The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s (SMDHU) Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner says now is not the time to look back at his decision to push for the region to be moved into lockdown, but to move forward.

“When you move into something and you get this degree of opposition, you have to question it, but we need to move forward from here,” Dr. Gardner said Tuesday.

During his weekly briefing, he went over the rising cases of variants of concern in Simcoe Muskoka. As of SMDHU’s latest update, there are 543 total cases of variants of concern (VOC) with 191 confirmed to be B 1.1.7 – the variant originally from the UK. The remaining 352 have screened positive for the mutation that indicates it’s a VOC. “These are screened positive individuals that are awaiting confirmation to see if it’s the UK variant of another kind of variant,” he explained. 

He has said that the reason he recommended our region be moved back into lockdown was because of cases of VOC being on the rise. 

Dr. Gardner noted that 97-percent of the VOC cases are from Simcoe County, with the majority in Barrie. Of the 543 cases, 16 are in Muskoka, which is up from nine last week. None of the 16 VOC cases in Muskoka have been confirmed as a variant yet. 

What Dr. Gardner said concerned him is the fact that the majority of cases are not linked to outbreaks, which has recently changed. He said 33-percent of the VOC cases in Muskoka are linked to an outbreak, while that number is at 47-percent of cases for Simcoe. “The remainder are independent sporadic cases,” he said. 

When compared to last week, Dr. Gardner said the total number of VOC cases is on the decline. During the week of February 14th, there were 119 total cases, but during the week of 21st it was down to 100. “That’s perhaps a good sign,” he said, adding that it’s too early to tell if cases have peaked. 

During the briefing, Dr. Gardner said he has spent time “reflecting” on his recommendation he made to move Simcoe Muskoka into lockdown. He said he’s received well over 200 emails from people with the “vast majority” opposed to the stricter measures now in place. “Centred, I think, on the sense that it’s not warranted,” he added. Dr. Gardner said many people are concerned about how this will affect businesses and their access to services like physical fitness classes that without, he said could have a negative effect on people’s well-being. He noted that he’s also heard from “some people” that are in support of the new measures.

“We need to keep sight on my original concern about the variants of concern and the potential for them to cause a third wave, as had happened in some other countries,” Dr. Gardner said.