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Local doctors discuss Omicron variant, COVID-19 currently in KFL&A

On Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health, KFL&A Public Health, along with Dr. Gerald Evans, infectious disease specialist at KHSC and Professor at Queen’s University School of Medicine, and Dr. David Pichora, President and CEO, Kingston Health Sciences Centre, hosted a press conference to address the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, as well as the new Class Order, in the KFL&A region.

(L to R) Dr. Gerald Evans, infectious disease specialist at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) and Professor at Queen’s University School of Medicine, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, and Dr. David Pichora, President and CEO of KHSC, all participated in a press conference on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, as COVID-19 cases in the KFL&A region reached into the 900s for the first time ever. Submitted photos.

The virtual conference was held a few hours after Dr. Oglaza announced the new Class Order for the City Of Kingston, further limiting private gatherings and imposing restrictions on food establishments.

“The Section 22 Order that’s been released today is to provide that immediate impact on breaking the chain of infection in this community,” Dr. Oglaza stated. “We have seen an unprecedented rise in cases, and over the past several days, we’ve seen a significant rise in cases of the new variant Omicron. So, by implementing these very stringent measures very early or as early as possible, and for a limited time, this enables us to get a better sense of the impact of Omicron in this community.”

Overall, the health partners stressed third doses of the vaccine for individuals 50+ as the best way to continue to protect our community, both during the local upswing is cases, and in response to the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Reducing social contacts, screening for symptoms, and staying home when feeling unwell continue to be the top requests from Public Health and healthcare partners.

While the Omicron variant is the new buzz and has been detected in the region, there are currently no cases of that variant in local hospitals, according to Dr. Evans.

“What we’re looking at with hospitalizations at the moment are chiefly Delta patients,” he explained, noting that the upsurge in hospitalization happened before the region saw any impacts of Omicron.

“To the best of our knowledge… we do not have any Omicron patients in our institution, but we are waiting still for some whole genome sequencing to be done,” he continued.

Despite there being no Omicron cases in the KHSC hospital system, Dr. Oglaza stated that the Omicron variant is being identified in around 50 per cent of new cases in the area.

“There’s no question Omicron will be the dominant variant,” Dr. Evans said. “It took all of about 24 days in South Africa [for] Delta to drop to almost zero and for Omicron to rise. So, this is the speed related to this fact that this virus seems to be able to out-compete Delta. I would expect by this time next week, it’ll be dominant. As to the issue, if you want to define, dominance is anything over 50 per cent. We may very well be there at the moment.”

Testing in the region may feel inadequate for those attempting to book appointments at the local assessment centre, but Dr. Evans stated that the recent announcement of at-home PCR tests being available at some physicians offices will relieve some of that burden.

“My understanding and my knowledge is that the lab capacity for testing is still ample and we are able to continue processing the tests. So, this is the reason why we expanded the opportunities and avenues through which people can get that test collected and sent to the lab,” he said.

Dr. Evans also commented on the local lab capacity, as well as the benefit of this new system of at-home PCR tests, which will be administered through local physicians’ offices. “I would clearly say that we have right now a capacity, regionally and locally, to do somewhere upwards of about 3,000 tests a day.”

“But the limiting issue is getting swabs into people,” he continued. “As Dr. Oglaza has pointed out, assorted strategies to get self-administered swabbing done and then the drop off of the test so they can get to the lab for PCR testing is currently what we’re doing and we should be able to deal with that in the next little while.”

Moving from a discussion on testing to hospital capacity, Dr. Pichora stated that two more patients were transferred out of KHSC to other hospitals nearby, to Brockville and Belleville.

“They were new admissions that we transferred out before they actually made it to the ICU because of the impact on ICU staffing pressures remain part of the mix,” Dr. Pichora stated. “Everywhere in the system, hospitals are stressed with staffing shortages, and that’s part of the factor in terms of managing the workload and, in general, patients with COVID in the ICU are also being ventilated [and] require much higher levels of resources to manage them, and that puts additional stress on our staffing.”

“Our numbers are fairly steady. I think we have 22 or 23 total patients in hospital today that have active COVID, but we probably have another 10 or so who have recovered or are cleared from COVID, but still quite ill. Some of those in the ICU, as well, adding to that pressure. So, it’s not purely the active case count that has an impact on the hospital,” he expressed.

And in response to the increasing numbers at Queen’s University, just in time for students to head home, Dr. Oglaza said that Public Health encourages all students to seek testing before leaving the region, and be mindful of the potential risk that they might have been exposed while in residing in this community.

“Our recommendation is to get that test as soon as possible. And also, the message remains the same for anyone in this community, anyone, for that matter, in the province, is to be very diligent about testing for symptoms,” he urged. “If someone is experiencing symptoms, even the mild ones, the message and recommendation is to self isolate and seek testing.”

Oglaza went on to say that both the Delta and Omicron variants often present with very mild symptoms.

“Specifically for the student population, for younger adults, anyone in these younger age groups, all they may experience is runny nose, nasal congestion, things that may not really seem like much to them, but this could be the sign of infection and they could be transmitting it to others,” he explained. “So, being that extra vigilant about screening, [and] not engaging in social interactions when symptomatic is something that we strongly recommend. And specifically for those getting home: Getting tested before. This is our advice at this point.”

As the conference wrapped up, both Doctors Oglaza and Evans reiterated that getting the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is of utmost importance for slowing the spread of the vaccine and its variants.

“If you’re eligible for a third dose, get your third dose. Really, the issue I think everyone has to understand [is that] even if Omicron pans out to be, say, less virulent, or perhaps as equally virulent as Delta, the rise in transmissibility is going to produce more cases that have serious outcomes. And so, we need everyone to do their part with the assistance and guidance of Public Health to reduce case numbers overall, and reduce transmission so that it does not impact the health system,” Dr. Evans said.

“I think people have this view at the moment that, you know, we’re seeing signals that it’s it doesn’t look that bad, but it can look bad. If you drive up the numbers, and this variant has the capacity to do that, then we are going to see a rise in in cases elsewhere.”

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3 thoughts on “Local doctors discuss Omicron variant, COVID-19 currently in KFL&A

  • December 13, 2021 at 7:49 pm
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    it is not as easy as is said to get a rapid antigen test- I should be able to get one if I judge I need one. But that is not the case. Often what is said is not the reality on the ground. Please make the tests free and available to anyone who wants one. Omicron seems to be more contagious than Delta. And for those who say “Omicron appears milder” I ask you ” what self respecting virus would bother to form a new variant that is weaker than the one it just formed like Delta. Why would it bother?” We are in for a rough ride – allowing students to flaunt rules, contract and spread the virus and then allow them to travel hither and yon over Christmas is as irresponsible as it gets!!! Stay the blazes home people!!

  • December 14, 2021 at 7:40 am
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    The question is How do you get your third dose? Can’t get an appointment anywhere, the Ontario site and pharmacy sites are looping you, going nowhere in circles.

    • December 14, 2021 at 1:05 pm
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      I had no problem booking one at the CTC, however, I couldn’t make an appt sooner than 10-14 days out.

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