Denis Doyle, chair of the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington Board of Health, presided over his last meeting on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. Doyle’s last day came on the heels of a new, stronger message about masking from his former colleague, now Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH), Dr. Kieran Moore.
On behalf of the board, Doyle reiterated Moore’s message from a press conference earlier in the day, urgently imploring residents of the KFL&A area to strongly consider wearing masks in public indoor spaces to mitigate the continued onslaught of respiratory illnesses jamming Ontario hospitals.
At the CMOH press conference, Dr. Chris Simpson, Executive Vice President (Medical) and Chief Medical Officer at Ontario Health, spoke first. “We’re currently experiencing extraordinary pressure on our pediatric system. We’re facing a triple threat of three viruses: COVID, respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, and influenza, all at the same time. Unusually high numbers of children are coming into hospital emergency departments for one or more of these viral illnesses. And the total number of these children that require admission is uncommonly high. While our hospitals have been preparing for this triple threat, we along with much of North America and many places around the world are seeing a high number of these three viruses in children and seeing them earlier in this season than had been expected.”
Simpson described the current situation as “unlike anything we’ve seen in the pediatric population in recent memory.” However, he emphasized, “We have strong systems and structures that have been put in place during the pandemic for our adult community that we’re now utilizing for child and youth care… As we’ve done before, we’re taking a ‘Team Ontario’ approach, ensuring that all of our provincial resources are being used to support pediatric patients across the province.”
Of the situation in Ontario hospitals, he said, “The number of available pediatric ICU beds is being monitored closely. It is very fluid and changes rapidly as children are admitted and discharged… when clinically safe to do. What is important is that all pediatric patients will be seen when they come to a hospital.”
Simpson admitted that the number of children requiring admission has already begun to impact other parts of the health system, with a reduction in scheduled surgeries and procedures that “will likely continue as we reallocate our resources to focus on pediatrics.”
Moore then addressed Ontarians, saying, “What we are facing is a triple threat that requires our collective action to protect the most vulnerable in our communities — the very young, very old, and those with underlying medical issues — and to ensure that their health care system remains able to care for Ontarians when they need it.”
He urged the public to get back to using all the layers of protection “that we know work to keep ourselves and other others healthy,” including screening daily for signs of illness and staying home when sick. Practicing good hand hygiene and regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces, he said, is especially important for RSV and flu viruses.
With the peak of flu season expected in early to mid-December, Moore emphasized that Ontarians should not delay getting immunized for both flu and COVID-19. “Influenza activity is increasing across Ontario. More than half of children five to 17 years old being tested in emergency departments and hospitals are positive already for influenza.”
He continued, “I’m asking Ontarians, especially children six months of age and older, pregnant individuals, families and caregivers of young children, health care workers, elderly, and those with underlying health conditions to get your flu shot as soon as possible. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting the flu shot every year. Get your COVID-19 bivalent booster dose and your flu shot. Both are safe and effective and can be received at the same time.”
Moore also “strongly recommended” that all Ontarians wear a mask in indoor public settings, but he did not reimplement a mask mandate.
“Applying all these layers of protection will help to protect ourselves our families and most importantly, our children under five,” Moore said. “Our youngest children… are especially vulnerable to severe outcomes from RSV and COVID and influenza, and we need to ensure that we take all the necessary steps to keep them safe.”
Back in Kingston, after reiterating the importance of these recommendations, Denis Doyle thanked the Board of Health and the staff for their support over the last eight years of his tenure. “I must say, of all the boards I’ve been on through this municipal venture that I’ve gone through the last 16 years, this is absolutely my favourite. A lot of that has to do with the solid staff we have, who bring us some great ideas. We have a great debate at the table… So thanks again.”
Doyle also thanked members of the press who were on the call, saying the board “couldn’t get our message out without the press. The press is one of our most valuable partners.” He went on to commend each reporter personally by name.
Doyle then passed the reins to his vice-chair, Wes Garrod, who will be taking over as chair, and Jeff McLaren, who will move into the vice-chair position. The rest of the board’s meeting consisted of viewing and approving a KFL&A Public Health draft budget for 2023.