GREY-BRUCE – Dr. Ian Arra, Grey-Bruce medical officer of health (MOH) told board of health members at the May 28 meeting the local COVID-19 situation is “as good as it gets,” with 30 active cases (as of the meeting date) and no outbreaks.
“It is a very favourable situation,” he said.
Especially reassuring was the fact COVID patients were reporting very few contacts.
He did caution against complacency, however. Three major factors could change that favourable situation – what he termed “COVID fatigue, interruptions in vaccine distribution, and variants of concern.
In discussing vaccines, Arra said the numbers indicate more females than males have been vaccinated. In the 80-plus age category, 88 per cent of people have been vaccinated. “Most people in the older age groups who want the vaccine already have it.”
Overall, 58.3 per cent of the Grey-Bruce population has received the vaccine as of the meeting date.
He said planning for the school opening in September includes having every student vaccinated.
Arra also spoke of supporting several jurisdictions in their fight against COVID-19, including Peel. There, the support goes beyond plans for a mass immunization system. Peel has been assisted with health unit personnel, too.
“It’s been an honour and privilege to support Peel, one of the ‘hot spots,’” he said.
The local health unit has also provided information to New Zealand.
Arra said the health unit is planning “a town hall to provide information on rapid testing.” Chambers of commerce have arranged for rapid testing kits to be made available to businesses. The MOH said that in this area, generally contact tracing is enough. The rapid testing is better suited to hot spots where numbers are much higher.
Most gratifying of all are the preparations being made for next steps, which will include declaring the emergency over. Arra said that could happen sometime over the summer.
Board member Brian Milne asked Arra about the “spike in cases in Southgate.”
Arra’s response was that when there are so few cases, one or two looks more serious than it is. Southgate is located near hot spots. Some people living in Southgate work in areas where the number of COVID-19 cases is higher.
Board member Helen-Claire Tingling commented that it’s “fantastic we are able to help other jurisdictions, and also fantastic transitioning to reopening.” She referred to the “high-functioning health unit under the leadership of Dr. Arra.”
Board member Alan Barfoot, the new vice-chair of the board, asked about the major vaccination clinics that appear to be happening in one location or another on Wednesdays.
The MOH explained the timing of the clinics depends on shipments of vaccine, and getting the vaccine into arms as soon as possible. In addition, doing the major clinics in a day or two frees up public health people to do other functions the rest of the week, including smaller vaccination clinics for first responders who have to remain close to their firehalls. It’s about efficiency, he said.
Barfoot commented, “It’s working; keep doing it.”
Board member Chris Peabody asked about evidence that COVID-19 is airborne.
Arra said there’s been no change in directives from Public Health Ontario.
Peabody mentioned the outbreaks in apartment buildings in Hamilton, and said teachers are concerned about proper ventilation in classrooms.
The response was there are no recommendations about changes in measures already in place, including improving ventilation.
“The measures we have in place have ensured safety,” Arra said. “All school staff have received vaccine; we do not need to focus on ventilation.”
Board member Janice Jackson, warden of Bruce County, asked about tracking cases of COVID-19 that have occurred after one dose of vaccine.
Arra assured her the data is being tracked. National and provincial data indicates there’s “a very negligible chance of severe disease” 14 days after receiving the first dose of vaccine.
He was also asked by board member Selwyn Hicks, Grey County warden, about vaccination for children under 12.
Arra’s response was that studies are underway about vaccinating younger children – his best prediction was the studies will be done by the end of the year.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times