Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Public Health (KFL&APH), began 2022 with a message of optimism and hope for the people of the area in his weekly press update on the status of COVID in his Public Health Unit.
“As we start this new year,” Oglaza said Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, “I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what’s been happening in 2021. I specifically want to acknowledge and thank our community residents and partners, that includes municipalities, businesses, organizations, media, the healthcare system, and thank them for how well everyone has worked together to support and protect one another throughout this past year: our community has demonstrated immense strength and resilience.”
Though he acknowledged that the impact of COVID-19 has been very stressful and has meant considerable sacrifice for everyone, he pointed out, “We should be extremely proud of our community and everyone’s efforts to tackle this pandemic, especially in terms of our vaccination achievements.”
The KFL&A region has the highest rate per capita of dose administration over the past few weeks, the highest rate in the province of third dose coverage for individuals 70 years and over, and the highest rate of first dose coverage for those aged five to 11 years old at 57.8 per cent.
“That’s really the reflection of the community effort,” Oglaza expressed, “and we could have not done this without the support and dedication of so many staff and partnerships that brought the community together to both vaccinate and get vaccinated.”
Oglaza pointed out that, “We continue to have many options for getting vaccinated and that includes large drive-through clinics, fixed clinic sites, mobile teams vaccination for individuals who are homebound, and we also offer more walk-in options for those who have not yet received their dose.”
Locally, the vaccination rate of fully immunized individuals 12 years of age and over (with the second dose) is at 90.1 per cent. Of all individuals eligible for the third dose the local rate is 54 per cent, he explained, “So very, very impressive statistics and a reflection of incredible efforts of everyone in this community.”
Omicron in the community
The MOH then shared a brief update on the status of Omicron. He said he wanted to focus on hospitalization, saying, “This is truly the most relevant metric at this point.”
“While local hospital numbers are high,” he pointed out, “They are now lower than what they were during the peak of the Delta wave.” The current numbers are 18 individuals hospitalized and the maximum at the peak of the Delta wave was 32.
There are 10 individuals in the ICU, currently, with the historical maximum during the peak of the Delta wave being 14. Seven of these are on ventilators, while the earlier peak number of ventilated patients is 12. Oglaza noted that most ventilated and ICU patients are long-term hospitalizations from the Delta variant. Of those hospitalized with confirmed Omicron, 40 per cent are over the age of 80. In the past two weeks, the rate of cases who have been hospitalized for all variants in KFL&A is 19.6 per 100,000 population.
Not counted in these hospitalization numbers are what Oglaza called “incidental hospitalizations” – individuals who are vaccinated and have been admitted for non-COVID reasons but on admission, tested positive for COVID. Also, while Kingston Health Sciences Centre continues to see patients from other jurisdictions, these hospitalizations are not counted on the KFL&APH dashboard as they don’t reflect the severity of disease in this region.
“In summary,” Oglaza went on, “it is important to emphasize unvaccinated individuals have a slightly higher risk of being infected with COVID [about 1.2 times higher than those vaccinated with two doses] but . . . they have a substantially higher risk of being hospitalized [about six times more likely compared to those vaccinated with two doses].”
“And,” he stressed that unvaccinated individuals have an even higher risk of ending up in the ICU, “about 18 times higher than those immunized with two doses. So this is really really important to keep in mind when looking at our local stats especially about vaccinations which, even though they may not prevent infection, they do prevent serious illness and they do prevent hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths.”
“We do have a lot more cases [now than at the peak of the Delta wave],” he acknowledged, “And that’s a reflection of how much more transmissible this virus [Omicron variant] is. But because we are seeing fewer hospitalizations, at least locally, the fact is that those who have cases of Omicron, thanks to the protection that vaccine provides, are less likely to have a serious illness.”
The MOH also reminded the public that, “With this highly transmissible Omicron variant, the province has made additional changes to protect the most vulnerable and keep our critical services running,” and that the province has reentered Step 2 of its Roadmap to Reopen with modifications. With this, he has rescinded three local Letters of Instruction and one Class Order which were previously in effect.
Since the MOH had vehemently stated last week that he wanted schools to remain open, he was asked how he felt about the provincial decision to delay the reopening of schools.
“So my understanding is that the reason for delaying schools reopening is to specifically give some extra time for the school partners to implement additional measures and to increase that margin of safety for schools,” he explained, saying, “When it comes to the discussion about schools and in-person learning, it’s always about the balance of risks versus benefits.”
He still believes that the benefit of in-person schooling outweighs the risk, he said, “So, with the additional measures we will be able to reduce the risk and which already has been relatively lower but the support for in-person learning and support for the decisions by the provincial government to ensure maximum safety of this setting remains my position. And I strongly support the reopening of schools for personal learning as soon as possible.”
Asked if he was worried schools would be closed beyond the Province’s stated two weeks of online learning, Oglaza said, I certainly hope that that the schools will return to in-person learning as indicated by the provincial government . . . so anything we can do locally to facilitate that we will do, and it is my sincere hope that the schools will be reopening as indicated by the provincial government.”
Oglaza finished his statements by saying he wanted to highlight that, “We have been working incredibly hard in this community to slow the spread of the virus and I have no doubt that, as circumstances change, we will deal with them. At this point, the most crucial things are to continue to reduce social interactions, especially those who are more vulnerable to illness, get your third dose as soon as you are eligible, and monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 and stay home when ill. These messages remain unchanged. And now, more than ever, they are important to accomplish the goals of slowing down to spread in this region and in the province. Let us continue to work together to support one another and demonstrate our strength and resilience.”