NORTH BAY -- Attempts by the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit to limit the spread of COVID-19 is causing quite a stir among residents in the district.

The health unit has already closed public skating rinks and tobogganing hills. Snowmobile trails will be closed starting Thursday at 12:01 a.m. This comes as cities with more cases, including Toronto, left its hills and rinks open.

“I understand why people are upset by this,” said medical officer of health Dr. Jim Chirico. “Skating, tobogganing and snowmobiling are not essential and there are many other activities you can do."

Chirico said too many people from other parts of the province are disobeying the stay-at-home order and are travelling to the region. He said people are gathering in large groups and are not physical distancing.

Chirico said the health unit will examine other winter activities that are a cause for concern. Tougher restrictions for those living in the North Bay and Parry Sound district could come if the number of COVID-19 cases don't drop.

“The province is at a critical stage in this pandemic,” he said. "We have limited healthcare resources in the north. We will evaluate other outdoor recreational activities if we experience an increase in complaints of individuals not following gathering limits or attracting out-of-district participants.”

Chirico said the province’s modeling data shows that the healthcare system will be overwhelmed by COVID if measures are not taken.

Vaccine could be delayed

Doses of the Moderna vaccine were allocated to the region and were supposed to arrive Feb. 1. But Chirico said issues with the delay of the Pfizer vaccine could impact its rollout.

Meanwhile, a group advocating for older Canadians say at-risk seniors who live at home and their caregivers should be at the front of the line when it comes to getting the vaccine.

"Hopefully in the North Bay area that will happen. They're just as at risk. Many of them at more risk because they can't get into long-term care,” said CARP policy officer Bill VanGorder. “They're still at home and we expect each area to do that.”

Chirico said when the vaccine makes its way to the area, a plan will be in place.

“The priority is going to be residents in the long-term care homes and at high-risk retirement homes,” he said. “We don't have any high-risk retirement homes, which in a way is a good thing."

Chirico is hopeful district residents will continue to follow public health guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19.