MOH: ‘High likelihood for anyone to be exposed’ to Omicron as peak season approaches

The first Kingston area death from the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is a sobering reminder of how our collective behaviour impacts vulnerable members of the community — This was one of the main messages of the COVID-19 update today, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, from Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health’s Medical Officer of Health (MOH), Dr. Piotr Oglaza.

“There are individuals in our community who are at greater risk; that risk is not necessarily that high for the general population, but we must be mindful of those who are at that increased risk and I hope that, as a community, we will be moving forward in a thoughtful manner that’s going to protect those vulnerable individuals among us,” said the MOH.

Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for KFL&A Public Health. Image via Hastings Prince Edward Public Health.

Oglaza offered his condolences to the family of the deceased individual, and to the loved ones of those who have died from the Delta variant in the past week.

“Unfortunately, and sadly… [in] just [the] past few days, we have seen a rise in deaths from COVID-19 in our area and these deaths were mainly among those individuals impacted by the Delta variant, many of whom have been hospitalized for quite some time and in the ICU for quite some time,” he said. “And my sincere condolences to all the families of and loved ones of those who are deceased from COVID-19.” 

He also pointed out that, “Over the past week, we have seen that the highly-transmissible Omicron variant has emerged as the dominant variant, and that was leading to record high case counts in the province. In KFL&A, we still remain one of the highest regions with the highest case counts in the province, but other health units have unfortunately, quickly caught up to us.”

As far as cases in the KFL&A region, he said, “Today, we have just under 300 new cases, and we’ve seen our positivity rates increase to now 12 per cent. And this is, unfortunately, not unexpected. We were expecting to see increased case counts in the winter months, but we’ve got a highly transmissible Omicron variant.  We are going to see even more cases throughout the month of January and that’s going to be the case for the rest of the province as well.”

Dr. Oglaza noted that, “What’s important is that, thanks to the protection that the vaccine gives us, these growing case counts will not have the same meaning as they did earlier during the pandemic, and what’s the key indicator here for us to monitor is the ICU admissions and hospitalizations.”

The Medical Officer of Health then turned his attention to vaccine coverage.

“There’s some better news here for our region, as we are the highest region in the province in getting the most doses into arms. It’s been truly remarkable to see how our communities have come together to facilitate getting vaccines into arms,” Oglaza said. “We could have not done it without the support and dedication of many staff volunteers in the community, and everyone who has given their time over the holiday season and endured some sometimes very cold weather to continue with immunization efforts. So, we greatly appreciate and thank everyone who contributed to getting the best protection out to people in this community and for members of the community who came to get their vaccine.”

Oglaza was buoyed by the number of vaccines being administered. “The coverage for five years [of age] and over – first dose – is 90.6 per cent, which is about 4 per cent higher than the rest of the province. We have 90 per cent coverage for 12 years of age or older for two doses. So, that’s also a really excellent statistic there. And we have the highest first dose coverage in the province among the five to 11 years old, which is 54.7 per cent in that in that population.”

Happy that third doses are increasing significantly over the past week, with 47.4 per cent of the adult population receiving their booster, Oglaza said, “We know that there might be some immune escape, but vaccines still offer excellent protection against severe COVID. It protects against hospitalization, protects against death, and I do recommend, highly and strongly, for everyone in this community to get the booster doses when eligible.”

School Closures

Oglaza does not believe that closing schools and going to remote learning would be helpful in curbing the spread of Omicron because schools have not shown themselves to be a hotbed of COVID spread.

“We have not seen schools as being drivers of transmissions, schools and school cases were a reflection of transmissions happening in the community,” he explained.

Schools are essential for the lives of children and families, in his opinion, and that essential societal function needs to continue. That decision, though, is not up to the MOH who, like the rest of us,was waiting for the provincial government announcement, which happened later in the day.

Approaching peak season

As is the case with most respiratory viruses, we will see a peak number of COVID-19 cases in late January and early February, Oglaza said, and that means that most, if not all, unvaccinated people will be infected with the highly contagious Omicron variant in the coming month.

“The reason for this is [that] we see already high disease activity of Omicron in this province… So, in the period leading up to the peak and at the peak and for some time after that, there’s going to be a high likelihood for anyone to be exposed to the virus, and then following that exposure, some individuals might get mildly sick,” he explained. “Individuals who are protected by the vaccine may have mild symptoms, but some individuals who are not vaccinated cannot count on whatever they were doing previously during previous waves that kept them from being exposed. It is likely not going to work with Omicron because of how highly transmissible it is.”

Omicron spreads incredibly easily, he said, and soon everyone will be exposed to it, “So those individuals who are not fully vaccinated will be exposed, they will likely get sick and the severity of the illness will depend – as it always does – on a set of circumstances. And these are the individuals who might be at the greatest risk of hospitalizations, ICU admissions or even death.”

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