WINGHAM, ONT. -- It’s a little quieter than usual on main streets in Grey-Bruce’s many small towns Thursday, after public health officials urged people to stay home, following a record setting 36 hours of COVID cases.

“I have been concerned at different junctures in the pandemic, but this one has me the most concerned. I will use the word, 'alarmed,'" says Grey-Bruce’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Ian Arra.

Seventy-three cases in 36 hours, plus another 42 on Thursday, prompted Arra to strongly urge Grey-Bruce residents to stay home, unless it’s absolutely necessary.

The health unit is going so far as to cancel a mass vaccination clinic on Saturday, and redeploy staff to try and track the nearly 500 high-risk contacts.

“Whenever contact tracing has been abandoned in the province, cases can spiral out of control. The pandemic could be lost, losing control for several weeks. We’ve reached a critical threshold, and we want to contain it,” says Arra.

Social gatherings, “bush parties” among high school students and visiting people while symptomatic, as well as people lying about their contacts, has led to the explosion in cases, say public health officials.

“We’ve been really low cases for quite a while, so complacency set in,” says Southampton pharmacist, Kristen Watt.

“Having seen the complacency overall in our region for a really long time, we’re finally getting our due at this point with how quickly its spreading over the past two days,” she says.

To assist with the health unit’s contact tracing, several Grey-Bruce businesses have voluntarily closed, municipalities have closed facilities, hospitals are limiting visitors, even some county trails and parks have been closed for the next two to three days.

Bruce Peninsula National Park is closed until at least 11:59 p.m. Friday. This includes the following locations:

  • Cyprus Lake Campground and trails
  • The Grotto and Indian Head Cove
  • Halfway Log Dump
  • Singing Sands
  • Visitor Centre and trails
  • Little Cove
  • The Bruce Trail from Crane Lake to Little Cove

“I never had any doubt that our community and citizens would step up and do what had to be done in the moment, to mitigate the spread,” says Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau.

Arra says they’ll focus vaccines planned for this weekend on shelters and members of Community Living this week, with plans to continue mass vaccinations next week, as long as contact tracing goes well over the next few days.

“We’re quick in this area to blame outsiders and cottagers, but I think we need to look inward at ourselves, and say, 'Are we doing everything we can?'” says Watt.

“I trust the community will be sobered by this news and surge. I have full confidence that our community will deliver and hopefully we can turn this ship around,” says Arra.

Arra is asking people not to call the health unit, unless it is absolutely necessary, while the urgent contact tracing is underway. He expects that to take two to three days just to catch up with the massive surge in cases.

Meanwhile, there is a suspected outbreak associated with Hanover Heights Community School in Hanover after two positive cases were reported related to a single bus route.

The health unit says there is interim evidence of transmission from person to person. More testing will be done.

The cases have been contacted by the health unit and it is working with the school board and the bus company.