Grey-Bruce MOH urging people to stay home if sick, get vaccinated

GREY-BRUCE – Dr. Ian Arra, Grey-Bruce medical officer of health, said last week that COVID-19 is increasing – cases have doubled recently – but it’s not out of proportion with what was projected and prepared for.

“We knew there would be a surge,” he said.

He was speaking to members of the Grey-Bruce board of health at the Oct. 28 meeting in Owen Sound.

He said he agrees with the province’s decision to lift measures aimed at controlling the spread of COVID. There are measures in place to control the spread of COVID without declaring an emergency, he told the board.

He explained in response to questions from board members that some mitigating factors are the fact that Omicron, and new variants, are extremely infectious but cause a less severe illness than earlier forms of the virus.

“There are more outbreaks but fewer deaths,” he said.

Many people also have increased immunity through vaccination and having had COVID.

“Vaccination is very essential,” he said, “to minimize severe disease.”

He explained that as viruses mutate, they become less deadly through natural selection – a virus that kills its host before it can spread, dies out.

Arra also confirmed that measures aimed at limiting COVID – masks and isolating – still work, and not only for COVID. At the height of COVID mandates, the spread of another virus, influenza, was virtually nil.

“If you’re sick, stay home,” he said. “And get vaccinated.”

Helen-Claire Tingling asked about another virus that has been creating quite a stir in media and social media – RSV.

The response was, RSV is very common. According to Arra, it’s the most common cause of bronchitis. As to whether it is of concern – it is, for those under a year, and the very elderly. For others who are in good health, there’s little to fear.

“There’s been no change in recommendations (from the Centre for Disease Control),” said Arra.

Like influenza, spread of RSV was controlled over the past couple of years by anti-COVID measures, but it’s back.

Luke Charbonneau drew attention to concerns about influenza – there’s been an issue with vaccine availability. That will be looked into, Arra said.

The information from the medical officer of health followed a presentation to the board by Gillian Jordan, infectious disease and sexual health program manager.

She told the board that her department doesn’t deal only with COVID – there are E. coli and sexually transmitted infections, for example. And contact tracing has also been done in Grey-Bruce with monkeypox and avian influenza. Fortunately, with the latter, there were no human cases in this area.

With COVID, numbers have increased from an average of 10 new cases a day with five hospitalizations, to 20 a day with nine hospitalizations the week of Oct. 9-15. The cases are among high-risk people – those in hospital, for example. The situation is not unique to Grey-Bruce, she said.

There have been 20 cases of influenza A and one of influenza B as of the meeting date. In response to a question from Selwyn Hicks, Jordan noted the influenza vaccine protects from both strains.

Current projections are for the number of influenza cases to surpass the usually number for the year.

She noted there’s the potential for “multi-agent” outbreaks at long-term care homes – both COVID and influenza. The focus will be on prevention of “morbidity and mortality.”

One key factor in managing outbreaks, whether they’re COVID, flu or both, is communication, said Jordan.

“Communication is a huge part of our role.”

Health officials have advised that people can get their COVID vaccination and flu shot at the same time – no need for a waiting period between them.

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