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Region looking at mask-wearing policy as officials note a threat remains

The number of new cases may have tailed off, but the coronavirus remains a threat to residents here, Waterloo Region officials maintain.

In a video briefing Friday, they noted there have been just three new cases identified since the last update on Tuesday. Still, they’re bracing the possibility of a spike in conjunction with the Canada Day holiday next week, when more social gatherings are expected.

As of today, there have been 1,280 people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19, of which 1,069 have been resolved – 84 per cent. There are currently 96 active cases.

Though public gatherings are on the radar, much of focus remains on long-term care and retirement homes, where the largest number of cases have been reported and where more than 80 per cent of the fatalities have occurred.

Public Health is currently monitoring outbreaks at three such institutional settings, including Forest Heights Revera in Kitchener, where our staff members tested positive for COVID-19 despite being asymptomatic. That long-term care home has been the hardest hit, with 178 cases identified and 51 of the region’s 115 coronavirus-related deaths.

Despite employees following routine COVID-19 precautionary practices, including wearing proper personal protective equipment, positive cases still showed up, said acting medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, noting the region has altered its handling of such outbreaks.

“Upon detection of these cases, measures for outbreak, and enhanced monitoring will still be put in place. They may be scaled back appropriately.”

The reported cases reflect the increased testing being done at care homes now that visitors have been allowed back in.

Some 31,925 tests have been carried out in the region as of week’s end, with Wang offering praise for those carrying out the work.

“I appreciate all their efforts as testing has significantly increased over the last month. Our testing partners are working tirelessly each day to meet the needs of our community,” she said.

“The testing sites, as you may have heard, are very busy. Increased demand often means longer wait times, especially at the new drive-through site.”

On the enforcement side, the region continues to focus on warnings and education rather than handing out tickets. There were no fines levied in the previous week, but 200 instances where warnings or advice were offered, as well as 244 site visits where no action was required. The numbers continue to show the public’s willingness to comply with precautionary measures, Wang said.

Such cooperation needs to continue, stressed regional Chair Karen Redman.

“While we’re doing a good job at keeping the spread of COVID-19 fairly stable, we’re all anxious about the case numbers climbing and having to go into lockdown again. The reality is that COVID-19 remains in our community, and we need to learn to live safely within it while a vaccine and treatments are developed.”

Redman also acknowledged the hard work businesses put into ensuring these regulations and guidelines are being met. This comes after Thursday morning’s virtual town hall, which brought together local business owners and regional officials. The goal was to address some of the concerns and gather input from business owners moving towards a council proposal call to make masks mandatory throughout the region.

“The devil will really be in the details,” said Redman of any potential regulations about the use of masks.

As of Friday Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph (WDG) Public Health reported of 470 cases to date. Of those, 374  have been resolved showing a recovery rate of 79.6 per cent. There have been 37 deaths in the catchment area.

The Ministry of Health reported 34,316 cases of the novel coronavirus in Ontario on Friday, an increase of 0.3 per cent over the previous day. There have been 2,644 deaths attributed to the virus, representing a mortality rate of 7.7 per cent. The ministry reports 29,754 cases (86.7 per cent) have been resolved.

The latest numbers from Health Canada show 102,622 confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide, with 8,504 related deaths, a mortality rate of  8.3 per cent.

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