Renfrew County's top doctor concerned about COVID-19 case numbers in Barry's Bay and area
The Renfrew County and District Health Unit says there have been 27 cases of COVID-19 in towns in the Barry's Bay area since the start of the year. (Dylan Dyson/CTV News Ottawa)
BARRY'S BAY, ONT. -- Renfrew County's top doctor is not ruling out tough new restrictions for Barry's Bay and the surrounding area due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Towns in the area two hours west of Ottawa have seen 27 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the year whereas the remainder of Renfrew County has totalled only 47 cases.
"They're running about a third of our cases, yet they're only 12 per cent of the population," says Dr. Robert Cushman, Renfrew County's acting medical officer of health.
"When you have an area that’s that small, should be contributing one out of 12 cases. But it's contributing one out of three cases," said Cushman. "I mean, clearly it needs to be identified."
In a statement earlier this week, the health unit said the COVID-19 spread has mostly been within families. The health unit said the area has been the source of frequent complaints from local merchants about customers who do not comply with the mask requirements.
"We have also heard about anti-mask demonstrations, and concerns about post-secondary students not complying," said Dr. Cushman in the statement.
Kim Love, the mayor of Madawaska Valley Township said in a statement on Sunday that she sought clarification from Dr. Cushman regarding the meaning of "Barry's Bay area", which includes the Township of Madawaska Valley, the Township of Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards, the Township of Brudenell, Lyndoch and Raglan, and the Township of South Algonquin.
“Of the 27 cases of COVID-19 referenced and attributed to the Barry’s Bay area by the RCDHU press release, 22 cases have been in Madawaska Valley, 4 in Brudenell, Lyndoch and Raglan, and 1 in South Algonquin,” Love said, citing Dr. Cushman's response.
Renfrew County moved to the green zone in Ontario's COVID-19 framework on Feb. 10, allowing restaurants and non-essential businesses to reopen.
Dr. Cushman tells CTV News Ottawa that if the COVID-19 case trends continue, he could clamp down with new restrictions.
"That’s certainly not a move I want to make. But why should we punish the rest of the county when this is the area that’s really breaking through and causing concerns," Cushman said.
In Barry's Bay, Ted Williamson of Stedman's Department Store notes the town went almost a full year without any cases. He adds businesses are doing what they can to keep the area in the green zone.
"I know that most of the other merchants are here, I certainly know them personally, and they’re all following the same guidelines," said Williamson.
Business owners CTV News Ottawa spoke with on Saturday say health protocols are now widely being followed in Barry's Bay, and they believe the case numbers are being driven up by isolated groups and out-of-town visitors.
"It's Toronto, Niagara Falls, Hamilton, Barrie, Kitchener – all over the place," said Bay Bud Cannabis owner Mike Klobouk.
Klobouk says the town felt like they were safe after low case numbers in 2020.
"I think we were late to adopt masks here in Barry's Bay compared to in the cities."
Dr. Cushman reminds residents across Renfrew County to continue focusing on masking, distancing and proper hygiene.
"COVID-19 is a very social virus, especially the new strains and it goes without saying that we need strict adherence to our household and workplace contacts to limit the spread," said Dr. Cushman in a statement.
This story has been updated to reflect that the case numbers include the wider Barry’s Bay area, not just the town of Barry’s Bay.