Basic measures like monitoring symptoms, masking, and, most importantly, getting vaccinated, will help to ensure the path forward remains clear as we continue our journey of post-pandemic reopening.
This was the main take away as a smiling Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health gave his bi-weekly press briefing today, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.
New Measures in place as of February 17
Dr. Oglaza referred to new Public Health and workplace safety measures that came into effect on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. Capacity limits increased for indoor social gatherings to up to 50 people, and for outdoor social gatherings up to 100 people, while indoor organized public events are now up to 50 people, with no capacity limit outdoors.
Further, there are now no capacity limits in indoor public settings where proof of vaccination is required, including restaurants, bars, and other food or drink establishments without dance facilities. This also applies to non-spectator areas of sports and recreational fitness facilities, including gyms, cinemas, and meeting and event spaces. This is also the case in indoor areas of other settings that choose to “opt-in” to proof of vaccination requirements, Oglaza explained.
Retail spaces are limited to the number of people who can maintain two metres physical distance, and personal care services are limited to the number of people who can maintain two metres physical distance, with no limits if proof of vaccination requirements are in place. Personal care services that require the removal of face coverings (such facials, saunas, steam rooms, etc.) are permitted, but anyone providing these services must wear personal protective equipment.
Fifty per cent capacity is in place in spectator areas of facilities used for sports and recreational fitness activities, concert venues, and theatres.
In indoor settings where proof of vaccination is required, such as food or drink establishments, which also have dance facilities, like nightclubs, and wedding receptions, capacity is limited to 25 per cent.
Indoor religious services, rites, and ceremonies, including weddings and funerals, are capped at the number of people that can maintain two metres of physical distance, with no limit if proof of vaccination is required. However, there is no limit on attendees at outdoor religious services of the same kind.
And finally, the legal requirement to work from home (except where necessary) has been lifted; however, workplaces must continue to have safety plans in place.
With these safety measures in place, Oglaza said it “is important to evaluate the risk, and consider… precautions, such as basic measures like staying home when one has COVID symptoms, as well as masking, which still remains in effect.”
“Moving forward on March 1,” he continued, “the province will continue with the lifting of some of these additional measures, and proof of vaccinations will no longer be required in many settings.”
He pointed out though that “getting vaccinated still remains our best defence against severe outcomes and hospitalization.” While being fully vaccinated requires only two shots, Oglaza still encouraged everyone who is eligible to get a booster shot if they have not already done so for sufficient protection against the spread of the Omicron variant.
Some establishments may still choose to continue to require proof of vaccination, reminded Oglaza, “and we ask the public to respect these decisions that are intended to protect the employees, protect the workers, and protect the customer. So please, be mindful and respectful of this.”
All of this, he said, should be taken in the context of the significantly improving situation in the province and our region as well.
“We see a decline in the number of people hospitalized [and] the number of people in intensive care units, so the disease activity and the burden of disease appear to be decreasing,” he said, explaining, “Locally, our hospitalizations are the lowest they’ve been since November… and we see that the level of disease activity in the community is [stabilizing].”
“We continue to work with our school board partners to provide additional vaccination opportunities for students aged five to 11 years of age,” said the MOH. “Our overall statistics for COVID-19 vaccine coverage are among the highest in the province [for that age group] and we are at currently at 92 per cent.” He called this a “very significant level of protection for our community.
Further, starting today, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, 12- to 17-year-olds are eligible for the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine if they received their second dose at least 168 days ago. “This is great news for our community and provides that extra level of protection to this group,” said Oglaza. “We encourage those who are eligible, to book an appointment for a booster through our website or by calling our call center.”
Even as we move toward endemic status for COVID-19, it is important to understand that people’s best chance of fighting the disease is still to get vaccinated, Oglaza stressed.
“Endemicity means… in the purest epidemiological sense that we have the disease present, the disease is not eradicated, but it is at a level where we don’t see a big outbreak,” he explained.
He gave the example of influenza: “Influenza is endemic, it comes back periodically in a range of disease activity, but otherwise, it’s always there. There’s always some level of risk.”
Endemicity then is not a reason or excuse to remain unvaccinated, rather, “The transition to becoming endemic is going to be characterized by recurring waves, but these waves would be getting smaller and smaller, as in fewer cases,” Oglaza said. “We will still see infections, we’ll still see transmission, but we won’t see these big peaks that have significantly impacted our health-care sector in the past.”
Public Health and workplace safety measures in effect as of March 1
If Public Health and health-care indicators continue to improve, the following Public Health and workplace safety measures will come into effect on Tuesday, Mar. 1, 2022:
- capacity limits lifted in all indoor public settings
- proof of vaccination requirements lifted, with businesses being allowed to implement them voluntarily
- other protective measures, such as mask/face covering requirements and active/passive screening of patrons, will be in place
- Public Health units can deploy local and regional responses based on local health indicators