The provincial government released guidelines for the holidays on Wednesday, one month before Christmas. Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, said local health officials would release addition guidelines in the coming days. He urged families to restrict in-person celebrations to members of their household, and encouraged virtual connections with others.
The provincial guidelines included a list of safe holiday activities, including outdoor activities with your household, attending a drive-in or drive-through event, lighting a menorah, putting up lights around the house, and donating to food or toy drives. Riskier activities included in person gatherings where masks would need to be removed to eat or drink, having guests or friends around for sleepovers, visiting family and friends for non-essential reasons, and travelling from higher transmission areas to regions with lower transmission rates.
Children could still visit Santa Claus, but sitting on his lap would not be allowed this year. Instead, visiting him outdoors and taking photos while at least two metres apart was encouraged.
While active cases remained relatively stable in the region, Dr. Roumeliotis warned the holidays brought new challenges to containing the pandemic. One hundred cases were active in the region as of Wednesday afternoon, while the seven day rolling average of new cases had risen slightly to 13.2 cases per 100,000 people. Ten of the 13 new cases reported in the EOHU area on Wednesday came from Prescott-Russell communities.
“The less people get together, the better,” he said. “The less people get together, the less the virus will be in the community, and then the less the virus will have a chance to go into the long term care facilities where we’ve seen devastating effects. We want to protect those vulnerable populations, it’s very important.”
One resident died and another five tested positive for COVID-19 at the Prescott and Russell Residence in Hawkesbury after another round of testing at the long term care home. The death was the fourteenth due to COVID at the home since the outbreak began. Seventy-five of the 109 resident cases have been resolved, while 63 of the 67 staff cases have been resolved after one new employee tested positive.
An outbreak will be declared at the temporarily-closed École élémentaire catholique de Casselman Pavillon Sainte Euphémie after two more people tested positive. The school was closed on Friday for two weeks after an employee who had accessed multiple classrooms tested positive. Dr. Roumeliotis said most of the students at the school had been tested, but some results were pending.
There had been no change at the Russell Meadows Retirement Home outbreak, where another round of testing came back with no new cases over the weekend. The outbreak was first declared at the home on November 12.
Of the 100 active cases in the region on Wednesday, 48 were from Prescott-Russell communities including:
- 22 in Hawkesbury;
- 7 in Russell;
- 6 in Champlain;
- 6 in Clarence-Rockland;
- 4 in The Nation;
- 3 in Casselman, and;
- 0 in Eastern Hawkesbury and Alfred-Plantagenet.
Another EOHU media briefing is expected on Friday.