Variants of concern now predominant strain in Waterloo Region: Dr. Wang
KITCHENER -- Waterloo Region's top doctor says variants of concern are now the predominant strain of COVID-19 in the area.
Regional officials reported its first cases of the B.1.351 and P.1 variants this week, which were first detected in South Africa and Brazil, respectively. There are also 40 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 first found in the U.K.
As of Friday, 1,026 cases had screened for a variant of concern.
"Our cases in Waterloo Region have increased rapidly and cases or variants of concern are continuing to increase," Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said at the region's COVID-19 briefing on Friday morning. "(They) are now the predominant strains in Waterloo Region, as in Ontario."
According to Dr. Wang, variants in the region are the result of community spread.
Dr. Wang said the region's weekly incidence rate rose again to 100 cases per 100,000 people. Ontario's rate is at 187 per 100,000 people, which is higher than it was during the peak of the second wave in the province.
"Our local situation is concerning as our rates have rapidly increased as well," Dr. Wang said.
Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph announced its first confirmed case of the P.1 variant on Friday. Officials said variants of concern now make up 70 per cent of all cases in that region.
Dr. Wang said case rates, hospitalizations and deaths will likely increase in the coming days and weeks.
According to Dr. Wang, the disease is currently spreading in the region through people who may not be following public health guidelines as closely as they should be.
"The public health measures that we know do work for reducing spread, but we have to do them more consistently and we have to do them more diligently now that we have variants predominantly in the region," she said.
However, she said she wanted to avoid blaming and shaming people who have tested positive.
"Nobody sets out to get COVID," Dr. Wang said.
She said most spread is between family and friends.
Ontario set another record for new cases on Friday, reporting 4,812 more.
Premier Doug Ford is announced further restrictions on Friday afternoon as cases continue to soar. Those included extending the stay-at-home order and restricting interprovincial travel.
Dr. Wang said she's hoping for stricter measures across all of Ontario, discussing the closure in the first wave back in March and April last year when streets were mostly empty.
"We really, really have to go back to that type of stay-at-home," Dr. Wang.
As of Thursday, the region's vaccination task force said 25 per cent of the eligible population of people over the age of 18 have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The premier said last week they hoped to have 40 per cent of eligible populations vaccinated by the time the stay-at-home order is expected to lift in early May.
"We have a long way to go," Insp. Jen Davis said.
Davis did say the region is on track to reach that target.
She added that vaccine supply continues to be unstable in the region, especially for Pfizer and Moderna supply.
Some pharmacies and primary care facilities are offering AstraZeneca vaccines to people 55 and older.
Davis warned that large clinics in the region may need to close in the coming weeks due to a lack of vaccine supply and said the task force is prioritizing using the doses they do have as quickly as possible.
EMERGENCY CHILD CARE
Regional officials said they're organizing emergency child care for people working in essential services.
Care will be available starting on Monday.
To be eligible, at least one parent or guardian needs to be eligible under provincial guidelines, both parents must work outside of the home and children need to be school aged.
The province will pay for any fees. Caregivers can apply online through OneList.