SAULT STE. MARIE -- Although COVID-19 cases in Algoma District are on the low end compared to the rest of the province, Algoma Public Health says the latest stay-at-home order imposed by the province is a necessary step to bring down infection rates across the north.

The parking lots were busy Wednesday at Walmart and the Cambrian Mall in Sault Ste. Marie. One Sault resident said Algoma District has been unfairly punished by the shutdowns.

“We have been lower -- very low -- for the entire duration of the pandemic,” the woman said. “I can understand southern Ontario, but there are ways of keeping the north protected without letting the south come up. It’s not fair. It really isn’t.”

The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce said while it understands the reason behind the shutdown, it would like to see more financial support for businesses hardest hit by the pandemic.

“They did double the business support grant from $20,000 to $40,000 -- that was contingent upon previously qualifying for the first round,” said chamber president Rory Ring. “I think we would have like to have seen a little more flexibility on that and the ability for those businesses newly apply to that program.”

There are more than 20 active COVID-19 cases across Algoma District. Dr. Jennifer Loo, the medical officer of health, said each case often comes with many close contacts.

“A single exposure in a work setting or a school setting can certainly lead to many people being close contacts,” said Loo. “And over the past few days, unfortunately, we’ve had hundreds of people identified as close contacts. And this is hugely disruptive -- it means they have to self-isolate for 14 days.”

Loo said with the more contagious COVID variants detected in Algoma, it’s more important than ever to bring case numbers down. And with spring break approaching, she is hoping people across Algoma observe gathering limits.