Thunder Bay, Ont. and its surrounding region have quickly become one of the leading COVID-19 hotspots in Canada.

On Tuesday, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU), which includes a vast region of 149.960 people that includes the city, its surrounding area, and as far north as Hudson Bay, reported 58 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total active case count in the area to 458.

According to Public Health Ontario, the TBDHU has seen 652 new cases of COVID-19 in last 14 days and per capita has more than double the new cases of anywhere else in Ontario. It is also one of just three regions in Ontario – along with Toronto and Peel – to still be in the “Grey – Lockdown” category of restrictions.

“There is no sense in sugarcoating it, things are not looking very good right now,” Dr. Janet DeMille, the local medical officer of health, said in a video address on Monday.  “Cases are at an all-time high in the Thunder Bay district, a significant and uncomfortable amount of cases are being reported every day.”

Since the beginning of March, the TBDHU has declared four COVID-19 outbreaks in the region, including at schools, a daycare centre and a retirement home.

“COVID-19 is essentially everywhere, it is in many different places, and it is spreading,” DeMille said.

On Feb. 10, the TBDHU reported a COVID-19 outbreak among the City of Thunder Bay’s vulnerable population, meaning those experiencing homelessness and “those who are precariously housed,” according to an alert at the time.

DeMille said that this outbreak was the “major contributing factor” to rising case number in the area, but now believes other cases outside that initial outbreak are driving the further spike.

“Unfortunately this is not really settling down,” she said.

“We are in the worst situation we have ever experienced here so far in this pandemic.”

DeMille added that the health unit has noticed many people are not following the COVID-19 guidelines, including people interacting with each other during a lockdown and failing to isolate when they’ve shown symptoms.

“We all need to assume that wherever we go, wherever we are, COVID is there,” she said. “It is all those basic measures that we can take that make a difference.”

DeMille added five recommendations for people in the district to abide by if they’re to get out of lockdown: limit interactions with those outside your household, follow all public health measures, screen yourself daily for symptoms, follow the public health measure if you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 and for workplaces to review their own safety measures.

“We need to continue all of these efforts to bring our case numbers down, to prevent the variants of COVID-19 from getting a hold in our area and we need this in order to resume our regular activities,” she said.

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