WATERLOO REGION -- Regional Coun. Jim Erb has asked Waterloo Region’s top doctor for stronger messaging to local businesses to discourage and even ask their staff to cancel holiday work parties.

“I hope as part of our messaging, while we don’t want to be scrooge on this, that we discourage any holiday gatherings,” suggested Erb during a COVID-19 update at the Region of Waterloo’s committee of the whole meeting Tuesday morning. “I’ve been aware of a couple of organizations who have sent that information out to their employees where they knew they had plans for parties and they respectfully asked to cancel them, and I hope that could be part of our messaging.”

The region’s medial officer of health, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, called Erb’s suggestion excellent.

“We are working on passing out more messaging regarding that,” responded Dr. Wang. “I recognize it’s not the message people were hoping to hear. But in the face of rising case rates and unknowns of Omicron, the best way to protect ourselves is to minimize the size of those gatherings.”

However, she recommended that “if they are going to hold them, have the smallest in-person gatherings.”

Dr. Wang urged residents not to let their guard down this holiday season, with the expectation that the Omicron will surface in Waterloo Region “at any time.”

“We know what to do to effectively slow the spread. Get vaccinated and continue to practice public health precautions,” said Dr. Wang.

She told councillors that nearly 150,000 residents aged five and older are not fully vaccinated and remain vulnerable to COVID-19 and its variants.

Wang noted her team is continuing to see a rise in COVID-19 cases among younger children, and an increase in number of outbreaks and class dismissals in elementary grades, trends that Wang believes will continue until more five to 11-year-olds are immunized against the virus.