August saw the fewest new cases of COVID-19 for any month since the pandemic hit Waterloo Region in March, a trend health officials welcome ahead of a potential spike when school resumes next week.
“In the month of August, we have reported 17 new cases, which is our fewest cases per month to date,” said Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region’s medical officer of health, at the weekly briefing Tuesday.
At midweek, there were 42 active cases in the region, an increase of two over a week earlier but a number reflecting the relative stability of the situation locally.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,457 cases of the novel coronavirus, of which 1,259 people have recovered, a rate of 88 per cent. There have been 120 fatalities, a number unchanged in the past week.
To date, the region has carried out some 70,000 tests, with the current positivity rate at 2.1 per cent. Guidelines set out by health agencies, including the World Health Organization, aim for a rate of less than five per cent as a benchmark for safely reopening the economy, returning to school and the like. By comparison, many of the ongoing hotspots in parts of the United States are still seeing positivity rates of 10, 15 and even 20 per cent.
The low rates and relative stability are a good sign ahead of a likely uptick when schools reopen on September 8, Wang suggested. Officials will be watching for spikes within two weeks of students returning to their classrooms.
“Last week, we received the school outbreak management guidance from the province which outlines how local public health units school investigate cases outbreaks and suspected outbreaks in elementary or secondary school settings,” she said, adding “this was a welcomed update.”
The guidance outlines the role of public health units, which includes advising schools on COVID prevention and preparedness, case and contact management, outbreak assessment and management, ongoing local surveillance, otherwise known as monitoring of cases, Wang explained.
For an outbreak to occur in a school, there must be two cases with a proven epidemiological link, meaning there must be a direct connection between those infected.
In the case, that outbreak risk is increased, and outbreaks are becoming more common, schools may be moved entirely to digital.
“If there was a sense that there was uncontrolled transmission in multiple schools, that could be a reality. The typical actions that we take to address any outbreak, which would be very similar in a school setting, are not able to bring these outbreaks under control and render in relatively appropriate amount of time. And there’s a sense that the transmission is uncontrolled or widespread enough that a broad measure like closure of schools may be necessary,” said Wang.
Ultimately, a decision like that is something Public Health hopes to avoid, but the virus has proven unpredictable, she noted.
Neighbouring Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health reported 18 active cases, with the percentage of positive tests at 1.03. Of the total of 560 cases discovered in the catchment area, 505 (90.2 per cent) have been resolved.
The Ministry of Health reported 42,421 cases of the novel coronavirus in Ontario on Wednesday. There have been 2,812 deaths attributed to the virus, representing a mortality rate of 6.6 per cent. The ministry reports 38,369 cases (90.4 per cent) have been resolved.
The latest numbers from Health Canada show 129,425 confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide, with 9,132 related deaths, a mortality rate of 7.1 per cent.