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With reopening on horizon, Peel top doctor says Delta variant a real risk: 'Do not hold large gatherings'

Last Updated Jun 9, 2021 at 5:26 pm EDT

A floral shop advertises ahead of Father’s Day. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Rachel Verbin THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Rachel Verbin

Peel Region’s top doctor shared some positive updates with regards to vaccinations and an improved COVID-19 positivity rate but is cautioning residents against letting their guard down with the Delta variant becoming the predominant strain.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh revealed on Wednesday that Brampton’s weekly positivity rate is at 7 percent; the lowest seen in the community since the fall of last year.

Loh also called Peel Region’s vaccine efforts “impressive,” as more adults get at least one shot of protection against COVID-19.

“That said, while these numbers give us all a cautious optimism, it’s not time to fully start to celebrate,” Dr. Loh cautioned.

The top doctor said with Step 1 of reopening set for Friday, Ontario’s Science Advisory Table continues to advise that the Delta (B.1.617) variant is quickly becoming the dominant strain in Peel Region – specifically in Brampton.

“Today, I want to talk a bit about patience,” Dr. Loh said. “Like many of you, I love summer. Canadians wait all year for the magic of these long days and warm nights and so I know, that our residents have what it takes to be patient, to be able to hold on a little bit longer and put this firmly behind us.”

RELATED: Why Canada must pay attention to quickly evolving B.1.617 variant 

“On Friday I want to remind our residents these first steps to reopening are not a full return to normal. We do have high first-dose coverage but we have low second-dose coverage,” Dr. Loh added.

He said that science shows that only 33 to 50 per cent protection is afforded against the Delta variant with one dose.

“That protection may not be enough to forestall a resurgence if we reopen and reengage too quickly.”

Toronto’s top doctor also warned that the province’s reopening must happen gradually because of the risk posed by the Delta variant.

Dr. Eileen de Villa said the variant is a “force to be reckoned,” citing setbacks its spread has caused in the U.K.’s reopening.

“Toronto is on a solid path forward, the one narrow path while we watch what the Delta variant does here,” de Villa told reporters on Wednesday.

She said there are 122 cases of the variant confirmed in Toronto, but the confirmation process is slow and the picture can change quickly.

“With the Delta variant here, we will want to do two things in particular, increase first and second dose vaccine coverage and proceed selectively in daily life.”

Dr. Loh and de Villa’s comments come as Dr. Anthony Fauci pleads for more Americans to be innately aware of the severity of the Delta variant.

Fauci pleaded with the public Tuesday to get vaccinated, saying the Delta variant first identified in India accounts for more than 6 percent of the viruses in the United States.

Like Dr. Loh, Fauci says the variant is vulnerable to two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca but full protection requires a two-dose schedule.

“There is reduced vaccine effectiveness in the one dose,” said Fauci. “Three weeks after one dose, both vaccines, the (AstraZeneca) and the Pfizer/BioNTech, were only 33 per cent effective against symptomatic disease from Delta.”

Dr. Loh said last week that while Peel Region’s vaccination rollout has helped limit the spread of the virus, there are growing concerns about the B.1.617 variant and its presence in the community.

At the time, Dr. Loh said that Peel Public Health was attempting to speed up the administration of second vaccine doses with hopes of limiting the spread, perhaps significantly, of the B.1.617 variant.

Updated data from Ontario’s Science Advisory Table showed a modest increase in Delta (B1.617.2) variant cases but signalled that the effective reproduction number (Rt) remains below 1.

The data shows that while Delta variant cases are increasing it’s not at a rate of concern just yet.

Peel Region’s own effective reproduction number has also kept to below 1 and is now at 0.71 – slightly better than other GTA hotspots such as Toronto and Hamilton, if only marginally.

Dr. Loh says when Friday rolls around, citizens living in Peel Region must exercise discretion when it comes to gatherings and limiting transmission by wearing masks indoors.

“We must continue to emerge gradually, in our lives and our reopenings,” said Dr. Loh.

“… Do not hold any large gatherings and ensure that you’re always masking, distancing, and favouring the outdoors. And while we’re talking about patience, one thing I encourage you to not be patient about is your vaccine. Please, do not wait to get vaccinated.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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