Ahead of this week’s meeting of the Limestone District School Board, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health at KFL&A Public Health, provided a community update on respiratory illness and hospital capacity in the KFL&A region.
“As is typical during respiratory season, there are multiple circulating respiratory viruses in KFL&A currently, including COVID-19,” Oglaza stated, noting that COVID-19 activity is increasing locally, which was expected following the winter holiday.
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 strains continue to change and fluctuate, he noted, adding that the majority of local cases are the BQ.1 Omicron sub-strain.
“In recent weeks, there has been considerable media attention on the XBB.1.5 sub-strain. While we have seen cases of the new XBB.1.5 sub-strain locally, there is no evidence at this time that local cases are increasing,” Oglaza continued. “KFL&A Public Health continues to closely monitor all COVID-19 indicators and evidence of new strains.”
In terms of other respiratory illnesses, Oglaza explained that the Influenza A virus started “earlier than usual” this season. “The KFL&A region saw a peak in Influenza A during late November/early December, and currently very few new influenza cases are being reported within the region. RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] and other seasonal viruses such as rhinoviruses and enteroviruses continue to be presented in our community at fluctuating levels,” he said.
Oglaza then addressed hospital capacity, noting that respiratory activity in local emergency departments (ED) is currently below typical (pre-pandemic) levels.
“Approximately 11 per cent of ED visits during the week ending January 7 [were] respiratory-related,” he relayed. “Historically, there is a spike in respiratory-related ED visits over the winter holidays, which was not observed this year.”
And further good news was provided: “Most notably, after an extremely high and early peak in early November, ED visits in both school-aged (five to nine years of age) and younger children (zero to four years of age) have been decreasing and are now far below typical (pre-pandemic) seasonal rates,” Oglaza said. “Additionally, pneumonia, influenza-like illness (ILI), and COVID-19-related admissions in children of all ages are similar to anticipated seasonal rates. Overall, admissions for pneumonia, ILI, and COVID-19 during this season were similar to the typical winter holiday peak of pneumonia and ILI admissions in the pre-pandemic years.”
As expected, Oglaza also outlined the current infection prevention and control measures that will continue to help everyone stay healthy.
“Prevention of respiratory illness depends on a multi-layered approach,” he said. “Combined personal actions can contribute to protecting the population when applying multiple protective measures, including:
- Wearing well-fitted masks in indoor public spaces, including schools and childcare centres.
- Staying up-to-date with COVID-19 and influenza vaccines.
- Monitoring daily for symptoms and staying home when sick.
- Practicing frequent hand hygiene.
- Cleaning high-touch surfaces regularly.”
He noted that none of these measures are currently mandatory under provincial legislation, but that Public Health recommends they be followed.
“The situation we are currently in is different from earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, where a new virus was rapidly spreading among non-immune populations,” Oglaza said. “Influenza and RSV have long been circulating among the population prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is essential for the community to enhance the use of multiple protective measures. The intention of expanding mask usage now is not to eliminate all transmission, but to decrease risk of transmission and possibly severe outcomes on a population level.”