‘Reassuring news’ from MOH as summer approaches

Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health for Kingston Frontenac Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, began his regular press update on the state of COVID-19 by saying, “I have some reassuring news to share with the community.” COVID-19 trends in the KFL&A region continue to improve, and local data continues to suggest that the sixth wave of the pandemic is on a gradual decline.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Piotr Oglaza addresses the press via video conference on Thursday, May 26, 2022. Screen captured image.

“COVID-19 activity still remains elevated,” Oglaza admitted, “but it is now far below previous peak levels. Percent positivity has declined to just under 10 per cent.” That percent positivity level has not been seen in KFL&A since early February 2022, which is considered to be when the sixth wave began.

“Our wastewater surveillance data… continues to indicate that [COVID-19 infections continue] to gradually decrease,” Oglaza continued. “Our hospitalization rate is now the lowest it has been since early November and, overall, the number of active hospitalizations remained stable since January.”

“Since January… KFL&A region had the lowest COVID-19 death rate in southeastern Ontario,” Oglaza noted. He also proudly pointed out that KFL&A Public Health leads the province in vaccinations “in fourth doses and doses among children five to 11, and we are the second highest with third doses. All that had a significant impact on the severity and burden of disease of COVID-19 throughout this pandemic, but also, most specifically, throughout the last wave.” 

Although the disease activity has decreased, Oglaza remained steadfast in his message that we should not let down our guard just yet. “We must still remain vigilant, and we must be mindful of the virus’ presence in our day-to-day lives. The risk of infection and severe outcomes from COVID-19 is greater, and has greater impact for some individuals than others. And that’s why sticking to the key protective actions will remain relevant,” he said.

“Monitoring for symptoms and staying home when sick has always been the cornerstone of preventing respiratory illnesses. Getting vaccinated for all doses you’re eligible for is critical.”

Oglaza reiterated the importance of maintaining a physical distance, and that outdoor gatherings are typically safer than indoor ones. 

It was noted that infectious disease expert Dr. Dick Zoutman had recently appealed to the Board of Public Health, asking them to recommend masking in public indoor spaces.  However, Oglaza was confident that a Section 22 order requiring masking in indoor public spaces is not needed, thanks to residents following the multi-layered suite of preventative measures that have been recommended by Public Health.

“We have one of the highest vaccination uptakes in this province, including boosters that were never mandated, and yet our community responded well [by updating vaccinations as recommended]… The same goes for all the other measures that are part of this multi-layered approach. None of these measures is at this point mandatory, and yet our community continues to adhere to these measures for the most part… Making a single measure mandatory is no longer a necessity… This is a very different time at this pandemic [and], based on our current situation, what we have in place and the level of how these measures are presented to the public is sufficient in controlling the pandemic.”

Monkeypox in Canada

With the announcement that the monkeypox virus has made its way to Canada, Oglaza was asked to give an overview of the virus and how it is transmitted and treated.

He explained that monkeypox is a viral disease, but it is not a new disease. Found in animal populations, normally in parts of central and west Africa, it can occasionally be transmitted to humans from animals. 

These occasional human transmissions are associated with exposure to infected animals. “It doesn’t have to be primates; it also could be from other animal hosts such as smaller rodents — squirrels, for example,” he explained.

It is not certain how the individuals were exposed to the monkeypox virus in recent international cases. As of last week, there were a number of international jurisdictions that had reported cases, Oglaza said: “We have cases in Canada. As of May 25, an update from the Federal Public Health Agency of Canada indicated that there are a total of 16 cases of monkeypox from Canada; and in Ontario, we are aware of two probable and two suspect cases in Toronto.”

The typical transmission of monkeypox is from animals to humans, but it can also spread from person to person, he explained. “Someone who is infected with monkeypox virus may develop skin lesions, and direct physical contact may result in transmission. It can spread through contaminated objects; it can spread through droplets. So, there’s a variety of ways that that person can spread [the virus] to another individual.”

KFL&A Public Health to cease bi-weekly COVID-19 updates

Returning to the subject of COVID-19, Oglaza said, “I would like to take a moment to thank all of our residents in the KFL&A region for your ongoing commitment to keeping our community healthy and safe, and for adhering to these recommendations, whether they’re mandated or not. This is really something that our community has excelled at.”

He also thanked the press during the video conference: “Thank you for your continued dedication, and thank you for reporting our messages to the community. Your work helps us broadcast local COVID-19 activity to all in our region, and we could have not achieved this without your help. So, thank you very much for your commitment to reporting all the updates and information to the residents in the KFL&A region.”

Due to the lower COVID-19 rates in our region and decreasing rates and indicators, KFL&A Public Health said the organization will be transitioning back to the individual interview requests from local media, and ending regular bi-weekly COVID-19 press conferences.

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