New MOH, Dr. Oglaza, shares vision for Public Health in KFL&A

New Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for Frontenac Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, in his first press conference in the role, explained his approach and vision Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. 

Dr. Piotr Oglaza. Image via Hastings Prince Edward Public Health.

“A big part that draws me to Public Health is that Public Health involves looking at the big picture,” said Oglaza. “Once we understand that big picture and that complexity, we can devise much more effective interventions.”

He continued, “Public Health happens when we understand that the individual cannot be well and healthy unless the community is healthy and strong, and Public Health focuses on the health of our communities. This means that Public Health involves our caring for each other in a way that makes individuals and communities better. Of course, there are many ways we can do this, such as disease prevention, promotion of health and well-being. The essence of our work in Public Health is that we all benefit when we work to build a healthy community, just like the health of the individual tree depends on the health of the forest.”

Oglaza stressed that he wants his role to be hands-on, “to be present on the ground, in the field, and be approachable, collegial, consultative, and decisive.” He characterized his position as taking responsibility for decisions and maintaining clear lines of communication internally, but also with external partners from a variety of sectors.

His vision for Public Health, Oglaza stated, focuses on bringing the community together and leading the way to changes that will help the community face the health challenges of the next decades. “That includes very important topics such as climate change, mental health, [and] addressing health inequities. In my role, I intend to continue building relationships with Indigenous communities and work towards reconciliation,” he expressed.

He added that, as a Queen’s graduate, “a phrase that comes to mind is ‘thinking globally and acting locally.’ My international experience gives me some of that global perspective. And I look forward to working with all of you and with our community partners to help build a better world.”

“Public health happens when we understand that the individual cannot be well and healthy unless the community is healthy and strong, and public health focuses on the health of our communities,” said the doctor, “This means that public health involves our caring for each other in a way that makes individuals and communities better.”

Dr. Piotr oglaza, medical officer of Health, kfl&a Public health

COVID-19 update

With that, Oglaza turned to the regular update for KFL&A Region in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m very pleased to share with you that our region is now at 89 per cent of vaccine coverage for first doses and the second doses are at 84.7 per cent. We are approaching that 90 per cent mark for first doses, and we hope that we will surpass that, as well.” This approaches the over 90 per cent vaccine coverage level that we have with the polio vaccine, he explained.

Those who need the third dose

Oglaza went on to say that the province has recommended that individuals who are moderately and severely immunocompromised may benefit from the third dose of COVID-19 vaccine, since this population is at an increased risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19. The eligibility criteria for the third dose now includes those taking certain specific medications that make their immune systems even more suppressed. A list of those medications can be found on the KFL&A Public Health website.

“If anyone in the community is on any of those medications and needs a third dose, we recommend that they speak with their health care provider before receiving that third dose. We really want that conversation to happen with the prescriber, healthcare provider, or physician,” Oglaza said. 

He also shared that as of Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, KFL&A Public Health has administered a total of 2,041 third doses to residents. “That’s a pretty good number, and we hope that everyone who is eligible and in need of that additional dose will take advantage of this opportunity.”

Vaccine proof for patrons

Another topic addressed by Oglaza was proof of vaccination. “The enhanced COVID-19 vaccine certificate is now available for download from the province of Ontario website, and patrons are required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations for entry into some businesses.” Printed or digital double vaccine receipts will still be acceptable to gain access to sites, and Oglaza stated that if individuals do not have a way to download “the enhanced fancy vaccine certificates with a QR code,” they might still be able to print out the certificate and show that to gain access to those locations.

He added, “It is also important to note that anyone who received their vaccine from outside of Ontario or Canada can submit their receipt through a KFL&A public health online form to be able to download proof of vaccine. It can take up to 10 days for Public Health staff to review, validate, and submit out-of-province records once we receive them. So, we do ask for your patience during that process.”

The region by the numbers

“Another element of the update is the case activity in our region,” Oglaza said, emphasizing that the numbers are very promising and trending in the right direction: case rates (expressed by the number of cases per 100,000 population) at this point are at 15.5 per cent. “The important message behind that is that the rate remains fairly stable.”

“At this time, we have 31 active cases in our region, and currently there are three outbreaks,” he stated. “But what’s important to know for the public is that all chains of transmission from these outbreaks are connected, and they’re known to us. We’re following up on case contacts; we do that work behind the scenes, and the risk to the general public — anyone who might have not heard from us already — is low.”

Oglaza was also reassured by the fact that the area has not seen a spike in cases following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. This, he said, was “a really, really promising piece of information and epidemiological data” indicating and confirming “what we already knew: that the vaccine is really effective, and it does play that incredibly protective role in our community. It’s the best way to prevent us from getting infected.”

With regards to schools

“There’s no evidence at this point of large amounts of exposure in our schools,” Oglaza stated. “With [the COVID prevention mandates in place and] maintained [by teachers, staff, and students], schools remain a safe place for any person learning.”

He explained that in cases of transmission of COVID reported by schools, “We are seeing transmission happening from outside of the school. So, that should boost confidence in our parents that schools are a safe place for everyone.”

He also mentioned that rules regarding spectators at extracurricular sports or other extracurricular activities in schools are based on guidance from sports organizations and on the individual school board’s decisions. These rules might be, at times, more restrictive than the general provincial guidance, but “at the end of the day, those decisions happen at the school and school board level.” 

To conclude, Oglaza thanked the community for continuing to follow all the guidance coming from Public Health, including masking and distancing, to protect those who are not, or not yet, able to get vaccinated.

“It is these measures and the commitment and dedication of everyone in this community that has helped us throughout this pandemic. And now we have a very, very powerful tool: a vaccine, which is altogether working well at this point.”

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