In his weekly COVID-19 update to the press today, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Public Health (KFL&APH), shared good news for residents of Long Term Care (LTC) facilities, expressed his thoughts on the trucker convoy protesting mandates, and talked about moving from a pandemic to an endemic occurrence of COVID-19.
From data collected in LTC facilities across the region from mid-November until January 11, the KFL&A infection prevention control team (IPAC team) identified 78 COVID positive individuals associated with long-term care or retirement homes within KFL&A. However, out of the 19 homes that were affected, the vast majority of cases were actually among staff and non-residents, said the MOH.
He explained that, of the 78, 65 were non-residents and 13 were residents. Of those 13 individuals, seven were asymptomatic, and only one of the remaining six had symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization with the Delta variant of COVID-19.
“It’s very important to highlight that the majority of those cases had two or three doses of the vaccine, which confirms the significant protective effect of the vaccine in preventing severe illness in this population (LTC),” Oglaza pointed out. “This data review of cases in LTC shows that the IPAC strategies we had in place and the measures within homes are effective and helped to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within long-term and retirement home facilities, especially considering increased transmissibility from the Omicron variant.”
Oglaza further pointed out that this data also shows that “the basics are still our best line of defence: screening and staying home when sick, getting vaccinated, limiting contacts, distancing, wearing a mask, washing hands, all these basics are helping to protect vulnerable populations.“
“And I also wanted to point out that many of these same measures and IPAC principles are implemented in our school settings,” Oglaza observed, noting, “There is far less risk based on the age of individuals in those settings, but these measures nonetheless are implemented in school settings as well and are also helping our school communities to remain safe for in-person learning.”
Based on the provincial data, Oglaza reiterated, the KFL&A region continues to have one of the lowest COVID-19 activity rates in the province, and that adds an extra layer of safety in our region.
Asked whether the messaging behind the convoy of trucks headed toward Ottawa to protest government mandates surrounding COVID-19 presented problems for Public Health’s messaging strategy, Oglaza acknowledged that “the right to peaceful protest is part of the democratic process in Canada. So I just hope that the participants [in] the group will be following provincial regulations and staying safe. And really that’s all I can say about that at this point.”
Pandemic to endemic
It is flu season, but according to Oglaza, “Thankfully, we have not seen significant flu activity. And there are some theories as to why that might be the case. We know that viruses compete for the host with the other viruses circulating, like COVID; maybe there’s less influenza happening, maybe it’s because we have all these measures that are in place in a variety of settings that are making it much more difficult for the vector to spread.”
The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said yesterday in his update that we might have to learn to live with COVID like we do with influenza.
“COVID is unfortunately here to stay,” said Oglaza, “and will most likely join the recurring pattern of respiratory illness that we have with seasonal peaks. So that’s something that as a society, as a local community, we need to be mindful and prepare for … there’s no indication that this pathogen is going away. There’s no indication that it’s going to be eradicated. There’s no indication that we won’t see recurrences of COVID.”
It is anticipated that in spring and summer, disease activity will naturally decrease. Then we may have to be prepared for another surge in the next fall, Oglaza explained, but that would be no different from annual surges of influenza and other respiratory pathogens. It will just be a matter of another pathogen added to the mix.
The key difference now is that we have the protection of a vaccine that is highly effective towards protecting individuals from severe illness. “So that’s really the end goal here,” he explained, “to reduce that severe illness from COVID.”
“It’s not going to be a single point in time where we can say now it’s endemic from now on; I think this is more of a gradual process when we start seeing this typical seasonal pattern of spread,” Oglaza acknowledged. “We may not be able to stop the spread, and the spread might still be happening, but what we want to prevent is people getting severely sick, getting hospitalized, or dying from COVID. And that’s something that we can accomplish with the vaccine.”