On per-capita basis, town has seen disproportionately more confirmed positives than big city neighbours—but currently has only one active case
Despite a large jump in COVID-19-positive cases in St. Catharines over the last ten days, as some 60 infections were tied to a single greenhouse operation in that city, Pelham remains at the top of Niagara municipalities for historic cases of the virus per-capita among the general public.
According to Niagara Public Health statistics released Thursday, June 4, Pelham has 16.1 cases per 10,000 population among the general public, a rate that is 58% higher than St. Catharines, and 61% higher that Niagara-on-the-Lake, a town whose demographics closely match Pelham’s.
Since the Voice last reported on COVID-19 case rates in Niagara on May 26, Niagara Public Health has reported one more case in Pelham, bring the historical total to 34. Only one case remains active. (The Region does not report deaths by municipality.)
NOTL, Port Colborne, Wainfleet, and West Lincoln are all currently reporting zero active cases.
Public Health divides cases into two broad categories: those among the general public, and those in healthcare facilities.
Pelham’s cases are overwhelmingly among the general public, 85 percent, versus just 15 percent in healthcare facilities.
If both categories are combined, Pelham’s historical case rate per -capita remains second in Niagara, behind Welland. In Welland, the overwhelming number of cases are in healthcare facilities, 74 percent, while just over a quarter of cases, 26%, are among the general public.
In Pelham, Public Health attributes a bit less than one-third of all cases to travel, and zero percent to contact with persons who travelled. Slightly over 70 percent are attributed to community or close contact exposure.
Cases are reported based on the patient’s town of residence, which is not necessarily where the infected individual was exposed to the virus.
Speaking to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Local newspaper in late May, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Niagara Region, emphasized this point.
“They could been having coffee in St. Catharines, gone to work in Thorold and then done some grocery shopping in Niagara Falls on the way home,” Hirji said, and have no idea where they contracted it.
“There are limitations of what we can interpret from the data. This represents the cases we know about, and not where they were exposed to it.”
Three Pelham residents and one non-resident who later tested positive for the virus shared the same enclosed space, during Pelham Town Council’s meeting of March 23. Councillor Ron Kore, Councillor Mike Ciolfi, and two senior administrators all later tested positive for COVID-19. The two staffers and Kore experienced varying symptoms and recovered. Councillor Ciolfi died ten days later. An official cause of death has not been made public.
On April 22, news broke that Kore, who is also the Fonthill Sobeys franchisee, had continued working in his store and attending council while exhibiting symptoms of a respiratory illness—including during the March 23 council meeting, as seen in the Town’s video recording of the meeting.
The main takeaway from the statistics, Hirji said, “is that people in every municipality have been infected, and it’s still out there…. As businesses are opening up, and we have the potential for interacting, we have the potential for the virus to spread.”
Although the numbers represent positive tests, not the overall infection rate among those who may be positive but asymptomatic, Hirji said he was confident they are a realistic indication of “the big picture.”
If patients started showing up at the hospitals and requiring intensive care, there might be concern that the numbers are not accurate, “but we’re not seeing that.”
Hirji stressed that the best advice now is for people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to reach out to assessment centres or their physicians for advice about whether to be tested.
“We really do want to find any cases that are out there.”
Total number of Niagara cases since outbreak began: 707
Total number of active cases: 85
Total number of deaths: 60
Some 25 percent of total cases were found in long-term care or retirement homes. Among those cases, 83 percent died.
Total number of historic cases among the general public by municipality
Fort Erie: 15
Niagara Falls: 69
Port Colborne: 10
St. Catharines: 144
West Lincoln: 6
With files from the NOTL Local.
UPDATED June 4, 8:00 PM, with a breakdown of Pelham exposure by category