Vaccination, limiting social gatherings still the best ways to combat COVID-19 while active cases reach all-time high, MOH

Indoor social activities and misrecognition of symptoms have contributed to Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington’s new all-time high of 304 active cases of COVID-19, which was noted on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health (MOH) at Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Public Health (KFL&APH), gave details in his weekly press briefing saying vaccination, and limiting indoor social gatherings, are still the best ways to combat the virus.

 Dr. Piotr Oglaza Medical Officer of Health (MOH) at Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Public Health addressed the media via Skype Wednesday, Dec, 1. Screen Capture.

Oglaza showed signs of fatigue as he detailed the rise in local case counts, saying the case activity, “over the past few weeks is unfortunately consistent with the progression of the fourth wave of COVID-19. And really, what’s driving a lot of this spread is the fact that there are still thousands of individuals in our community who are not yet fully vaccinated,” pointing out that those numbers include those not yet eligible, those recently eligible (children five to 11), “but also many eligible adults who have not yet taken an opportunity to get vaccinated and not having that layer of protection.”

He reminded the community, “It’s really important that moving into the holiday season, getting vaccinated remains our key measure and priority. And this is not only going to protect individuals, families, [and] loved ones, but also play a role in protecting the community as a whole.” Getting vaccinated, he said, is the best way to protect “those who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, and those who are older and might have underlying health conditions: they rely on everyone else is doing their part and getting immunized.”

Oglaza also pointed out that this is the peak of cold and flu season when respiratory viruses spread more readily, “and this is why we need to continue to remain vigilant and diligent to slow the spread. This is something that requires everyone in our community to continue to practice infection control measures and also to look at some of the patterns of interactions that we’ve seen recently that have contributed to a number of transmission cases spread in the community.” 

Locally he said, COVID transmission is “not linked to any particular type of setting or sector, although household transmission remains to be the highest setting for spread. It is related to the types of activity, such as social interactions with a lot of mixing and mingling. And if you think of a typical scenario of a holiday office party or house party, where people would be mixing and mingling, standing chatting, that’s the prime setting for COVID transmission. And sadly, this is what we see.”

Locally, too, we are experiencing a lot of spread attributed to individuals not recognizing that their symptoms are COVID-19, he said, noting that, “they may attribute [symptoms] to the mild cold [which] could in fact be COVID.” It is particularly important to do daily screening, stay home when symptoms (even mild ones) are present, and seek testing.

Oglaza, asked about the risks of outdoor attendance at events like parades, reiterated, “Activities that constitute the highest risk for COVID-19 transmission are social gatherings in an indoor space. So, when you see individuals gathering outside, staying to their household clusters, and otherwise separating or wearing masks, the risk of transmission would be relatively low.”

However, he reminded, “some basic precautions that everyone should practice even in those lower-risk settings would involve screening for symptoms: if someone is symptomatic, if someone is not feeling well, even with mild symptoms, they should stay home because that will introduce a pathogen, potentially COVID-19, to the group of people that they’re interacting with. There is lower risk outdoors, but we can avoid risk altogether if symptomatic individuals stay home. Wearing masks and staying distant will add that excellent additional level of protection, and that’s also something that I would strongly encourage for these types of gatherings.”

“And as I mentioned before,” he continued, “getting vaccinated. Individuals being vaccinated would significantly reduce the risk, probably above all of the other measures. . . it does not necessarily make people invincible, so other measures, like staying home when you have symptoms at all, still apply.”

Omicron Variant

Asked about the Omicron variant of COVID, which has been detected in Ontario and other parts of Canada, Oglaza said, “It’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s, unfortunately, a matter of when and where we might see Omicron cases in other parts of the province.”

The current Public Health strategy for Omicron is one of containment, he revealed, “there’s going to be additional measures in terms of screening of travellers, in terms of testing, and that looks for Omicron being a pathogen in an individual who is diagnosed with COVID-19. And for those individuals, and for those contacts of those individuals, there might be additional measures in terms of case contact management, that are more strict compared to the regular COVID-19 case contract management.”

He explained that containment is critical at this early stage because “we don’t yet have information as to the impact of the over 50 different mutations that have been found in this variant, over 30 in the spike protein, which is a little piece of the virus that actually is responsible for attaching to human cells and also is part of the virus vaccines.”

He explained that because of this, “We don’t know how much of this virus is going to be escaping our immunity. We don’t know what the severity level that this different infection will produce in those who are infected with it. And while we are waiting for these answers to come from the researchers who are working on this and looking at the cases and analyzing all the data, we need to keep it contained. And that’s really what’s going to be driving our response to the variant.” 

Oglaza stated, “It’s too early for me at this point to comment on what impact is going to have on us, locally. I can tell you that the cases that we have locally and the fourth wave [are] almost exclusively driven by the Delta variant. And that’s is the main focus right now. But we are vigilant: if there is any notification or any information about individuals under investigations who might have been exposed to Omicron, that’s part of the work of the entire Public Health system in this province, and at the federal level, as well, to keep this virus contained and prevent it from spreading in Ontario.”

Thank you for your continued efforts, especially parents

“I want to take a moment to thank our community for hearing that message about testing really well,” said the MOH. “I know that we already recently had some feedback that there might be less availability of testing appointments, but that capacity has been increased through work with our partners at KHSC [Kingston Health Sciences Centre] assessment centers. So, the availability is there to match the demand and what we see locally.”

Also, he pointed out that, “In KFL&APH region compared to other health units with high case counts, we have one of the best indicators in terms of per cent positivity. What that means is that a sufficient number of people are getting tested on a regular basis for us to be able to reliably detect new cases. So that adds to that additional level of protection that we accomplish through testing and then case contact management. And thanks to the effort of everyone in this community who undertakes this testing and follows these measures.

“We are currently at 104.7 cases per 100,000 population,” he said, explaining “that’s one of the highest numbers we’ve seen historically, surpassing the level of COVID activity during the previous waves. Our record all-time high was actually reached on November 29… that number was 117. So, we came down slightly from that, but it’s an unprecedentedly high degree of disease activity in this region.”

The per cent positivity rate in KFL&A remains “around 2.51,” which is very high for our region, said Oglaza, “But compared to other regions with high disease activity that’s a very good number, indicating a lot of people are taking that message in and pursuing testing. We have approximately three per cent of the population being tested each week. So, that’s also a very, very good metric.”

Oglaza highlighted the efforts of parents who have been “taking our messaging about symptom screening and testing very seriously. We have excellent testing rates among children and their per cent positivity is lower than the general population… and that is all helping us to curtail the spread because we can then intervene.”

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