TIMMINS -- During a virtual meeting with the Timmins news media, the medical officer of health for the Porcupine Health unit expressed her grave concerns about climbing COVID-19 case numbers and variants of concerns.

Dr. Lianne Catton said the third wave is not slowing down in the region as much as she would like.

“When we look at our infection rate, we are at 93.5 cases per 100,000 -- absolutely alarming," said Catton. "I think we’ve been extremely fortunate that people have done well. I’m worried."

She said the population here has more risk factors than other areas of the province and she's asking everyone -- regardless of their views of masking and lockdowns -- to follow the health protocols.

“We need you to step up," Catton said. "We need our community members, absolutely everyone, to help us get through this. We need to make sure we get our case numbers down. I don't want hospital admissions; I don't want to announce further tragic outcomes."

The health unit has also been seeing more young people contract the virus, but officials said it's infiltrating every setting, in every community. They say enhanced measures are required everywhere, including workplaces.

“That break time, that staff-to-staff interaction at lunchtime, that camaraderie at work really still needs to include masks, eye protection, minimum two metres in distancing," said Catton.

The Timmins Chamber of Commerce said programs have helped fund protective wear for businesses, but it said most of the programs have been exhausted.

“Implementations do fall on the burden of the business owner or operator. If they’re going to have to continue ensuring that these PPE, distancing protocols are being followed, they’re going to need some support because the cost of PPE is heavy, heavy weight," said Cameron Grant, senior policy analyst, government and stakeholder relations for the Timmins Chamber of Commerce.

Catton said close to 40 per cent of the population has been vaccinated, but to get to herd immunity, she needs about 75 per cent.

She said there are many openings in vaccine clinics, and she is surprised by the low turnout by the over 50 age group, especially by essential workers who can't work from home.