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'Urgent action needs to be taken:' York’s top doc offers grim COVID-19 outlook

Medical officer of health says optimism of previous weeks 'premature,' advises keeping holiday gatherings small
20211213-Dr. Barry Pakes-JQ
York Region medical officer of health Dr. Barry Pakes during a Dec. 13 video update.

York Region Public Health said it is taking action to address an increased COVID-19 threat as cases continue to spike in the province. 

Medical officer of health Dr. Barry Pakes said today that the optimism of previous weeks was “premature” as new case counts reach six-month highs. He said with cases increasing rapidly in York Region and Ontario, and the more infectious omicron variant becoming dominant, public health plans to speed up its vaccination efforts.

"Modelling released by the province and by our own local modellers at York Region Public Health have made it very clear urgent action needs to be taken now in order to avoid a very significant increase in cases leading to hospitalizations, potentially to deaths," he said. 

Ontario reported 1,536 new COVID-19 cases Dec. 13, with the seven-day incidence rate between Dec. 3 to 9 up 22.7 per cent over the previous week. York Region’s cases are also up, reaching a seven-day average of 77 new cases daily and an incidence rate per 100,000 population rising to September numbers.   

Pakes said action is needed to avoid a significant increase in cases leading to hospitalizations. He suggested keeping holiday gatherings to under 10 people, adding there will be further public guidance coming this week. More information on rapid testing will also be forthcoming, he said.

The province opened up booster doses today, Dec. 13, to those aged 50 or older who had their last COVID-19 vaccine dose more than six months ago. Pakes said they hope to get as many people in the age group vaccinated in the next two weeks.

“We are also very concerned about waning immunity in those who are over age 50, and particularly those who are over age 70 who are at the risk of severe disease,” Pakes said. “At this time, it is certainly important for anyone in these age categories to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

He said transmission is happening rapidly, even among the vaccinated, but vaccines are preventing more hospitalizations. However, he added hospitalization is more of a concern for the immunocompromised or those not getting a vaccine.

“With this increase in transmission, we are worried about unvaccinated or immunocompromised people becoming very ill and needing acute care,” Pakes said.

Pakes said people should maintain distance and plan to work from home if able.

He said it is critical for the five to 11 age group to get vaccinated. More than 25 per cent of the group has received their first dose, but Pakes said they hope to reach 50 per cent by the end of the year.

Bookings for the five to 11 age group and booster doses are available through pharmacies,, or by calling 1-877-464-9675. He said public health is also planning a special kid-friendly clinic for Dec. 18 and 19 at St. Jean de Brebeuf Catholic High School in Vaughan.

"We are working very hard at York Region Public Health to prevent the surge of cases and the health system strain that has overwhelmed so many areas of the world," Pakes said. “With your help, we can ensure York Region residents are able to meet this challenge as we have met many before together.”