COVID cases are trending upward again, Hirji says

The temperature may be dropping, but COVID-19 cases are rising.

And coupled with that resurgence, flu season has arrived.

“For the last month or so (COVID has) been trending back upwards,” says Niagara Region’s acting chief medical officer of health, Dr. Mustafa Hirji.

“We’ve seen that in terms of wastewater data. We’ve seen that in terms of hospitalizations. And we see that in terms of the number of outbreaks that we have,” he said in an interview.

Niagara had a wave of COVID-19 near the end of the summer that never really ended, Hirji said.

As of Nov. 2, the region had 19 outbreaks, the majority of them being in long term care and retirement homes. The region also reported 1,022 active cases with 51 of them being in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The more places you go, the fewer masks you see. However, with the winter approaching and more people returning to indoor areas like shopping malls, the increase in cases was expected.

“People are indoors more, everyone’s back at school (and) back at work. That’s going to create the environment where the virus can spread to the air and more people,” Hirji said.

He said he’s also seeing more variants popping up around the world that are more contagious than Omicron. They’re not just more contagious, but they’re also more resilient to the vaccine.

“So we may be dealing with a variant that is more difficult to control, which could also cause more illness moving forward,” he said.

While long-term care homes have seen a surge in outbreaks, there are fewer deaths since everyone is vaccinated in the homes, said Hirji.

Since the start of the pandemic hospitals have struggled and that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon either.

“I’ve noticed that the number of COVID patients they have in the hospital has definitely increased over the last couple of weeks and actually has been increasing for several weeks now,” he said.

Moving forward, he urges anyone aged 12 and up to get their COVID booster shots.

“That’s going to give us more protection against the variants that are currently going around,” he said.

It’ll probably help against future variants, too, he said.

On top of booster shots, he recommends people continue wearing masks indoors and to pick up free rapid tests from stores just in case you need to test yourself.

As well, everyone should get a flu shot, which is now available at pharmacies and other locations.

“I would strongly recommend everybody go and get that vaccine as well,” he said.

The southern hemisphere got hit hard – and early – this year with the flu and many are worried the same could happen here. The flu vaccine is a good protection against it.

“The less flu we have going around, the less hospitals are going to struggle, the less workplaces are going to struggle with staff absences,” he said.

Shoppers Drug Mart and Simpson’s Pharmacy in Niagara-on-the-Lake are offering flu shots to everyone over the age of five by appointment only.

Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report