Board learns how data has assisted pandemic decision making

·5 min read

GREY-BRUCE – The main points of discussion during the Aug. 27 meeting of the Grey Bruce Board of Health involved the continuing pandemic.

Dr. Rim Zayed presented to the board a detailed report on how epidemiology has assisted, and continues to assist the health unit in decision making, focusing on COVID-19.

Zayed joined the Grey Bruce Health Unit in February 2021, bringing extensive experience in public health practice, leadership, and academic teaching. She was the medical officer of health for Northern Saskatchewan and assistant professor of epidemiology and community medicine at Saskatchewan University where she led the COVID -19 response team for Northern Saskatchewan and the provincial TB prevention program. (Additional information about Zayed is available on the health unit’s website)

As she went through the data from various sources that come in daily and weekly, she showed how its analysis is used to support contact management, vaccination uptake and surveillance.

The data will certainly play a role during the recovery phase, during which the health unit will continue keeping an eye on the response.

The data isn’t the only source of epidemiological information to which the health unit has access. There is a partnership with Waterloo-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, and several members of the local health unit team have master’s level qualifications in epidemiology.

Board chair Sue Paterson commented, “That was amazing,” noting the “tons and tons of data behind the daily situation report.”

Board member Helen-Claire Tingling had said earlier in the meeting, in response to a noted misconception the public may have about the lack of an epidemiologist on the Grey Bruce Health Unit staff, “We actually have an extraordinary team” regarding epidemiology.

It’s something that’s reinforced daily with the situation reports on the health unit’s website, said Drew Ferguson, communications.

Special mention was made of how the hockey hub model, created and pioneered in Grey-Bruce, has been used worldwide, including in New Zealand where thousands were vaccinated.

The Delta variant continues to be a concern in Grey-Bruce, which was one of the first areas in the province where its presence was documented.

Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health, said in his report to the board that over 81 per cent of people have had at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine, with 75 per cent having had two.

While efforts continue to bring those percentages up to where they have to be, to combat the Delta variant – 90 per cent – public health will be providing a third dose to vulnerable people including long-term care residents.

Board member Chris Peabody commented that “the numbers (of vaccinated people) seem to have plateaued” at about 80 per cent. “The anti-vaxxers seem to be winning that one.”

He asked who monitors air quality in schools, to ensure money spent on improving ventilation has been effective.

Arra answered that it’s the Ministry of Labour.

Arra further explained that while numbers of vaccinated people are “lower than we’d like them to be,” education continues to be the only way to get numbers higher. The alternative would be for the government to mandate vaccination.

Tingling stressed that much of the vaccine hesitancy is among “poorer, marginalized” groups of people who distrust government. These people can be reached. “A big part is understanding,” she said. “We feel for these people… continue to encourage with the carrot.”

Peabody asked about the “spike” in the Waterloo region in July and asked about another wave of COVID-19 occurring.

Zayed said she was “optimistic we will not have high numbers” in Grey-Bruce.

Peabody responded by saying, “We have to get those (age) 12-17s vaccinated.”

Arra addressed the possibility of another wave by saying there’s “some uncertainty” about it. “We’re in a race to get to 90 per cent.” The question, he said, is, will that 90 per cent be sufficient in preventing another wave, and will the number of infections translate into hospital admissions.

With indications a fourth wave would be “significant,” Arra said he’s “preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.”

Tingling noted that even if Grey-Bruce escapes the worst of another wave of infections, “We could end up sharing resources (with patients coming to our hospitals) again.”

Board member Nick Saunders commented on the need for data showing up the same for the two First Nations as for the other municipalities in Grey-Bruce. He, too, expressed concern about a fourth wave, noting, “We’ve been very fortunate, except for the third wave that hit Saugeen First Nation.”

COVID-19 wasn’t the only public health matter on the agenda. Approximately 90 minutes was devoted to an in-camera session about a legal matter and an item involving an identifiable individual.

The board is edging back to some agenda items that were temporarily suspended when COVID hit. This includes reviewing policies. After consulting with Arra, the board decided to resume doing a few policies per meeting, while keeping the option open to form a subcommittee to facilitate this should it take too much time from regular board business.

Arra gave a brief report on the opioid situation in Grey-Bruce, telling the board that numbers of emergency department visits are about the same as they were last year. “There had been a fear that COVID-19 would drive up the numbers, but they are similar to last year at this time.”

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times

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