In April 2020, Pelham's Fire Chief, Bob Lymburner shows Mayor Marvin Junkin the likely timeline for a second and subsequent waves of COVID-19 infection over the following 12-18 months. DAVE BURKET

One in 14 testing positive; Junkin cautions against “reckless” conduct; outbreak declared at Welland Hospital

At no time during the coronavirus pandemic has the number of daily active cases been higher. On Thursday, April 15, the numbers stood at 83 for the Town of Pelham, 1355 in Niagara Region, and 4736 new cases in Ontario, bring the provincial total to 45,980.

In Niagara, Pelham is second only to Welland in infections per 10,000 population.

Niagara’s current case doubling time is 52 days, with a positivity rate of 7.4 percent among those tested.

This means that one in 14 Niagara residents currently being tested is COVID-19 positive, a number that is likely undercounting the true level of infection, given that public health officials historically have suggested that actual infection rates are higher than testing reveals, since many asymptomatic cases go unrecognized.

Through a statement, Niagara Public Health said late Thursday that Welland Hospital was the latest site of a COVID-19 outbreak, with four patient-related cases “deemed to be healthcare-associated.” The hospital was closing a sixth floor unit to new admissions or transfers “unless medically necessary.”

Niagara’s Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Mustafa Hirji, told the Voice that he wasn’t surprised by the jump in Pelham infections.

“Like all parts of Niagara, we are seeing many indoor gatherings with people visiting family and friends,” said Hirji. “Unfortunately, these innocent meet-ups are allowing infection to spread in our community. We all need to take the current stay-at-home order seriously or our hospitals will soon be overrun with people needing care.”

In addition to spread in the community, Pelham has also been affected by an outbreak at Shorthills Villa Retirement Home, said Hirji.

Pelham’s Emergency Operations Centre head and Fire Chief Bob Lymburner said the statistics point a clear finger at one age group as being primarily responsible for current infections: 20-39-year-olds, spreading the virus in the community.

Currently active cases by age group, April 15, 2021, according to Niagara Region. SUPPLIED

“They’re going out and bringing it home,” Lymburner told the Voice. “I’ve had a number of calls today from older people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, saying, ‘I have to quarantine.’ The girlfriend goes out and gets it, then gives it to her boyfriend. Then he goes home and gives it to his parents, then the parents go to work and give it to their coworkers. That’s what’s going on.”

According to Niagara Region statistics, as of April 15 there were 713 active infections among residents aged 1 to 39, which was more than the total of ages 40 to 80-plus combined.

Lymburner said that over 90 percent of the spread is currently attributable to variants of the virus, which have proved both more contagious and more deadly.

“We need to get [young adults] to stop hanging out together, and partying together. It’s unfortunate.”

Youth getting together is also problematic. Readers have contacted the Voice in recent days to say that groups of children have been gathering, often on bikes, with little or masking, in violation of the provincially mandated limit of five people at any outdoor gathering.

Lymburner said that enforcement in such cases has been difficult.

“We’ll get a call that they are loitering at the skate park [in Fonthill] but as soon as we pull in they scatter.”

On mask use, Lymburner noted that families need to set better examples.

With ICUs getting frighteningly close to capacity, this is not the time for such reckless behaviour

“It all starts with the parents. If the parents don’t want to wear masks, then the kids don’t wear masks. It’s unfortunate. I have four grandkids that all wear masks. That’s what we have to do.”

Of those defiantly protesting the lockdown by gathering in public, Lymburner said, “These people obviously haven’t lost a loved one. I think if they had, they’d think twice about bucking the system.”

Pelham Mayor Marvin Junkin says that that latest figures are “disheartening.”

“I believe this is proof that these variants are indeed more infectious,” Junkin told the Voice. “I join with Regional Public Health if asking that Pelham residents stay home unless you absolutely must venture out for food or medicine.”

Junkin cautioned against reckless conduct.

“I would hope that anyone thinking of joining any demonstrations this weekend against the lockdown will re-consider partaking in what can only be labeled a very anti-community action. With ICUs getting frighteningly close to capacity, this is not the time for such reckless behaviour.”

In press statement released late Thursday, the Niagara Regional Police Service said that charges were being laid against two men who participated in a widely criticized anti-lockdown protest held last weekend in St. Catharines, but did not disclose identity details other than age (50 and 47) and residence (West Lincoln and St. Catharines).

However, citing Regional sources, the St. Catharines Standard reported on Thursday that West Lincoln Mayor David Bylsma is one of those charged. Also on the hook for $880 fines are disgraced former St. Catharines Regional Councillor Andy Petrowski, local podcaster Jim Fannon, Thorold City Councillor Jim Handley, and anti-lockdown activist Sandor Ligetfalvy. The Standard put Saturday’s rally attendance at over 1000. Bylsma was a keynote speaker.

In Pelham, Chief Lymburner said that residents may report groups gathering outdoors—including youth—to bylaw enforcement during regular daytime hours (905-892-2607, ext. 203) or after hours and on weekends to the Niagara Regional Police (905- 735-7811).

 

UPDATED April 15 to clarify that the rate of tested positives in Niagara is at least one in 14 people.

UPDATED April 16 with comment from Niagara’s Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Mustafa Hirji.