The number of COVID-19 cases has spiked in Niagara-on-the-Lake, with no indication of their origin.
The number of reported cases was at 29 on Monday, and by Tuesday, had jumped to 31.
When Niagara Region Public Health began breaking down the numbers by municipality at the end of May, NOTL had 21 known cases. There was one new case in June, two new cases last week, a jump of five Saturday, and two more by Tuesday.
The Regional acting medical officer of health, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, says there was a “very small number” of cases — he wouldn’t give an exact number — which were unrelated, and he can’t pinpoint how those people contracted the disease.
“We just don’t know,” he said, categorizing them as community transmission.
Of the nine new cases, he said, the rest are considered close contact, meaning family, friends or co-workers of those first cases.
“What we have is a small number of cases, and spread to a social group,” hopefully a spread “that will come to an end soon.”
He said in cases like these, “it’s easier to bring the chain of infection to an end,” but at the same time, he can’t exclude the possibility that there are more in the community that he’s unaware of at this time.
He says the message from the recent increase is to continue to take all precautions and follow all guidelines, and for anyone with symptoms to be tested.
“It’s more important than ever that we’re practising those precautions. Now is the time to be extra vigilant.”
He said the new numbers span a range of ages. “Age does not appear to be a factor.”
He also said there has been no outbreak amongst off-shore workers.
St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, and Niagara County in the U.S. have also had recent upticks.
After a Monday meeting with the emergency control group, Lord Mayor Betty Disero said there were no decisions to make any “drastic changes,” although staff may go back to wiping down furniture such as benches and picnic tables. The emphasis will continue to be on education, she said, and a reminder to residents that as we enter Stage 3, it’s more important than ever to remember hand-washing or sanitizing, refraining from face-touching, and keep physical distancing.
It is now mandatory to wear a mask or face covering in NOTL and St. Catharines when going into a store, restaurant or any public space, and a regional bylaw for face coverings takes effect Friday, July 31.
Disero made a new video Monday reminding residents not to become complacent, to remain vigilant, and remember to follow all the guidelines that have been recommended to reduce spread of the virus. After learning of more cases Tuesday, she said she hopes residents will also help spread her message.
She is also going to ask business groups such as the NOTL Chamber of Commerce, the Virgil Business Association and the wine industry associations to spread the message that employers need to take precautions, including asking their employees if they have any COVID symptoms, or if they’ve been around anyone who is sick, to go home, and to get tested.
“More and more people are out on the street, taking advantage of the sun, restaurants and larger groups,” she says. “We need to be extra vigilant.”
Given the length of time we’ve been in the pandemic, people may be tired of the restrictions and may be getting “a little closer to their friends than they should be.
“But we don’t want to give the impression that it’s okay. We’ll start seeing results from Stage 2 and then Stage 3. We have to be diligent until we know we’re in the clear.”
She also suggests wiping down groceries before taking them into the house, and washing new clothing before wearing it.
These are “good tips that will help protect you,” she says.
“We’re using every tool we have to keep people safe. We’re just at the beginning of this, not the end. The next step, whatever it is and whenever it comes, we’ll continue to watch to see the impact on the community. We have to move forward. We have to be extra cautious.”
She says, to those who have become more lax in recent weeks, “go back to what we were doing in March and April. I don’t want anyone to panic. This isn’t a panic situation. I just want you to be cautious.”
And especially important, she says, “don’t go into crowds of people if you don’t have to.”
In her video, she says, “I don’t say this to scare you. I say this to protect you.”