MOH sees a ‘silver lining’ despite return to yellow level COVID guidelines

Despite the region returning to the former yellow ‘protect’ level under Ontario’s COVID-19 guidelines, Dr. T. Hugh Guan, Associate Medical Officer of Health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health (KFL&APH ) said though Covid 19 numbers are on the rise, they are really at the “best-case scenario,” both locally and provincially.

In an online update with the local press on Wednesday, Sep. 15, 2021, Guan said, “Provincially, our seven-day average is 717 [newly identified cases of COVID-19]. I believe there were 577 new cases as of yesterday. So, that is actually pretty good news, our seven-day average number of cases has stabilized.”

Dr. T. Hugh Guan, Associate Medical Officer of Health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health addresses the press Wednesday, Sep. 15, 2021.

According to provincial modelling, he explained, this seven-day average is in the “best-case scenario range, rather than the worst-case scenario. So that is a bit of a silver lining, a bit of a positive to all this.”

“In terms of our hospitalizations and ICU hospitalizations [provincially], we’re at 363 and the ICU admissions are at 192 over the last seven days, I believe,” he stated, explaining “that has slowly crept up, but also is somewhat stable. Again, we’ll need to monitor for four weeks as schools are back in. But this is more along the lines of a good case scenario than the worst-case scenario. So, that is very good provincially-based data.” 

There are also very few long-term care cases provincially, he said, and, “we definitely do not have any LTC outbreaks locally.”

“The vaccinations really are working in the sense of we are not seeing massive long-term care outbreaks like we were last year during this time, so all good news from that side of things, too.”

Locally, there are 46 new active cases as of Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, and Guan pointed out, “that is around 14 per 100,000 population as a seven-day average that is in the former yellow zone.” So, “the word of the day, I guess, is ‘caution’ and we’re at a 1 per cent positivity.”

“In terms of vaccinations,” he went on, “we continue to creep up slowly but surely; we are at 85.7 per cent first dose coverage for those 12 and over, and 79.6 per cent second dose coverage.”

Since the new provincial mandates have been laid out over the last seven days, the average number of vaccine doses given in the region has been rising from about 300 to 400 doses a day to “600 to 700 doses a day, a good proportion of which are first doses,” Guan noted, “So that is also positive news, in the sense that the vaccine policy announcements have encouraged those who are a little bit more on the fence to get the vaccine.”

Guan pointed out, “There was the expansion of third dose eligibility yesterday by the provincial government to a bit of a wider list of folks,” especially those who are on multiple medications and those who are immunocompromised. “The full list of eligibility is quite extensive and can be found on the provincial newsroom. They include many of our long term care home residents, as well as some cancer patients and transplant patients and all the different groups of eligibility.”

The provincial announcement indicates that this expanded eligibility supplements the government’s previous decision to offer third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to select vulnerable populations: Transplant recipients (including solid organ transplant and hematopoietic stem cell transplants); Patients with hematological cancers (examples include lymphoma, myeloma, leukemia) on active treatment (chemotherapy, targeted therapies, immunotherapy); Recipients of an anti-CD20 agent (e.g. rituximab, ocrelizumab, ofatumumab); and residents of high-risk congregate settings including long-term care homes, higher-risk licensed retirement homes and First Nations eldercare lodges.

Immunocompromised individuals with one of the eligible conditions will be contacted by their health care provider to confirm their eligibility and provide them with a referral to an available vaccine delivery channel, such as a hospital, pharmacy, or primary care provider.

Through contact tracing, KFL&APH is following about 300 individual contacts and “There have been multiple cases in youth because they are unvaccinated. However, none of that is because of school transmission, so we haven’t declared any school outbreaks. They are pretty much all from a family transmission or social gatherings. So, again, right now one of the things to think about is lowering social contacts to prevent spread.”

The influx of students to local post-secondary institutions, as well as the large associated street parties, have been a problem that could cause an increase in local numbers in the coming weeks, “However, we’re working closely with our partners, including our post-secondary institutions, as well as the municipality, as well as Kingston Police to, to discuss these situations and implement additional measures. These are complex situations, but I would say from my understanding of the intelligence I received last weekend, already the gatherings are much lower compared to two weekends prior.” 

Furthermore, on Tuesday, Sep. 14, 2021, the government released regulations and guidance for businesses and organizations to support them in implementing proof of vaccination requirements, which take effect on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. It is hoped that requiring proof of vaccination will help increase vaccination rates, protect individuals in higher-risk indoor settings, and keep businesses open.

However, there are multiple local businesses that have declared they will not comply with proof of vaccination requirements.  What kind of repercussions will these businesses face as a result of non-compliance? Guan said “with any of these types of complaints, there is a multi-agency investigation. And as per the provincial press conference, it will be a progressive enforcement approach.” 

Are there any indicators that we could be headed into another lockdown this fall? “It’s early days,” said Guan, “but the past few days, I’ve been a bit more optimistic because I see hospitalizations have stabilized a bi,t as well as the seven-day average of cases stabilized a bit. However, it’s early days yet in terms of the fall to the winter season, as people move more indoors, as people are more gathering indoors.” 

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