GREY-BRUCE – Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health (MOH) for Grey-Bruce, addressed a number of issues in his update to the board of health, from vaccines to variants, to golf courses and boat launches.
The meeting on April 23 began with a request from board member Alan Barfoot, to add the latter two issues to the agenda. Arra addressed both in his update, after discussing case management and contact tracing, as well as the vaccination program.
The way the Grey Bruce Health Unit conducts contact tracing is working – the proof can be seen in the numbers. From a terrifying 70 cases in a recent 36-hour period, the numbers have dropped to 14 cases the day before the meeting (April 22).
That spike in numbers was largely driven by what Arra referred to as “after-school teen parties” – not that younger people should be blamed.
“The parties didn’t create the virus; they were part of the chain of transmission,” he said.
And that should be the message, Arra stressed.
He noted the areas “that have abandoned contact tracing” should take notice of what was done in Grey-Bruce. With over 600 active contacts to follow up on, Arra said he asked for two or three days “to bolster our operation.” Contact tracing was done within that time. Dealing with a variant “made it more challenging; we met the challenge and turned it into a success.”
While dealing with contact tracing, plans to vaccinate 1,000 people were changed. Arra noted the clinic wasn’t for the general public and no appointments were cancelled. However, instead of a mass vaccination event, mobile teams were deployed to take the vaccine to 42 locations. Most of the mobile team members were volunteers. This freed up public health people to assist with the priority – contact tracing.
“We chose a contingency plan that would best suit the community,” Arra said.
It wasn’t the only contingency plan.
He anticipates a small surge will come as a result of the initial spike, although numbers will continue going down.
The presence of more virulent variants in the province has put a huge stress on hospitals. Arra said that at present, three people have been transferred to this area for hospital treatment, from hot spots.
“It was inevitable,” he said.
This will change the capacity locally, he explained, making it more important than ever for people in this area to follow the three Ws – watch your distance, wash your hands and wear a mask correctly.
Arra continues to describe schools as “safer than homes.” There are presently two outbreaks, one at a daycare and one at a school. He did comment that anywhere else, the daycare outbreak would have resulted in several additional outbreaks.
He told the board that “a bit over a third” of the population of Grey-Bruce has been vaccinated, the same as for other parts of the province. This indicates we’re getting our fair share of vaccine.
He used the dashboard portion of the health unit’s website to show that approximately 85 per cent of people in the 80-plus age group has been vaccinated; in long-term care, it’s about 90 per cent. For the 75-plus group, vaccination is nearing 80 per cent. These are well over the percentage for herd immunity. The criterion for an outbreak in long-term care is now two people with COVID-19; previously it was only one. The result, said Arra, will be reduced anxiety about the virus.
Board member Brian Milne asked if the Wednesday, April 21 mass vaccination clinic in Hanover broke any records.
“There were a lot of people there,” he said.
Arra said no records were broken. However, he assured the board that if sufficient supplies of vaccine were available, “we could break records any day we want.”
Board member Brian O’Leary asked when the 70 per cent herd immunity vaccination rate would be reached.
Arra said it was difficult to put a timeframe on that.
“It could be 15 days if we had the supplies,” he said, adding that he expected it would happen by August. “Can we finish way earlier? Yes, if we have the vaccines.”
O’Leary said that public events for this summer are being cancelled, and Arra reiterated that it’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen in June or July.
“We have the capacity,” he said. “We’re only waiting for vaccine.”
As for the golf course and boat launch situations, Arra noted golf is a safe activity. It was one of the first to open up after the first lockdown.
“But it’s not an essential activity,” said the MOH. “The idea with a stay-at-home order is to reduce mobility. If it entails travel, it stops.”
He explained that when people travel from outside Grey-Bruce, they don’t just golf; they make other stops. And besides, it’s a provincial directive.
“We (public health) can restrict more, but we cannot reduce restrictions,” said Arra.
As for the boat launches, it’s the same thing – the idea is to restrict travel to the boat launches. It’s a provincial, not public health directive, and we support that.”
Barfoot noted there seems to be some confusion over boat launches, with some municipalities allowing them and some not.
“It should be consistent.”
Arra said he will send out a communication explaining the situation.
It’s not the only point of confusion – there was discussion over who needs to isolate when someone has COVID-19 – just the person, with the rest of the family self-monitoring, or the entire family.
Arra explained it can be a very complicated scenario, but the bottom line is it’s a public health nurse, with the right training, who decides.
Tingling suggested posting the comment that’s listed in every school outbreak press release, that public health determines what happens.
Milne agreed, saying anyone in doubt should “listen very carefully to the person who contacts them, and follow their directions.”
Board member Nick Saunders asked about the reopening that’s coming just before the May long weekend.
Arra said there’s no indication people coming to the area causes problems.
Barfoot agreed, saying, “It’s not a health unit issue, it’s an enforcement issue.”
Other board of health news
Board chair Sue Paterson wished former board deputy chair Anne Eadie all the best. Eadie recently stepped down as mayor of Kincardine.
There were a remarkable 36 items (actually, 37) on the list of correspondence. Board member Helen-Claire Tingling commented, “The communications team is outstanding; they do a great job.”
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times