Poor infection control practices — including not wearing masks, insufficient physical distancing and poor hand hygiene — and personal gatherings are at the heart of the biggest daily spike in COVID-19 cases in Niagara in nearly two months, says Niagara’s top public health official.
The public health department confirmed 12 new novel coronavirus infections Thursday, the largest single-day increase since July 21. Unlike that spike, however, none of Thursday’s cases are connected to an institutional outbreak.
“There is no particular pattern in terms of where these cases are coming from, said Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara Region’s acting medical officer of health.
While the new cases are unconnected, Hirji said public health investigators have found a common theme — people were not following infection control measures.
Three of the 12 cases are linked to previously known infections, he said. One case involved someone in a household being infected by another family member in a case where masks and distancing were not being used.
A second case involved a personal gathering that did not use masks or distancing and a third is a workplace infection. Hirji said the workplace case is a person who wore a mask, but worked closely with other people and did not distance from them.
Five other cases under investigation by public health contact tracers involve people who were at personal gatherings.
“They were not wearing masks. They say they were distancing, but at this point we don’t know how reliable that is,” Hirji said. “They may have hand sanitizing here or there, but it does not appear to be consistent.”
Four other cases have no known source of infection.
“This is a reminder that no single measure will protect you from COVID-19,” Hirji said. “The message I would have for everyone is that we really do have to police ourselves if we want to avoid the province coming in and imposing small gatherings or other restrictions.”
On Thursday, Premier Doug Ford announced new restrictions on gatherings in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa after gatherings were identified as the source of a wave of new infections. Indoor gatherings in those cities have been reduced to 10 from 50 and outdoor gatherings to 25 from 100.
“When you spread COVID, that’s a very serious crime,” said Ford. “For what? A few hours of partying. It’s not worth it.”
Hirji said it is not clear if Thursday’s total represents the start of a significant trend. There had been a slight climb in the average daily case count from just more than one to about three in recent weeks. Household transmission of the novel coronavirus fuelled much of that rise rather than personal gatherings.