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KFL&A Board of Health discusses mask mandates and monkeypox

The Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Board of Health held its May meeting on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, where it heard from an expert in infectious diseases about mask effectiveness, and discussed the new monkeypox upsurge.

Members of the KFL&A Board of Public Health listen to a presentation by Dr. Dick Zoutman, an infectious disease expert who was advocating for a mask mandate for indoor public spaces, during their May 2022 meeting. Screen captured image.

First, the board received a presentation by Dr. Dick Zoutman, former Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC). Zoutman respectfully asked that the BOH consider “new information that I feel would impact your decision-making concerning the need for a Section 22 order for the KFL&A region on the wearing of masks for the prevention of COVID-19 caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.” 

In support of his recommendation to the BOH that Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health, make a Section 22 order requiring masks in all public indoor spaces, Dr. Zoutman cited new research, which he said “has shown that the combination of vaccination AND wearing N95/KN95 equivalent masks would keep the reproductive number of COVID-19 down below one, and thus prevent [future] recurrent waves.”

Dr. Zoutman pointed out, “The vaccines are a tremendous accomplishment, but they do not yet prevent sufficiently against transmission such that they can be relied upon solely to stop the spread of COVID-19 or new waves of new variants… If we keep the reproductive number of COVID-19 below one, over the longer term, we will not see the repeated waves of COVID-19 with high-level transmission. Such a strategy would be effective at a regional level.”

“Fifty-nine members of our community have died due to COVID-19,” Zoutman went on. “The vast majority (almost 90 per cent) have been in the most recent six months since the Omicron variant descended upon us… KFL&A currently has one of the highest rates of new cases per million population, estimated at 250 per million, which is acknowledged to be a serious underestimate, given the lack of testing. The true figure may be five times [that, or] higher.”

The primary focus of Dr. Zoutman’s academic research has been the use of Quality Improvement Science in advancing health care quality regarding infectious diseases. During the 2003 outbreak of SARS, he chaired the Ontario SARS Scientific Advisory Committee responsible for advising the Ontario government on the management of the epidemic. In his presentation to the BOH, he cited a great deal of new scientific research about the efficacy of masks in preventing the spread of COVID.

Ultimately, Board Chair Denis Doyle stated, “We welcome presentations, we welcome feedback from the public, and that way we all make better decisions. I’m pleased you’re here to speak to us, but nothing is ever black and white… Trying to enforce a Section 22 [order] may be problematic for us. To meddle with the actions of the [provincial] government… who provides 70 per cent of our funding, and who has made it very clear that they want one plan for controlling COVID across the province… they really are not in favour of, [as] I think premier Ford calls it, ‘coming up with unique plans.’”  

Board members also argued that a mask mandate in KFL&A would be impossible to enforce. In response, Zoutman pointed out that “there will never be 100 per cent coverage,” but with a clear message like a mandate, 85 percent of people will comply, according to studies published in the American Journal of Infection Control. This would amount to “at least a 75 per cent reduction in caseload,” explained Dr. Zoutman, “and caseload is related to mortality and morbidity and the number of hospital admissions. So, it’s a dramatic effect, and that’s why I think it’s important that we appreciate that the level of impact is very significant.”

The presentation ended and was followed by Dr. Oglaza updating the BOH on the status of COVID-19 in KFL&A.

Monkeypox concerns

Board member and Kingston City Councillor, Jeff McLaren, asked Oglaza, “The monkeypox… are masks helpful in preventing that? Is there a particular process and is there a vaccine that goes with it? Do we have to worry about it coming to Canada, is there any possibility of that?”

“I don’t have any indication that it will become endemic here,” Oglaza responded. He explained that monkeypox is generally carried by animals – monkeys and small rodents – and he didn’t know whether it could survive in our local animal population. 

“The only main concern is that it might be transmitted from person to person… The Public Health Agency of Canada is monitoring this… I don’t know if there are any specific antivirals for this,” said Oglaza. “[But] yes, the vaccine against smallpox would work on this virus, as well.”

In fact, it was announced in a statement by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PAHC) on Wednesday evening that there are currently 16 cases of Monkeypox virus, all in the province of Quebec.

While the KFL&A Board of Health did discuss the current status of COVID-19 in the region, Dr. Oglaza was poised to deliver his bi-weekly COVID-19 media update on Thursday, May 26, 2022. Kingstonist will provide coverage of the COVID-19 updates following that media briefing.

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