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York Region's new top doc 'optimistic' on local pandemic trends

Health unit approves high schools to return to regular semesters
Dr. Pakes
Supplied photo of Dr. Barry Pakes

York Region’s new top doc said he is positive about the course of the COVID-19 pandemic even with higher case numbers going into the winter.

Medical officer of health Dr. Barry Pakes told the regional council Nov. 25 that there is no great cause for concern based on current projections. 

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor asked about outbreaks and high hospitalizations among heavily unvaccinated places like the Netherlands. Pakes responded that varies based on local context, but with Ontarians following health protocols and keeping masking, that should be avoidable here.

“We’ve been incredibly compliant, and I think we’re very lucky in Canada in general, York Region specifically, that most people are adhering to public health measures. We are at risk of gradual increase, and once we see that happening, we know we’ll have to be responding to it,” Pakes said. “It certainly is a time of concern, but I’m really optimistic because of the initiation of the (age) five to 11 vaccine.”

York Region has had an average of 41 daily cases the past seven days as of Nov. 25, with a 7-day median reproductive number of 0.95. It will also offer vaccines for children starting tomorrow, and Pakes said school-based clinics will start Nov. 27.

“Substantially higher than it had been a couple of weeks ago, but we’re not seeing an increase similar to the rest of Ontario,” he said. “What we’re seeing across the province is the delta variant, which is very transmissible, is sort of taking whatever opportunity it  can in various regions … To keep ours where they are, we need to keep being vigilant.”

Meanwhile, public health approved local school boards to return to a more traditional four-class model for high school students, as opposed to a two-class model run for pandemic safety this year. York Region District School Board announced it would start this Dec. 6. The province announced last week a regular class schedule would start by February, but public health units could allow it earlier. 

“We certainly agreed it was in the best interests of the students and the school boards,” Pakes said. “We have the capacity to allow for that greater mixing of cohorts in schools, and we did see very low rates of transmission in high school.”

As for vaccinations for younger students, Pakes said approximately 11,000 kids are booked. The region has approximately 91,000 in the five to 11 age range overall.

Pakes said the delta variant can still pretty heavily on the unvaccinated, even if it only makes up a small percentage of the population. Although COVID-19 cases in vaccinated people are slightly outpacing unvaccinated ones in York Region, that is not the case on a per-capita basis. As of Nov. 24, there were 99.6 cases per 100,000 people in the unvaccinated York population, compared to 10.1 in the vaccinated.

Still, Pakes said cases are not currently leading to any concerning surge in hospitalizations.

“Our modeling, even in the worst-case scenario, doesn’t show any kind of precipitous rise, and certainly not with hospitalization,” he said. “We need to be vigilant. It's not going to surprise us. With only a couple weeks of lead time, I believe we will have time to respond if needed.”


Joseph Quigley

About the Author: Joseph Quigley

Joseph is the municipal reporter for NewmarketToday.
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