Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Judith Monteith Farrell on Surging COVID-19 Numbers

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Thunder Bay – NEWS – Thunder Bay Atikokan MPP Judith Monteith Farrell joins NetNewsLedger to talk about the surging COVID-19 numbers and the need for help in the City of Thunder Bay as those numbers surge to 350 active cases.

Question Period in the Ontario Legislature

Speaking during Question Period in the Ontario Legislature on February 25, 2021, Monteith Farrell asked the Premier:

“There are multiple serious outbreaks in Thunder Bay schools. Four, so far, are now shifting back to virtual learning. Lakehead board trustees have voted to ask for all schools to go virtual. Teachers, education workers and many others have done everything they can, but the situation is getting worse by the day.

“Unfortunately, our warnings and suggestions have been ignored—things like capping class size and more testing. When is this government going to start listening so we can keep Thunder Bay students safe and in school?”

The Minister of Education responded:

Stephen Lecce: Mr. Speaker, there is a high rate of community transmission taking place within the community. We are going to follow the public health advice, the medical officer of health’s recommendation when it comes to keeping schools open. That is the mission of the government.

But as we have said since before school reopened in September—I think what is the consensus, I’d hope, in this House—the risks within our community are reflected within our schools. It actually underscores the imperative of keeping transmission down and keeping our guard up as a province as we deal with variants of concern.

In the context of Thunder Bay, we have deployed additional investment—over $5 million for that board alone—in the context of COVID: for more hiring, for more staffing, for more cleaning. We’ve also mandated masking down to grade 1, requiring a stricter protocol before a child enters a school, and likewise the staff in the context of their screening. And, obviously, asymptomatic testing is expanded and accessible within schools right across the north, including in Thunder Bay, as we speak.

We’ll continue to be informed by the best medical advice to keep students safe and our staff safe, and keep the community rates down so that we can keep our schools open.

Ms. Judith Monteith-Farrell: My question is, again, for the Premier. I’m glad the minister mentioned community spread, because Thunder Bay advised this government a month ago that there is a state of emergency when it comes to COVID, but this government’s lack of investment continues even to this day. This ignoring of the urgency in Thunder Bay affects all of northern Ontario. When the Thunder Bay Jail had an outbreak, there was a very late response. This government failed.

I have advised this government again and again about the limited capacity of our health care systems to handle this kind of crisis. Now, as my caucus colleague the member from Kiiwetinoong has said, the COVID outbreak in Thunder Bay is threatening the people of Neskantaga, who are battling crisis after crisis.

What is this government doing for the people of Thunder Bay? This is an emergency. Why are we dragging our feet?

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): The Minister of Health.

Hon. Christine Elliott: I can certainly assure the member opposite that we are watching the situation in Thunder Bay very carefully. We are aware that there is significant community transmission. We have put extra resources there. In fact, we’ve put in over 20 more assigned provincial case managers and contact tracers. We are receiving the tests in accurate time frames; in 97% of cases, we receive the reports back within 24 hours.

We have already invested over $2.7 million to the Thunder Bay hospital to create 30 more beds, and we are watching the situation very carefully now. As a matter of fact, I spoke with Dr. Williams about it yesterday, who is in regular contact with Dr. DeMille, the local public health manager, and that is something where we are receiving recommendations from Dr. Williams tomorrow upon receipt of data tonight, to determine where it needs to be placed and whether the emergency brake needs to be applied there or what else should happen. So we are watching the situation very, very carefully and supplying extra resources to help Thunder Bay deal with the situation.