COVID plateau in KFL&A is good news: MOH Oglaza

The COVID-19 news is positive this week: data indicators suggest that COVID-19 activity in the region has plateaued, explained a hopeful Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, during his weekly update to the press on Wednesday, Jan 19, 2022.

“The percent positivity rate has decreased substantially from earlier this year and late 2021,” explained Oglaza. “It is now stabilizing at around 8 per cent… the lowest percent positivity in the province.”

Further, “data suggest that cases in the City of Kingston, Amherstview, and Odessa have either decreased or stabilized based on the signal coming from the wastewater,” he said.

Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, during his weekly update to the press on Wednesday, Jan 19, 2022. Screen captured image.

These indicators, along with stabilized hospitalization rates, suggest that COVID-19 activity in the KFL&A region has plateaued. “So this is really excellent news and something that gives us hope coming into this year,” Oglaza commented.

With students returning to in-person learning yesterday across the province, Oglaza took a moment to reassure our community that, “based on our local data, KF&LA region is one of the safest regions in the province for in-person learning.” But, he urged, “we must continue to balance risk and benefits of in-person learning to protect mental health and well being of students.”

“Our region, KFL&A, along with Ottawa, has the highest school-aged child vaccine coverage in this province,” he said proudly, pointing to data that shows the region has the highest first dose coverage for those five to 11 years of age in the province. “And this is where just over 62 per cent have received their first dose, which is very significant because that’s 15 per cent above the provincial average.”

KFL&A is currently fourth-highest provincially for second dose coverage of those 12 to 17 years of age. “This is more than 5 per cent above the provincial average,” Oglaza pointed out.

Local data, provincial data, and comparison with other regions in the province suggest that the KFL&A region has “one of the lowest COVID-19 activity [rates] in the province,” he said, crediting local vaccination rates, which continue to create strong protection in our community. “As of today… 91 per cent of our population of five years of age and older have received their first dose, and over 90 per cent of the population 12 years of age and above have received their second dose. Additionally, over 70 per cent of those eligible for the third dose have received one.” 

The provincial rate of COVID-19 hospitalization in the province for children ages five to 11 years is 2.2 per 100,000, Oglaza said. “So, that means that for a population of the size of KFL&A region, this equals less than one hospitalization per health unit of our size. And that’s really, truly a good estimate of risk to this population [children five to 11 years old], and.”

That, combined with highest immunization coverage and low level of COVID-19 disease overall, supported his earlier statement about this region being one of the safest to resume in-person learning in the province, Oglaza said.

In partnership with local school boards, KFL&A Public Health has distributed a survey to parents and caregivers of students between five and 11 years of age, according to Oglaza. “This survey will help us identify any gaps in service and in needs, and help us deliver COVID-19 vaccine clinics to children in our region. We continue to work with school boards to organize vaccine clinics on site.”

Parents can check the KFL&A Public Health website for pop-up school clinics. 

“In conclusion, I would like to sincerely thank parents in the KFL&A region for having confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine and I encourage others, who have not done so, to book an appointment.” 

– Dr. Piotr Oglaza

Oglaza was asked about Premier Doug Ford’s comments Wednesday on Ottawa radio station Newstalk 580 CFRA. Ford said he hates putting the Public Health measures in place and that, “We’ll have a good announcement by the end of the week… I believe we’re going to make some announcements later this week about going back to other levels of restrictions.” Did the doctor agree that lifting restrictions is the way to move forward at this point?

He answered that it was difficult to respond: “We are certainly heading in the right direction in the KFL&A region. And I can speak to the local epidemiology [and] local risk level… while I’m able to share this promising news as [it relates] to the  KFL&A region… We were the first [region] to experience the emergence of Omicron, and we’re also one of the first ones to start exiting it… Any decisions that are referring to the level of restrictions or measures that are needed to keep the healthcare system running in the province have to take into account situations in other regions.” 

When questioned about the marked difference in how schools are moving forward with changes in COVID-19 reporting and isolation requirements, Oglaza explained, “We recognize as a Public Health system that we are moving towards [COVID-19 becoming endemic]. And with that, there was a change in approach … [because] our provincial lab system [could not] handle that volume of testing… That’s something that’s reserved for very high-risk settings, such as long-term care… but at schools, based on the nature of the population there, that’s a very different level of risk for children.” 

As Oglaza explained earlier, there are very low hospitalization rates for children, “and that risk can then be further mitigated by all the other measures that are in place, vaccination being one of the most important ones… And that’s my understanding of some of the reasoning behind this: that these very aggressive containment strategies that result in a number of students going home, potentially unnecessarily, and when [we] contrast that with the level of risk from the pathogen itself, it really sways that balance on maintaining in-person schooling.”

Oglaza was then asked about another objective of the previous reporting policy: Wasn’t informing parents in schools about positive cases not just about safety for the child, but also about preventing the spread of COVID-19 to other family members and grandparents and so on? And isn’t that lost in this new way of doing things? 

“Because of how easily COVID-19 spreads in the population, and how much of the widespread COVID-19 activity we had in this region and anywhere else in the province, the risk of… inadvertent exposures in the community might be equally high as it is from exposure in the school setting,” he responded, noting that schools “were not driving the community spread,” and that, conversely, school spread was being driven by community exposure.

He continued, “I think that’s where we are transitioning towards that recognition of the fact of this pathogen becoming more endemic – becoming more widespread – where we can look at individual mitigation strategies such as immunization providing that level of protection to individuals who have more risk, and moving away from that very aggressive case contact management in school settings.”

Asked to explain endemic vs pandemic, Oglaza explained, “Anytime we’re talking about an endemic pathogen, you’re talking about a pathogen that might always be present, may never go away. But we see more of a cyclical annual pattern and how it spreads and more predictability in terms of who’s going to be impacted… an example that is often used is  what we experience on an annual basis with influenza. We have an influenza season that starts in the fall, peaks around the end of December, and then it continues on until the end of April, although with lower disease activity. It doesn’t mean that influenza is going away over the course of the summer; we may still have cases, [but] we don’t see the widespread transmission.”

“And also,” he went on, “when we see a pathogen that’s already a part of the circulating number of pathogens on a cyclical basis, most of the individuals in the community would already be exposed to them so that they have some level of protection, some level of immunity. They may still get sick, but we won’t see… a large number of people being sick all at the same time. So, when the pathogen turns into what we call an endemic state, it’s more related to the fact that it becomes part of that naturally circulating pathogen with seasonal peaks. And it’s no longer normal for the vast majority of people in the population [to be compromised, because there is a level of immunity] either through immunizations or through the infection.”

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