With COVID-19 cases on the rise again in the region, Dr. Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health is cautioning that the remainder of April 2021 may be difficult.
Currently, 60 per cent of the COVID-19 cases reported in the region involve variants of concern (VOCs), Moore disclosed during a press briefing on Tuesday, Apr. 6, 2021.
“The last several weeks, that’s been very consistent. So, I’m very concerned about that,” Moore said, noting that he found it “a little unsettling” when he came into work that same day to find 20 cases on the list of people to contact due to positive cases.
“This pandemic has changed and it’s changed utterly within a few months. We went from zero variants to 60 per cent of our samples [involving variants] in a very short time frame, in a few weeks, and it’s a big risk to our community.”
“The good thing is that we’ve got a great testing capacity, a community that continues to get tested, and our public health nurse detectives are working full out, seven days a week, trying to limit the spread of this virus, as our nurses and primary care and pharmacies are trying to immunize,” he continued.
“We really just need extra time to further protect those that are vulnerable through vaccination, and limit the spread. That’s what April is all about. And, sadly, it may go on into May as well if we cannot limit the spread of these variants.
“So I’m very concerned, I didn’t like what I saw this morning, and it’s a call to all of us to hunker down in small social circles, and limit travel.”
Moore said that, of the 115 test results Public Health has received which involve variants of concern in the KFL&A region, around half of them are the UK variant B.1.1.7. The other half (or so) are either the P.1 or the B.1.351 – the Brazilian or South African variants, respectively. Moore said he was expecting to see a lot of the B.1.1.7 variant, but that he is surprised to see that the other variants are involved in a significant proportion of regional cases.
“I don’t like seeing them,” he said, noting that everyone needs to take extra precaution with all three variants circulating in the area.
“When you’re asked to isolate, you have to isolate for the full 10 days. If you’re asked to quarantine, it’s because we’re trying to limit the spread of these variants now with our community.”
Moore explained that, as of right now, the variant case test have not been fully completed in terms of genome sequencing, but that the molecular tests they have received back of those cases are telling Public Health that there is a split in which variants are involved in cases within the region.
And while the KFL&A region is still leading the way in terms of vaccinations administered to the population – something Moore said was definitely bolstered by the region having been selected for the pilot program of the province’s program to administer vaccinations through pharmacies – the region is also leading the province in the number of cases involving variants. Those cases, Moore expressed, are 0.5 times more deadly than the base strain of COVID-19.
“I know everyone’s tired. I know everyone has fatigue of the Public Health measures that are being put in place. But we cannot let our guard down. April will be potentially one of the deadliest on record,” he said, noting that as soon as those from the region travel outside of KFL&A, their risk increases exponentially, depending on which regions they travel to and/or through.
Other notes from Dr. Moore
Moore also expressed that enforcement of the 15 per cent capacity limit at places of worship is something KFL&A Public Health is keeping an eye on, particularly because outbreaks at places of worship usually involve more vulnerable populations such as the elderly. He also cautioned that Public Health still has days to wait before they see the results of any travel or gatherings that may have occurred over the Easter weekend. He said Public Health will be reaching out to all of the local places of worship this week to encourage virtual services and receive assurance those locations will remain at 15 per cent capacity or less.
The Medical Officer of Health also expressed that he really feels for those restaurants and businesses that are not able to operate right now due to the provincial “Emergency Brake,” and said he understands why some businesses might be electing to remain open against the provincial protocols. However, now is not the time to break those rules, he said.
“We at KFL&A, together with our bylaws and police, are forced to follow the law. And we’ll be seeking legal opinion if necessary, on whether a facility should be closed or not. It puts us in a very difficult position. I feel terribly doing it. But there cannot be exceptions to the provincial law as it is in play right now,” he said.
Lastly, he noted that, as more cases from out of region are brought into KFL&A for treatment, the local hospitals, ICUs, and frontline healthcare workers are really starting to bear the brunt of the pandemic. As of Monday, Apr. 5, 2021, there were 10 cases of COVID-19 being treated in local hospitals, and only one of those was local. The other cases involve the use of ICU and ventilators, Moore said.
“I really do think April is going to be a very, very difficult month for everyone in Ontario, and Canada, now that this third wave is here, and it’s being driven by these variants of concern,” Moore reiterated, underlining that 60 per cent of local cases now involve these variants.
“Younger Ontarians are ending up in hospital, our ICUs have never been fuller – we have 500 individuals in intensive care settings across Ontario, and 310 of them are currently being ventilated – So it’s threatening our healthcare system,” he concluded.
“And it may topple our healthcare system in the next several weeks if we, as a community, and across all of Ontario, don’t decrease the number of social contracts we have.”