Grey-Bruce MOH: Higher COVID numbers not reflected in hospitalizations

·4 min read

GREY-BRUCE – Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health (MOH) for Grey-Bruce, commented on the COVID-19 situation during the April 22 meeting of the board of health.

“We have seen an increase in the virus in the community, but not an increase in hospitalizations,” he told board members.

There appears to be a perception of risk, he explained, but the reality is there’s a higher level of immunity in the community due to immunizations and people having had COVID, plus the fact the Omicron variant is less severe.

There is some danger, he added, noting absenteeism in hospitals and schools. However, it’s manageable. Hospitals are not in danger of being overwhelmed at this point.

Arra said the most important thing people can do to mitigate the risk is two-metre distancing. Masking is also important. But restrictions “are not warranted at this point.”

Public health efforts to deliver the fourth dose of vaccine to those eligible for it will continue.

Dr. Rim Zayed delivered a brief, fact-filled presentation on what has been described as “the other pandemic” – the opioid crisis.

She said mortality data is difficult to acquire and use. Determining cause of death is an opioid overdose requires confirmation from the coroner, and that takes time. Numbers of opioid-related deaths in Grey-Bruce over the past few years show an increase – 23 in 2019, 40 in 2020 and 47 in 2021. Zayed noted some of the numbers for late 2021 indicated “probable but yet to be confirmed.”

Tracking the numbers shows the where public health should be focusing its resources on harm reduction. The numbers show the 25-44 age group has the highest number of deaths from opioid overdoses. Gender statistics indicate numbers are rising among females.

Zayed’s presentation included information about how EMS codes overdoses. Most are non-specific – drug/alcohol.

“We’re looking at refining the code system in Grey-Bruce,” she said.

Mapping allows public health to prioritize involvement in harm reduction and mental health promotion initiatives, with a focus from early childhood to adolescence, as well as anti-stigma and health equity.

Owen Sound has a higher number of overdose calls compared to the rest of Grey-Bruce. However, the city also has more access to services.

Arra asked for a letter from the board asking for “representation from our board on the provincial task force.” Grey-Bruce has started using new initiatives regarding mental health and substance issues, he said.

“We need to connect ourselves with the provincial level,” said Arra.

The letter will be sent to the minister of health and associate minister of health.

Board hears presentation on vaccines

Public health manager Katie Cuillerier gave a presentation to the board on vaccine preventable disease.

This included COVID, but also focused on how the health unit is dealing with the backlog of regular school vaccinations.

Cuillerier said Grey-Bruce has a COVID vaccination rate of 84 per cent for people aged 12 and over, slightly lower than the rest of the province.

She noted vaccine hesitancy still exists, for a number of reasons – complacency, convenience, confidence and culture. That hesitancy is being addressed through marketing and communications initiatives.

Although public health is currently working on delivering fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccine, “we’re transitioning away from COVID-19,” she said.

Public health is using some of what was learned in COVID mass immunization clinics to deliver in-school immunizations that got put on hold during the pandemic. A backlog that should have taken months to work through, was dealt with much more quickly. Of course, it wasn’t simple. Some students had received one dose of a two-dose immunization, and some not. In addition, the program needs to address the needs of students who are currently eligible for vaccination.

By 2023-24, the in-school vaccination program will return to normal.

Cuillerier noted Grey-Bruce is one of the first health units in the province to address the backlog of routine vaccinations.

During the question-and-answer session that followed the presentation, Arra spoke not of vaccine hesitancy, but vaccine acceptance, noting, “There is a perception of hesitancy… but vaccine acceptance with COVID-19 is much higher.” He added that Grey-Bruce has always had vaccine acceptance above the provincial average.

Board member Helen-Claire Tingling discussed the correlation between not having a physician, and vaccine hesitancy.

“The literature is very clear… about the correlation,” said Arra.

However, patients having a primary care physician is not part of the public health mandate.

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

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