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission said in a 322-page report delivered to the provincial government Friday night.

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton responded to the report on Monday, stating that the changes for long-term care homes in Ontario were needed long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and began taking thousands of lives of senior citizens.

On Thursday, Premier Doug Ford defended Fullerton, telling the commission that he takes ultimate responsibility for the tragedies in long-term care and promised to fix the system.

Unions predict provincial cuts will have dire consequences for northern hospitals

The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions and the Canadian Union of Public Employees released a paper on Wednesday, highlighting and projecting staff and funding cuts for Northern Ontario. 

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has shown Ontario hospitals have only limited capacity after decades of cuts from successive governments, the crisis for northern Ontario hospital patients will get much worse, said the research paper.

Vaccines not yet mandatory for return to college, university classrooms

The hope of returning to in-class learning, COVID-19 and vaccines are at the top of every college or university student’s mind these days.

Whether or not Ontario post-secondary students will have to be vaccinated before eventually returning to in-class learning is still unclear.

Read what Sault College and Algoma U had to say about it here.

Manitoulin Island ferry delays planned May 7 season start

Concerns about COVID-19 have pushed back the start of the 2021 season for the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry.

In an April 30 news release, the Owen Sound Transportation Company, the Crown agency that operates the ferry, said services have been paused indefinitely.

Halfway Haven won't re-open unless it can come up with major funding, lodge official says

Halfway Haven, a spot where snowmobilers can safely rest, has announced it will not re-open for upcoming seasons due to financial challenges posed by COVID, a mild winter and staffing issues.

Read more from SooToday's Darren Taylor here.

Group of police officers files constitutional challenge over pandemic rules

A group of active and retired police officers from several forces has launched a legal challenge over Ontario's pandemic orders, alleging that enforcing the rules requires officers to breach their oath to uphold the constitution.

The civil action targets Doug Ford, Ontario's attorney general, five police chiefs as well as federal officials.

Local Indian community members react to COVID crisis In India

Members of Sault Ste. Marie’s robust Indian community are looking at reports of COVID devastation in their homeland with fear and anxiety.

India has reported more than 18.7 million positive cases since the pandemic began, second only to the United States. 

Hospitals have reached the breaking point and there’s a critical shortage of oxygen tanks. Makeshift crematoriums of burning pyres add to the apocalyptic atmosphere.

“I feel very saddened with the situation,” said Arin Arin, an employee at the Indian Bazaar on Great Northern Road.

As of 2020, Arin said there are about 3,000 people of Indian descent living in Sault Ste. Marie. He says they’re a close community.

A lot of his Sault friends would hop on a plane back to India to help if they could, but of course, that’s not possible.

How the museum's first artist in residence is navigating lockdown

In early March, the Sault Ste. Marie Museum announced it would be opening its doors to the public to display its first ever residency exhibit. The Museum inaugurated its exhibit on March 25 but was forced to close due to the provincewide lockdown just a few days later.

The exhibit is a culmination of months of work by Isabelle Michaud, the artist in residence, which pays homage to Northern Ontario’s rich francophone culture. The Museum is now looking for ways to let the show go on.

Read more from Mike Hermida here.

Some question Christmas movie being shot in the Sault

According to the Cultural Industries Ontario North (CION) website, a feature film produced by 180 Sisterhood Productions, A Christmas Letter, will be shot in the city throughout the month of May. 

News of the filming created some buzz on social media Wednesday with Facebook users questioning the logic behind allowing a film production to go ahead while the province is under a mandated lockdown.

The Reopening Ontario Act currently allows for commercial film and television production, including related activities like hair, makeup and wardrobe. The set of a film or television production can be located in any business or place, even if they are businesses or places required to be closed under the provincial act.

Soo Sings for Kids goes virtual this year

Soo Sings for Kids will again be a virtual event this year. Due to COVID-19, organizers say the event will not be a live show for the second year in a row.

Algoma U, SAH to deliver medical tech trials to detect early disease warnings

Participants in Sault Ste. Marie will help the development of new technology that will assist healthcare professionals in detecting symptoms that may indicate the onset of a variety of diseases, including those associated with COVID-19.

Algoma University and the Sault Area hospital have partnered with Myant to deliver the product trials. Read more about the trials here.

Couple separated by COVID-19 to reunite for 75th wedding anniversary

Dorothy Bonell is finally getting an opportunity to see her husband Robert at F.J. Davey Home after being separated for nine months due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

And when they reunite May 9, it will be to commemorate their 75th wedding anniversary. 

Read the full heartfelt story here.