Shelter outbreaks fuel a spike in COVID-19 cases

Downtown Mission, Windsor. Blackburn News file photo.

Windsor-Essex’s Medical Officer of Health attributes a spike in Wednesday’s new COVID-19 cases to two growing outbreaks within the region’s homeless population.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported a jump of 49 cases Wednesday for a total now of 12,865 since last March.

There were no new fatalities.

Medical Officer of Health for Windsor-Essex, Doctor Wajid Ahmed (Screen shot from YouTube.)

Medical Officer of Health for Windsor-Essex, Doctor Wajid Ahmed (Screen shot from YouTube.)

Doctor Wajid Ahmed told reporters during a briefing Wednesday morning the health unit has increased testing at both the Downtown Mission and the Salvation Army. He said 33 of Wednesday’s cases are connected to those two outbreaks.  Nine cases remain under investigation, while five were acquired in the community, and two are from close contact with someone who has already tested positive for the virus.

Currently, 81 people at the mission have tested positive, and 34 at the second shelter.

Ahmed was unsure if the outbreaks will impact whether Windsor-Essex can move to orange in the province’s Reopening Ontario Framework.

Part of the challenge is there could be cases within the homeless population unconnected to the infections at the Downtown Mission and Salvation Army.

“Some of this population may be out and about without necessarily isolating,” said Ahmed. “It makes contact tracing tough.”

On Monday, the health unit closed the Downtown Mission’s locations on Victoria Avenue and Ouellette Avenue, but kept the emergency shelter at the former Windsor Public Library Central Branch open for current guests who are self-isolating.

For those who are not staying there, the city opened an emergency homeless shelter at the Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre. It will stay open until the health unit decides it is safe to lift its Section 22 order at the Downtown Mission.

Windsor Essex County Health Unit CEO Theresa Marentette speaks at a media conference on February 7, 2019. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

Meanwhile, health unit CEO Theresa Marentette plans to introduce the plan to vaccinate seniors over the age of 80 on Thursday. She said some logistical issues remain to be worked out before then.

She also warned seniors the rollout will first take place at clinics because of limited supply of vaccine and difficulties transporting it.

“We have had talks about going into places where seniors live, but we do not plan to do that at first,” she said. “We won’t have all the answers tomorrow.”

At first, the clinics will be “very targeted.”

Marentette anticipates only 200 vaccines will be administered a day until the supply increases in mid-March.

So far, 11,501 people in the region have had both doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

About 95 per cent of the total caseload in the region is considered resolved, and there are 268 active cases in Windsor-Essex. Of those people, 42 are recovering in the hospital with five of them in intensive care.

Province-wide, there were nine deaths reported and 1,054 new cases.