Medical Officer of Health gives update on community health

A public health nurse applies fluoride varnish to the teeth of a young person. Photo from Oglaza’s report.

Respiratory illness risk is still at a high level, but wastewater and hospital admissions point to a downward-turning trend, according to Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health. Oglaza gave a community update to the Board of Health on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.

He began by explaining that KFL&A is still in a period of high risk, according to wastewater per cent positivity levels for respiratory viruses. What’s “promising,” Oglaza said, is that “locally, respiratory-related emergency department visits, and new admissions are now back to being at seasonal levels after the spike over the holidays.”

COVID-19 activity is high and stable, and the majority of cases locally are now the JN.1 variant, according to wastewater samples. Influenza activity outbreaks and hospitalizations are also at a high level, Oglaza reported, while RSV and other respiratory activity is low and stable.

On the provincial level, “COVID-19 is now at a moderate level, and influenza is still sporadic and localized, and both are decreasing. So that’s certainly very promising,” Oglaza noted.

“After a spike around the holidays, COVID wastewater concentrations are decreasing across most of the province. So that’s consistent with what we are seeing locally, as well,” he said.

Vaccination update

COVID-19 vaccine coverage in KFL&A is exceeding provincial averages, according to Oglaza, with 26 per cent of KFL&A residents vaccinated this fall and winter, versus 15 per cent in all of Ontario. People 65 and over are at a 63 per cent coverage level in KFL&A, versus 45 percent in all of Ontario. Oglaza attributed this achievement partially to “greater participation from our partners, especially pharmacies, which administered 70 per cent of doses administered… That’s certainly a very good outcome.”

Handing over the responsibility of vaccine administration to partners “is something that we were striving to achieve since the acute pandemic stage,” he pointed out.

Needle Syringe Program 

Next on Oglaza’s agenda was an update on the Needle Syringe Program. He noted that all Public Health units are required to ensure access to harm reduction supplies through a coordinated program.

“For many years, this service has been contracted to Kingston Community Health Centre, also known as Street Health,” he said, “but on January 1st, 2023, this program’s responsibilities were transitioned back to KFL&A Public Health.”

“So, over the past year, we became the distribution hub for sterile, safer injection; safer inhalation supplies; and safer disposal of used supplies,” he reported, noting there has been an enhancement of KFL&A Public Health’s educational resources for safer drug use.

“It was a very busy year for the team to take on that program and transition to administering this in the community,” Oglaza continued, indicating that the statistics collected had shown “this transition was successful.“

Of note, KFL&A Public Health distributed over 320,000 needles over the course of 2023, and collected approximately 614,652 used needles, according to the Oglaza’s update.

Statistics for Needle Syringe Program. Slide from Oglaza’s report.

Fluoride

Oglaza also highlighted the fluoride varnish program. He emphasized that this program was “administered by the dental health team, but it’s also supported by other teams within organizations that provide services to people in the community.” He specifically acknowledged the Healthy Babies Healthy Children program and the Early Years Team.

“The application of fluoride varnish to the teeth of very young children in programs [like those above] is important to help those who are already suffering from any disadvantage in access [to dental care], and it’s a very cost-effective way to prevent tooth decay and engage families in strategies to support oral health,” Oglaza explained.

He said the fluoride program is also being offered through home visits; he noted that this service was suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic and that since then, there has been a severe increase in early childhood tooth decay in the KFL&A region.

“In 2024,” Oglaza stated, “we will explore ways to expand and sustain this initiative, especially given the context that tooth decay has increased by 60 per cent in senior kindergarten-aged children.”

Appointments to the Board of Health

While appointing the chair and vice-chair of the KFL&A Board of Health was one item on the agenda for the meeting, it wasn’t one that took much time. For 2024, the chair and vice-chair of the Board will remain the same two individuals who held those roles in 2023, with Wes Garrod serving as Chair of the Board, and Councillor Jeff McLaren serving as Vice-Chair.

Further information on the KFL&A Board of Health, including a list of all Board members, is available on the KFL&A Public Health website.

One thought on “Medical Officer of Health gives update on community health

  • Very good report, keep up the great work of informative reporting by staff at the Kingstonist. KFL&A continue to lead the Province with high vaccination rates, congratulations. Glad to see that Wess Garrod and Jeff McLaren remain as Chair and Vice Chair, keep up the great work at the KFL&A Public Health Board. I trust that the City of Kingston will soon seriously consider adding Fluoride to their water system to minimize need for such treatments as fluoride varnish and reduce tooth decay, especially amongst under privileged children and those who do not see a dentist very often.

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