NWHU ‘seeing an increase in COVID-19 activity across our region’
Tim Brody - Editor
“Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in COVID-19 activity across our region,” Northwestern Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kit Young Hoon told regional media on August 5. “Three hospitals, one long-term home and one other institution in our region are currently experiencing outbreaks. In addition, wastewater data from the region shows extreme increases in COVID-19 over the past few weeks and we’ve seen increased hospitalization rates since about mid-July. Although case numbers may not have increased drastically, it is important to remember that those cases only include people who are eligible for and have been PCR tested. Hospitalizations, wastewater data, percent positivity and outbreaks are some of the additional metrics used by our epidemiology team to determine the public risk. The current data indicates that the risk of COVID-19 is increasing locally, likely due to the emergence of (coronavirus’s omicron subvariants) BA.4 and BA.5,” Young Hoon stated.
NWHU was reporting a seven-day average area percent positivity rate of 16.3 percent as of August 3.
“I’d like to remind the public that they must follow all isolation measures when symptomatic or if they test positive. These instructions can be found at www.ontario.ca/exposed. That website also has information on what to do if you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive,” Young Hoon said.
Asked if she would like to see PCR testing be made available to more people, Young Hoon responded, “Rapid antigen tests are widely available to the general public. At this point the severity that’s associated with the new variants is not much different from the previous omicron variants, so I don’t think there’s a need to widen eligibility for PCR testing. I think at this point we do need to be strategic and careful with how we use resources, because human resources are limited at this time and so if we were to dedicate a lot more staffing to doing PCR testing, then we’ll have less staff for things like emergency room departments and case and contact follow up, etcetera. So, I think the current policy makes sense.”
“Based on the changing risk in our region, Northwestern Health Unit is strongly recommending that the public once again wear masks in all indoor spaces where you cannot maintain physical distance from others. People should also consider other ways that they can reduce the risk of COVID-19, such as gathering outdoors instead of indoors, reducing the size of indoor gatherings, or avoiding indoor spaces with large crowds. People who are at a high risk of severe illness or spending time with those who are, should enhance their prevention measures,” she commented, adding, “I urge anyone who is due for a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to get their shot. Adults aged 18 plus are now eligible for a second booster, and children aged six months to four years can get their first shot. Booking information can be found on our website (https://www2.nwhu.on.ca/covid-19/covid-19-vaccines/).”
Young Hoon concluded, “As we prepare for the fall, we will continue to offer the COVID-19 vaccine and once again also offer flu vaccines beginning in the late fall. The COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine will not be in a one shot this year. These enhanced prevention measures will help us all reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our families and our communities. We’ve all heard about the pressures on the health care system right now, including staffing challenges, longer waiting times in hospital emergency rooms, and even the possible short-term closure of some emergency departments. By doing our part to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we will also help to reduce the pressure on our local health care services.”