Eganville – As Renfrew County and District moved into the yellow zone on Monday it was a stark reminder to residents to be vigilant, follow public health guidance and not become complacent.
“We tried green and things went crazy,” Dr. Robert Cushman, acting Medical Officer of Health for the Renfrew County District Health Unit (RCDHU) said Monday afternoon. “We had too much activity.”
By early March, the case count had gone up dramatically and rapidly from one case every day in January to two and then doubling again to about four cases diagnosed each day. On Tuesday, there were 29 confirmed cases with 28 people in isolation and one individual in the ICU. The total number of cases since the health unit began compiling information almost a year ago on March 18, 2020 is 375.
The current cases are in Arnprior, Bonnechere Valley, Laurentian Valley, Pembroke (7), Petawawa (5) and a high of 10 in McNab/Braeside.
“This is concerning,” he said. “What is worse is the number of contacts.”
In fact, each person diagnosed has so many contacts it has required extra staff to do the contact tracing, he said.
“We had to ask for help from Ontario Public Health on the weekend,” he said. “We’ve had to deploy more people in contract tracing away from the vaccine team.”
There have been more patients in hospital recently than the county saw last year during the first year of the pandemic and it has caused concern at the health unit. As well, the variants which are being seen in various parts of Ontario, including in Ottawa where variants have been diagnosed recently are another concern, he said.
While Renfrew County began 2021 in lockdown and with very few cases and was one of the first three regions to re-open under the green zone, the first two weeks of February saw more cases and after Valentine’s Day the number increased dramatically.
“This is a problem,” he said. “That is why we are yellow. Hopefully, we can go back to green and not go to orange. We got complacent.”
While the province is expected to do a weekly evaluation of the colour coding zone, Dr. Cushman anticipates they are less likely to move quickly down to green than up a zone.
Although vaccination rollout in Renfrew County and District has been slower than in other parts of Ontario, he said the vaccine supply has changed dramatically in the last few weeks. Vaccines are being delivered to the district on a more regular basis, he said.
“The supplies are now coming and we have two new vaccines approved as well,” he said.
Typically, the vaccines arrive on a Tuesday into the county and are beginning to be distributed on Wednesday with the full number of vaccines delivered before the weekend. The vaccines in the county are sent to five different regions – Arnprior, Renfrew, Pembroke, Deep River and Barry’s Bay – he explained.
Another piece of good news was the ability to wait four months to give the second vaccine to patients receiving a dose of the two-dose vaccine, the doctor noted.
“We can vaccinate many more people,” he said. “It just makes sense from an immunology and vaccinology perspective. Four months gives adequate protection.”
While there has been some concern in the area Renfrew County and rural Ontario has been left behind in the provincial vaccinating rollout, Dr. Cushman did not disagree.
“This has proven to be very much an urban disease,” he said, adding Ottawa is way ahead of Renfrew County in vaccinating health professionals. “There is an urban/rural difference.”
While Ontario has rolled out a new Phase 2 timeline with vaccinations for a large swath of the population starting in April, Dr. Cushman said locally it all depends on vaccine delivery. Ottawa has been able to vaccinate more of the Phase 1 category residents than this district has, he noted. Phase 1 not only includes seniors in congregate settings like long-term care homes but also adults over 80, adults who receive chronic home care and adults in First Nations, Metis and Inuit populations.
“You kind of wonder if we are part of Ontario,” he said. “There is such a bias. Will we get through Phase 1? It depends how many vaccines we have.”
Phase 2 is anticipated to be between April and July and will see adults 60 and above as well as those with chronic disease, caregivers, people who can’t work from home and other at-risk populations receiving their first vaccine.
As the one-year anniversary of the pandemic is approaching for Ontarians, many people are becoming tired and frustrated with regulations and restrictions. For those with COVID fatigue, Dr. Cushman noted the rapid development of the vaccines is a “modern miracle” for this pandemic. Most vaccines take an exceedingly long time to develop and these vaccines are being developed and delivered in less than a year. This does provide hope for the pandemic to end.
“If this had been SARS1 20 years ago, it would not have happened,” he said.
While March marks a grim one-year anniversary of when the pandemic hit Ontario, Dr. Cushman said historically most pandemics do tend to rage on for more than a year, and he noted everyone has COVID frustration. He urged residents to continue to be vigilant and be patient.
“Spring is coming and we will be able to get outside more,” he said.
As far as an easing of restrictions in the district or Ontario, Dr. Cushman said it will depend on how many cases are diagnosed.
“People are talking about a third wave,” he said. “So how quickly can we build vaccine coverage? It may take us to Labour Day to get there.”
As residents move forward this week with the slightly stricter Yellow zone restrictions, Dr. Cushman reminds residents to follow public health guidance.
“Celebrating with only members of our immediate households, staying home from work, school or daycare if we are sick, practicing physical distancing (two metres), wear a mask/face covering when physical distancing cannot be maintained, and washing our hands,” he said.
Testing for COVID is continuing this week with tests today (Wednesday) in Laurentian Valley and in Cobden and Deep River on Thursday. Additional testing is Friday in both Laurentian Valley and Barry’s Bay with Saturday testing in Arnprior and Horton. Anyone needing a test must call RC-VTAC to schedule a testing time at 1-844-727-6404.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader