Pembroke -- With COVID cases climbing over the 400 mark of total confirmed cases, Renfrew County District Health Unit Acting Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Cushman gave an open address to area residents Monday, noting the vaccine rollout may take a bit longer than anticipated.
“We have 2,000 people over the age of 80 still to vaccinate,” he said in a video address, adding there are another 6,000 people between ages 75 and 80. “If all those 8,000 people try to get vaccinated this week, we will have big problems.”
The issue is supply and the county is not receiving as many vaccine doses as the harder hit areas of Toronto and Ottawa, he said.
“It is not surprising they are getting more vaccines than we are,” he said. “However, for some reason, the province keeps announcing who is next in line to get vaccines. Unfortunately, that does not jive with our vaccine supply. We are only going to be getting 10,000 doses for first doses in the next three weeks.”
While COVID-19 numbers have gone up in the province in recent days, with many more regions moving into the Red Zone, Renfrew County and District has also seen a rise in cases and severe illness but not to the extent of other regions.
By Tuesday, the health unit reported a total of 404 total cases since the outbreak was declared over a year ago and 20 active cases with three individuals in the intensive care unit and three others hospitalized. This is the highest number of people in hospital with COVID-19 the district has seen since the health unit began recording statistics on March 18, 2020. Among those diagnosed, none are diagnosed with the variants of concern which have been causing more serious outbreaks in other parts of Ontario and the world.
There are currently two outbreaks in the county -- one outbreak at Miramichi Lodge in Pembroke where two seniors have died and one in the community of Barry’s Bay/Brudenell, Lyndoch and Raglan associated with the local high school. Several students at Madawaska Valley District High School were diagnosed with COVID after attending a house party, as well as a student at Fellowes High School in Pembroke. In the county, out of the 20 cases the highest number of cases are six reported in Laurentian Valley with the others spread out over Brudenell, Lyndoch and Raglan, Madawaska Valley, McNab/Braeside, Pembroke, Petawawa and Whitewater Region. Four county residents have died with a COVID-19 diagnosis since the outbreak began.
Vaccination clinics are ongoing with seniors over 80, seniors in congregate settings, long-term-care and retirement home essential caregivers, Indigenous residents born in 2003 or earlier, all health care workers and people receiving chronic home care that have been identified by home health care organizations all eligible to book an appointment. As well, people over 75 and faith-based leaders can register for the vaccine.
Dr. Cushman noted 11,500 vaccines have been delivered in the district so far, some of them second doses.
“However, we need to be patient,” he said. “The vaccine shipments vary from region to region.”
While county residents hear the premier talking about expedited rollouts of vaccines, Dr. Cushman said vaccines are being prioritized to hard hit areas like the big cities where there have been high incidences of death, many cases and variants. “It is not a surprise they are getting more vaccines than we are,” he said.
Seniors Remain Priority
With the latest announcements about all health care workers being eligible, Dr. Cushman cautioned people should use their judgment and give priority to those over 80 and those over 75 who are most vulnerable. He pointed out there is a difference between an inner-city health care worker and one in the rural area who does their work on the phone.
“Frankly, I am 73 and I am a health care worker but I don’t think I should get vaccinated right now,” he said, adding he is not in the front lines and not over 75. “If this is good enough for me, I hope you would apply a similar yardstick to yourself.”
It is important for people not to jump the cue, he stressed.
“If you are over 75, this is where we have seen most of the illness, most of the deaths and most of the tragedy,” he said.
Urging people to “wait their turn” he said there are people who really need to receive a vaccine and they should be prioritized.
For those eligible, they can register through a link at the Renfrew County District Health Unit website.
Dr. Cushman said the numbers in the county are not bad right now but with six people in hospital there is a concern.
“We have never seen that before,” he said, adding the death total also doubled in March from two to four.
“We have to be vigilant,” he said. “What we are seeing elsewhere in Ontario is increasing cases and variants.”
He said what the health unit is seeing is people are letting their guard down in social times at work as well as having too large a “bubble” they socialize with.
“The groups are too big,” he said.
Tragedies are happening because of the spread from those under 40 to the more vulnerable older population, he said.
“People have died who have in fact been infected by younger members of their family,” he said.
Dr. Cushman said he remains optimistic about vaccine rollouts in the district.
“I’m convinced by mid-April we will be able to open up more vaccines,” he said.
He repeated a message of patience and caution when listening to Ontario Premier Doug Ford talking about vaccine availability in Ontario.
“We can only vaccinate as many people as our vaccines allow us to,” he said. “Our priority is senior citizens above the age of 75.”
Testing also continues in the county with 76,143 tests completed to date. As well, the health unit has responded to 17,829 COVID inquiries since last March.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader