The Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Board of Health held its inaugural meeting of the new term on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023.
Former Vice-Chair, Wess Garrod, was officially elected Chair of the Board, while Kingston City Councillor Jeff McLaren will now take over as Vice-Chair of the Board.
Returning to the Board are two individuals who serve as community members: Dr. David Pattenden, and Christopher Seeley who also serves as the Provincial Appointee.
New faces around the table included Councillor Judy Greenwood-Speers of the County of Frontenac, Kingston City Councillors Brandon Tozzo and Conny Glenn, and Councillor Nathan Townend of Loyalist Township.
Medical Officer of Health for KFL&A Public Health, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, presented an update stating that COVID-19 activity in KFL&A is likely on the decline after a small post-holiday spike. The majority of cases locally are various BA.5 and BA.2 sub-strains. The frequency of COVID-19 variant XBB.1.5 cases locally remains low.
“What’s really important in the local and Ontario context is that recent evidence reviews from Public Health Ontario indicated that it is likely that XBB and its sub-strains, including 1.5, have higher transmissibility compared to previous strains,” Dr. Oglaza indicated. “So that’s important; they will be even more transmissible than the previous strains potentially, and potentially have a higher risk of reinfection.”
However, he stated, “While there’s very little evidence at this point to the severity of these new strains of XBB, the early evidence is somewhat promising and suggests that they might cause less severe health impacts. So, that’s potentially good news. Again, it’s too early to tell, but the early reports are promising.”
With regard to other respiratory viruses, the community is now seeing very little influenza activity, said Dr. Oglaza, especially compared to the case load seen in November. He added that we continue to see moderate Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) activity locally, as well as other respiratory viruses.
What’s “really critical” to remember, stated Dr. Oglaza, is that “respiratory-related activity in hospitals locally and provincially is far below pre-pandemic levels. So it shows a decline in the burden of respiratory illness locally and in the province.”
Switching to a vaccine update, Dr. Oglaza shared that “our region, KFL&A, continues to have the highest overall full-booster coverage in the province against COVID-19… the second highest full-booster coverage in children five to 11 years of age and teens 12 to 17, and the second highest first-and-second-dose coverage of children under five years of age. So a really great level of protection, relatively speaking, compared to other parts of the province, which really speaks to both the availability and the efforts to provide vaccination, but also confidence of parents in the region to have their children immunized.”
He added, “We continue to focus on both [influenza and COVID-19] vaccines for all ages to extend protection to as many people who choose to have that protection.”
As KFL&A Public Health is now returning to offering routine childhood vaccines, Dr. Oglaza noted, “These are by appointment, and [are offered] at our clinic at the Cataraqui Centre.” He reminded parents and students that proof of vaccination is a requirement for attending school.
KFL&A Public Health is booking routine immunization appointments only for the following: infants, children, and adults who do not have access to a family health care provider. This includes any students who are overdue for immunizations required under the Immunization of School Pupils Act (ISPA), and who do not have access to a health care provider or do not have a health card.
For residents who only require a COVID-19 vaccine, appointment-scheduling, walk-in clinic, and mobile clinic information is available on KFL&A Public Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ page.
“Most important is that our team is working closely with local shelters to provide access to COVID-19 vaccines for those who are under-housed and might be experiencing difficulty accessing care otherwise,” Dr. Oglaza stated. “We will be also expanding services such as sexually transmitted infections testing and blood-borne infections testing for individuals in those settings, to again enable testing and outreach to the communities and people who might be experiencing difficulty accessing care elsewhere.”
And lastly, Dr. Oglaza finished by reminding the community “about things that probably everyone is well aware of. But it’s still important to reiterate that even though our respiratory season activity might be on the decline, the individual risk remains… it’s important [for people] to protect themselves, protect each other, and protect the community as a whole.”
He continues to recommend that individuals adhere to basic actions that are proven to reduce the risk of infection and illness: staying home when sick until 24 hours after symptoms are resolved (or 48 hours for gastrointestinal symptoms), staying up to date with all recommended vaccinations including the flu shot, maintaining hand hygiene and disinfecting high touch surfaces, as well as considering wearing a mask in indoor public spaces, especially in more high-traffic public areas.
He thanked the public for their continued diligence in all these matters.