Editorial note: The following is a submitted letter to the Editor in response to a recently-published article entitled “No spike in respiratory-related illnesses in KFL&A emergency rooms over winter holiday.” (Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023). The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.
I wish to provide some commentary regarding the report from our local public health unit published in The Kingstonist on January 18, 2023. The article titled “No spike in respiratory-related illnesses in KFL&A emergency rooms over winter holiday” gives a sense that all is well in our KFL&A communities regarding respiratory viruses including COVID-19.
The November and December wave of RSV and Influenza have indeed passed but took a serious toll on our communities and health care system. As much as everyone, including myself, would wish otherwise, that nasty coronavirus COVID-19 has not miraculously gone away. The evidence reveals that infection rates of COVID-19 remain as high or higher than they have ever been in our KFL&A region, Ontario, and Canada throughout the three years of this pandemic. Most of your readers would be shocked to learn that there were nearly four times as many Kingston area COVID fatalities in 2022 than during the two previous pandemic years combined (81 versus 22).
Since January 2022, testing for COVID-19 has been severely reduced and for that reason, the reported numbers of cases on all government and public health websites seriously underestimate the actual number of new cases. There is a clear disclaimer to this effect on the KFL&A Public Health COVID-19 data website.
How significant is this underestimation of new cases of COVID-19? Large actually. Based upon the data published by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (www.healthdata.org), where they compare reported numbers of cases with more realistic estimates of actual numbers of new cases of COVID-19, the true number of new cases is at least 30 times higher than what is reported on our government and public health websites. Another source of high-quality Canadian information published at www.COVID19resources.ca likewise reveals that the actual numbers of new COVID-19 cases are underreported by at least 30 times and maybe as much as 50 times.
What does this all mean for us here in the KFL&A region? It means that the 155 new cases of COVID-19 reported by our KFL&A Public Health COVID-19 webpage during the week of January 10 to 17, 2023, is closer to 4,650 cases of COVID-19 in our region. That is higher than the number of new cases we experienced during the start of the Omicron wave in December 2021. It means that the reported number of cases for Ontario is more in the 30,000 cases per day, not in the 1,000 range.
Our KFL&A Public Health Unit is recommending: “wearing well-fitted masks in indoor public spaces, including schools and childcare centres”, and “staying up-to-date with COVID-19 and influenza vaccines.” This is excellent advice that, if followed, would significantly reduce COVID-19 infection rates.
The number of people over age five that have received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the last 6 months in the KFL&A region is not great — only 32.5 per cent. Staying current with your COVID-19 vaccines plays an important role in protecting us all from the severe impacts of COVID-19. Our hospitalization rate in our region has been running quite high on a long-term basis since early September 2022.
By wearing high-quality tight-fitting masks (ie N95 style) and being up to date on our COVID-19 vaccines we can do much to prevent illness from COVID-19 and all of its negative consequences for ourselves, our loved ones, our community and our health care system.
Dick Zoutman, MD, FRCPC, CCPE, C. Dir
Infectious Diseases and Medical Microbiology Specialist
Emeritus Professor, School of Medicine