SUDBURY -- Health and police officials in the Sudbury area are pleading with residents to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions, warning that this wave of the pandemic is more serious than the last one.

In a joint statement Monday from Public Health Sudbury & Districts, Greater Sudbury Police Services, and the Ontario Provincial Police, officials said COVID variants have made the disease far more transmissible and has led to more serious illness.

The health unit announced Sunday another death linked to the virus, the third in recent weeks and the 28th since the pandemic began in March 2020.

"This is not the same virus we weathered through in the first and second waves," the statement said. "We are seeing COVID-19 infections in more people, including younger and healthy individuals, resulting in more serious disease, hospitalizations and even loss of life."

While residents may believe that having small get-togethers with friends won't do any harm, the statement said those sorts of events can have significant consequences.

"There are huge ripple effects and individual actions lead to the spread of COVID-19 and outbreaks in many settings," the statement said. "There are a number of local examples for which the choice to attend a gathering—whether indoors or outdoors—has impacted not only those who directly attended, but also their households, friends and other close contacts. Choosing to host or attend a gathering does not just affect you, it affects your entire community."

By not following the stay-at-home order, residents are prolonging the pandemic and increasing the changes for even more dangerous variants to emerge.

"Keeping numbers down means less chance the virus can mutate and gives the vaccines a chance to work," the statement said.

"The reality of people choosing to violate the law and ignore public health measures will prolong the pandemic and continue to increase cases and illnesses in our community. These decisions can jeopardize people’s lives and livelihoods, and they put an already-stretched health care system at further risk."

With vaccines coming at an increasingly faster pace, officials urged residents to recommit to following the rules so some sense of normalcy can return as quickly as possible.

"Tremendous progress has been made in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine with more vaccine is on its way," the statement said. "Within the next few weeks, every adult will be eligible to receive the vaccine. While this is great news, we must also remember that we are not out of the woods and even with the vaccine, the important public health measures are needed to end the pandemic."