April 20, 2021

From two cases to several hundred active cases and more than 10,000 vaccinations, the pandemic in Waterloo Region has brought great uncertainty since March 2020.

The vicious onset of COVID-19 in the region began when a couple who had recently visited Italy tested positive on March 3, 2020. However, at that time nobody had expected that the spread would multiply to this extent.

During the first week of March, when the virus was new to the community, local public health authorities were building strategies to prevent the spread and keep residents informed.

“We also began scaling up our operations internally, including adding capacity through redeployment of staff and implementing a new incident management structure to be able to respond to COVID-19 quickly once a case was detected in Waterloo Region,” said Rabia Bana, associate medical officer of health at Waterloo Region Public Health.

Bana also said that the region had started screening and testing procedures as early as January 2020, following the provincial testing criteria since COVID-19 was added to the list of Diseases of Public Health Significance (DOPHS).

DOPHS is a list of communicable diseases that require control measures from government. Timely reporting of these diseases is mandatory. COVID-19 is one such disease.

As cases across the province were soaring, a lockdown was announced that lasted for nearly two months. This step by the government brought down the case count in Waterloo Region significantly. By the end of May until start of September, the region consistently saw the number of active cases under 100.

“For the first time since March, GRH has no COVID patients in hospitals,” Grand River Hospital said on Twitter in the first week of August.

At the same time, St. Mary’s General Hospital also declared through a tweet that they had no active cases. However, both the hospitals were still expecting more COVID-19 related hospitalizations during further months.

Soon, their prediction came true when the province entered the second wave of the pandemic in September, which was worse than before. The region was getting record number of cases that started peaking up to 1000 per day by the end of December.

Alongside that, in mid-December the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were receiving approvals globally. When the second lockdown was imposed across the province right after Christmas, a phased vaccine roll-out plan also kicked off. The first vaccinations were given to health care workers in hospitals, long-term care homes, other congregate settings, and remote Indigenous communities.

“I was just excited because it was one more step towards normalcy,” said Emma Placidi, a level two nursing student who recently got the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Placidi, who is also a worker at a long-term care home, said she feels safe and relaxed now as she does not have to worry about catching the virus when she goes to work.

Aside from the direct impact of the coronavirus itself, reports from different organizations in the region also note that food insecurity, unemployment, mental health issues and uncertainty on issues other than health have increased. Number of small businesses closed permanently leading to employee lay-offs and other mental health issues which are still being faced by many people.

The region is sitting at 338 active cases, 222 deaths and 13,101 full vaccinations as of Tuesday, Feb. 23. The situation is still unpredictable but all we can do together is to hope for the best and stay safe.

“Going back to the actual normal life once the COVID-19 is over, will be very weird,” said Placidi.

FACTS:

31.6 per cent long-term care homes in Waterloo Region have had a COVID-19 outbreak.

21 per cent increase in food insecurity across the region as compared to the same time last year.

93 out of 4,828 schools in the region have had COVID-19 cases.

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