The number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 has fallen below 10 in Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington (KFL&A), which is a great indicator of how our region is faring with the pandemic one year since mass immunization began, according to Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for KFL&A Public Health.
At his biweekly conference call on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, Oglaza stated that over the past six weeks, KFL&A has seen a small increase in our local percent positivity; however, the increase in the percent of positive cases is mostly a reflection of the change in patterns of those getting tested. “What’s important to note,” he pointed out, “is the increase of our percent positivity that you can see and track on our dashboard is not as dramatic as the number may suggest.”
Percent positivity is not a stand alone indicator of COVID activity in our community; hospitalizations and wastewater signals are also monitored carefully by Public Health, Oglaza detailed. The high vaccination rate in the KF&LA region, coupled with a less severe variant in Omicron, shows how the percent positivity can be slightly higher, but not have an impact on acute care settings.
“This also shows us that, despite the ongoing disease activity and transmission happening at that baseline level in our communities, the severity of that illness is much lower,” Oglaza continued. “And that’s because of the combined benefit of the high vaccination rate, as well as Omicron being a less severe variant, resulting, on average, [in] less risk of hospitalization.”
The intention of the former Public Health measures that were in place earlier this year was to lessen the impact of COVID-19 on our acute health care system, Oglaza explained. “As such, that capacity of the acute health care system is truly how we’re doing as a community and that’s … stable, with less than 10 individuals in hospital due to COVID-19.”
“As you all know,” the MOH said, “yesterday [March 1, 2022] many of the provincial health Public Health measures were lifted, and that included capacity limits and also the requirements for proof of vaccination… These requirements were always intended to be a temporary measure to help protect the health and safety of Ontarians during that height of COVID-19 pandemic, and at this point, the one important measure that still remains is the mask. Indoor masking is still in effect.”
Oglaza emphasized that with the baseline transmission and level of COVID-19 in the community, it is still important to continue practicing the basic safety measures. “That includes things like self-awareness and screening for symptoms and staying home when symptomatic. That’s a really key measure,” he said.
While the less severe, more transmissible Omicron variant has quickly become the predominant strain of COVID-19, this is not to say that Delta has completely been eliminated, and people are still at risk of contracting Delta, which can be severe.
“Getting a booster dose will also have an added impact both on the individual risk of severe COVID-19 … and the risk of transmission to others, to some extent,” Oglaza said. “So vaccine remains that key protective factor.”
Anyone needing to book vaccination appointments can do so through the KFL&A Public Health website.
Changes to proof of vaccination
While proof of vaccination is no longer going to be required at many businesses, Oglaza asked the community to be respectful of businesses’ right to choose what is best for them and their clientele. “They will have to make those decisions based on what their own comfort level is as owners and operators, as well as what the expectations and the risk factors are for the populations that they serve,” he said.
Public Health is not keeping track of which businesses will or will not continue to require proof of vaccination.
Oglaza encouraged anyone planning travel for the March Break to be cautious, noting, “We are highly recommending, and this is something that’s fairly obvious, to follow the applicable federal rules for returning travellers. And we know that these rules have changed in the recent past and that change of the rules reflects the level of risks. So following those rules, getting immunized, [and] getting [the] booster when applicable would be the main advice for anyone who is contemplating travel.”
Furthermore, he stated, it is important that travellers be aware of the COVID-19 activity in the area they will travel to.
“Look at the conditions and the situation in the destination… in some jurisdictions, their healthcare system might be under more strain than ours is at this point, and that also should be a factor when deciding on international travel,” Oglaza stated. “That would be a significant consideration in addition to the individual risk of COVID-19.”
“This week marks a celebratory milestone for the KFL&A region,” Oglaza reflected. “It’s been a year since our first mass COVID-19 immunization clinic at the Invista Centre opened, and I would like to thank so many in our community, including our clinic staff, volunteers, pharmacies, primary care providers, paramedics, hospitals, municipalities, school boards, post-secondary institutions, community partners, and everyone who helped deliver more than 483,000 COVID-19 vaccines in the KFL&A region. So we’d like to thank everyone in our region for doing their part by rolling up their sleeves and getting the vaccine. Thank you very much, everyone.”