The message still remains true: the best way to control this outbreak is to go get immunized.”Dr. Piotr Oglaza
With COVID-19 cases in Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) reaching an unprecedented all-time high of 220 active cases, 16 hospitalizations and a total of seven deaths (since the pandemic began, as of Wednesday — an eighth COVID-19 death locally was reported following this meeting), Kingston’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, urged the community to “go back to the basics”.
“[This is] a reminder to the community to return to basic precautions: screening for symptoms, getting tested when symptomatic, avoiding social gatherings, [and] wearing a mask,” Oglaza said during KFL&A Public Health’s Board of Health meeting, held virtually on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021.
“We have vaccines available. Anyone who hasn’t received vaccinations, I strongly encourage everyone to do so,” he added.
Forty-eight per cent of COVID-19 cases in the community have been spread through household or close contacts, with 19 per cent of cases having no known sources.
“We are looking very closely… at additional measures [for] promoting immunizations. Most of the spread is happening through household contacts. We don’t see the spread happening where proof of vaccination is required to enter, [or] where there’s masking,” Oglaza added.
As the holiday season approaches, Dr. Oglaza urged the community to be cautious about getting together socially in private settings.
“The fact that you are going to visit friends and families—they will be getting together and will not be masking. Avoiding these types of scenarios is an important first step. Additionally ,those with comorbidities should really be careful when they are considering hosting or accepting invitations to private gatherings,” Oglaza cautioned.
“Unfortunately, even if they are immunized, some individuals may not fully benefit from the vaccine based on their current health status. When we look at fully vaccinated [individuals] who are 80+, for many individuals with frail conditions, if they get sick and are hospitalized, they sadly may not make it. That’s the sad reality of any kind of infection pathogen and the limitation of vaccines in very frail individuals.”
Approximately 165,000 members of the KFL&A community are fully immunized, but 43,000 are not (that number includes those not yet eligible for immunization). Oglaza said that having 43,000 people without immunity is going to drive the spread of the virus, coupled with the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant.
“What’s important here, what keeps us safe, is that over 90 per cent of our population 12 and over have received one dose, and 87 per cent are fully immunized. It goes back to the notion that even though we have 90 per cent immunized, the message still remains true: the best way to control this outbreak is to go get immunized,” he added.
A question was raised at the meeting about the spread of COVID-19 at Queen’s University, to which Oglaza replied that there’s been “no increase in that setting. [It’s] mainly because of high immunization (rates)”.
As for the spread of the virus in settings such as public transit, Oglaza reported that he has not seen outbreaks linked to buses.
“It’s hard to speculate as to what factors might be contributing to [public transit] being a lower- risk setting. That’s the reality: we have seen spread in household spaces, in indoor spaces, [but] not in buses.”
Oglaza reported two important updates in November: “[As of] November 16, we’ve looked at analysis of cases and the pattern of spread in the community. That led us to the conclusion that we have community spread.”
We can beat this fourth wave. There’s ways we can make sure we can stay ahead.”Dr. Piotr Oglaza
The second update is a letter of instruction for youth indoor sports safety. “We will be communicating to the public the update about the letter of instruction in consultation with the office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health,” he explained.
“This may not impact many individuals because it’s regarding participation in indoor organized sports for 12- to 17-year-olds. We’ve issued a letter of instruction that expands that to coaches and volunteers, to provide more consistency in how these rules apply. At the same time, our partners from the school boards in the broader Eastern Ontario region have already implemented policy that requires immunization for participants in extra-curricular activities.”
A gap remains, however, as there are youth 12 to 17 years of age who are not part of extra-curricular sports through school. The letter also acts as an “early, generous grace period,” according to Oglaza, as the letter of instruction becomes effective on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, with participants expected to have at least one dose of the vaccine. Full immunization is not required until Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.
“[There are] two reasons: we recognize the importance and the benefit of organized sports, [and] we want to balance that benefit with the protection the vaccines will extend to individuals participating in sports,” Oglaza said.
Oglaza showed graphs at the meeting displaying the high rates of cases, predominantly among the unvaccinated population in Ontario. “We see that adults in their 30s to 50s have low rates of hospitalizations if they are fully immunized. [There’s] very strong evidence from Ontario data that demonstrate that the vaccines does what we hope it would do. It may not entirely protect against cases, but what it does very well is that it prevents serious outcomes of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.
“We can beat this fourth wave. There’s ways we can make sure we can stay ahead,” Oglaza said optimistically.
As for flu shots, Oglaza said there’s been no change in that requirement over the years.
“That might be one of the factors why we’re safe in this regard. We get protection from the flu shot. The message has always been ‘let’s not add the burden of another pathogen that’s preventable to the mix when we’re already in a pandemic’”.