NWHU Medical Officer of Health provides update as regional cases continue to climb
Tim Brody - Editor
Dr. Kit Young Hoon, Medical Officer of Health at the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU), “highly recommend(s) immediately limiting the number of people you gather with.”
She shared in a Dec. 29. media briefing, “Over the holidays we saw a significant increase in case numbers. The Omicron variant, which is highly transmissible, is spreading in the region and is one of the reasons our case count is increasing rapidly.” As of Dec. 31, the number of active cases across the health unit’s catchment area had increased to 307. The full breakdown of cases can be found at: https://www2.nwhu.on.ca/covid-19/data/.
“Previously, with the Delta variant, we would see only a small number of spread within social gatherings, however with the Omicron variant, more people at gatherings are being infected,” she added, advising, “Although indoor gathering limits are 10 people, consider sticking with the same 10 people, or even a smaller number of people, similar to the concept of social bubbles. Gathering with different groups of 10 people every day significantly increases your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. When gathering, it is important that no one has symptoms of COVID-19. Some recent cases believed that they just had a cold and gathered anyway, leading to spread. If you have symptoms, stay home and do not gather with others.”
Young Hoon also shared, “New provincial regulations do not allow for food or drink to be sold at arenas. One of the reasons for this regulation was to prevent the removal of masks while eating and drinking. Unfortunately, we have noted that parents and spectators in arenas often bring their own food and drink, leading to the removal of the face mask. Effective immediately, I recommend that no food or drink is consumed inside facilities where sports are played or practiced. Removing your mask within two metres of others increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.”
“Vaccination continues to be the best protection against Omicron variant, particularly the booster dose.” Young Hoon said. “Currently 35 per cent of people aged 18 and over have received their booster dose and many more have appointments booked over the next few weeks. Ontario’s rate for booster dose coverage in the 18 plus age group is about 27 per cent. We have appointments available in most of our clinics throughout January and I urge anyone 18 and older who have had two doses, at least 12 weeks ago, to get an appointment for your third dose. If our clinics are full in your community, please check with your local pharmacy or health care provider, as they too may be providing the vaccine.”
For more information on booking an appointment at a NWHU clinic, people may visit: https://www2.nwhu.on.ca/covid-19/booking-a-covid-19-vaccine-appointment/.
Dr. Young Hoon noted, “To date, over 157,000 doses have been given in our region and nearly 93 per cent of those eligible have received one dose, and 84.5 per cent have two doses. The vaccine is safe and effective for anyone aged five and older. I’m pleased to report that nearly 40 per cent of children aged five to eleven in our region have had one dose of the vaccine and many more have appointments coming up. Our coverage rate is only slightly lower than Ontario’s, which sits at about 42 per cent. Parents who want more information on the COVID-19 vaccine for children, should make an appointment online for an appointment to speak with an expert at Sick Kids. Information about the vaccine consult service can be found on the Sick Kids website (https://www.sickkids.ca/en/care-services/support-services/covid-19-vaccine-consult/) or our health unit website (https://www2.nwhu.on.ca/).
“Lastly, a general reminder to the public that the actions you take impact others. By following restrictions in place, we are protecting ourselves and our communities, including our health care workers,” Young Hoon commented. “Our goal right now is to reduce the number of people becoming ill at the same time and to reduce hospitalization rates. If case numbers increase, hospitalizations may as well. Our local health care system does not have the capacity to handle a large number of cases requiring hospitalization. Many health agencies are having difficulty finding enough staff and services are currently stretched. Please get vaccinated with a booster dose as soon as you are able to and stay home when you’re unwell, even if you think it’s just a cold. Although you may not get severe symptoms, someone who gets COVID-19 from your gatherings may become very ill. By following all public health measures, you play an important part in keeping your communities open and protected.”
On Dec. 30, the provincial government announced that students would return to in-person learning on Jan. 5.
“In response to the highly-transmissible Omicron variant, Ontario is putting in place additional health and safety measures to create more layers of protection to keep schools as safe as possible for in-person learning, which is critical to the positive mental health and academic success of students.
“The Children’s Health Coalition – representing Ontario’s children’s hospitals, mental health agencies and rehabilitation centres – has emphasized that in-person education is critical to the mental health, development and well-being of children and youth. Students are set to return to schools on January 5, 2022 for school boards previously scheduled to return on January 3 to provide schools additional time to prepare for the public health measures announced today,” the provincial government shared in a Dec. 30 news release.
Young Hoon had shared on Dec. 29, at that point, based on the information she had, “keeping schools open is best overall for the child.” She stated, “There continues to be public health measures in place at schools and we continue to work with schools, ensuring that they are able to follow public health measures outlined by the province.”
Also on Dec. 30, the provincial government announced updated testing and isolation guidelines in response to Omicron.
The province shared that, “effective December 31, publicly-funded PCR testing will be available only for high-risk individuals who are symptomatic and/or are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including for the purposes of confirming a COVID-19 diagnosis to begin treatment, and workers and residents in the highest risk settings, as well as vulnerable populations. Members of the general public with mild symptoms are asked not to seek testing.
More information on updated eligibility for PCR testing can be found at https://bit.ly/3eUwLvD.
The province also shared that most individuals with a positive result from a rapid antigen test will no longer be required or encouraged to get a confirmatory PCR or rapid molecular test.
The provincial government is also changing the required isolation period, “based on growing evidence that generally healthy people with COVID-19 are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop. Individuals with COVID-19 who are vaccinated, as well as children under 12, will be required to isolate for five days following the onset of symptoms. Their household contacts are also required to isolate with them. These individuals can end isolation after five days if their symptoms are improved for at least 24 hours and all public health and safety measures, such as masking and physical distancing, are followed. Non-household contacts are required to self-monitor for ten days. Individuals who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or immunocompromised will be required to isolate for 10 days.”
The provincial government also announced restrictions to spectator capacity in large indoor settings such as spectator areas of facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities (e.g., sporting events); concert venues; and theatres and announced that, “Based on the recommendations from the Ontario Immunization Advisory Committee, effective immediately the province will be making fourth doses of mRNA vaccines available to residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, Elder Care Lodges and other congregate care settings if at least three months, or 84 days, have passed since their third dose.”