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Region’s increase in COVID-19 cases linked to Delta variant

Even as the province begins to ease restrictions on reopening, Waterloo Region’s COVID-19 numbers are headed in the wrong direction, largely the result in a surge of the new Delta variant of the disease.

Of the 574 total cases reported by the province on Friday morning, the region accounted for 79, trailing only Toronto, which reported 109, and Peel Region with 84.

As of this morning, there were 383 active cases of COVID-19, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 16,401. Of those cases, 15,751 (96 per cent) have been declared resolved. There have been 258 fatalities linked to the virus.

The region is currently tracking outbreaks at five locations, including at the Waterloo Regional Police’s central division.

The most recent numbers buck a downward trend in the region.

“Today we are concerned that our trends are not improving, as they have in other communities,” said associate medical officer of health Dr. Julie Emili at Friday’s weekly pandemic briefing.

Much of the concern involves the Delta variant’s impact on the community. 

“Waterloo Region has been identified as an area of concern for the Delta variant. To date, a total of 14 cases of the Delta variants have been reported, but we expect that more cases will be detected in the coming days to weeks. All residents are advised that the Delta variant is circulating in our community. Like other variants, the Delta variant is more transmissible and may cause more severe illness. Research from Ontario science tables suggests that the Delta variant is about 50 per cent more transmissible and that the first dose of the vaccine is less effective against symptomatic disease compared to the Alpha variant,” she said.

Although many cases were reported in active outbreaks, community transmission and close contact continue to be the setting where transmission is most often reported. Overall, 46 per cent of cases throughout the pandemic have been linked to close contact, but since April 1, that number has grown to 55 per cent.

Hospitalization levels continue to be elevated by the virus, as well, with 34 individuals in the hospital, 23 of whom are in an intensive care unit. The high admission levels were addressed Friday by Lee Fairclough, president of St. Mary’s General Hospital and hospital lead for Waterloo-Wellington.

“We’ve seen an increase in cases in the region, but we’ve also seen an increase in hospitalizations,” she said.

“I’ll use St. Mary’s as the example, but I can see this is a very similar trend at our sister hospitals at Grand River and Cambridge, at the beginning of June, we had managed to see hospitalizations come down low  at St. Mary’s, and over the course of the last week, we have now jumped up to 17 new admissions for COVID. And in addition to that, we continue to care for another 14 that were originally admitted for COVID that still require COVID care. So, this is this is quite a sharp increase,” said Fairclough.

“One of the things that we know about the variant – and what I think our public health colleagues are really warning here – there’s a 2.6-time increase of hospitalization with that variant. So it’s more transmissible, and I think that we are seeing people again being admitted that are quite critically ill.”

Due to the uptick, the province has declared the region a hot spot, making more vaccine available.

The same is true in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, which is also a provincial Delta (B.1.617) variant area of concern.

“This additional support from the province will help us continue to protect our community from COVID-19 – especially as we seek to reopen across the region,” said WDG medical officer of health Dr. Nicola Mercer. “I am urging every resident of the region: do not wait. Book your first or second dose as soon as you can. Have the vaccine conversation with friends, family and co-workers and help ensure all of us are protected.”

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