Health unit head talks about COVID-19 in the past, present and future

·4 min read

Dr. Ian Arra says that recent new cases in Grey-Bruce are averaging less than five cases per day, with outbreaks in high-risk settings virtually non-existent, he said.

“All in all, this is as good as it gets for fourth wave for epidemiology,” said the local medical officer of health in an interview last week.

For the next two to three weeks, which is as far as can be predicted, no major change is expected, as overall Ontario has been declining in case numbers and hospitalizations.

Grey-Bruce continues to be in a favourable position relative to the rest of the province.

While he knows that lay people are saying that’s because we’re a rural area, research in preventative health does not support that, Dr. Arra said.

Rather, he credits five pillars: the public’s response, the team at the health unit, the local media coverage, the political commitment to work with the health unit and co-operation from other parts of the health care system and private entities. He pointed in particular to Bruce Power’s contribution in many forms.

BLAME THE DISEASE

Dr. Arra said he wants to convey the message that “we really need to remember that the pandemic is causing (this)” – not visitors, not identifiable groups, not the unvaccinated.

He warned against targeting people for blame and anger. He believes that the required level of vaccination is going to be reached. At the personal level, “if people refuse to get vaccinated so be it,” he said, and encouraged support rather than division.

DELTA CURVE-BALL

Dr. Arra said that to see Delta, a more serious variant, appear locally in July was like “a bad movie.”

In the history of pandemics, he explained, it is unlikely that a more serious variant would appear. He added that he does not think that will happen again.

The emergence of Delta made it “indispensable” to reach a 90 percent rate, he said.

“We know that there is immunity due to the wild virus,” he said. In areas where there have been hot spots for a year, that rate could be as high as five to six percent, he said.

He said, however, that the immunity reached through the vaccine lasts longer.

When the 90 percent of the population is reached, he said, that can practically ensure that although the disease may remain “endemic” it will not overwhelm the system.

VACCINE MANDATE

While public health locally strongly encourages workplace vaccine policies, its guidance does not require the approach taken in some settings of “vaccinate or terminate.”

While no one can override a provincial order or lift its restrictions, they can “do more,” he said.

He said the effect of those policies has been to increase vaccinations, but said that he knows that it has resulted in “hardship for certain individuals.”

These policies have an ethical side – but also a legal one, he said, adding he was sure that legal advice was being given.

The mandate of Public Health ends at “the front door” of a workplace, he said, as that is where occupational medicine takes over.

Right now as far as risk in Grey-Bruce he said, “we have quite the control over the epidemic with the measures that we have.”

FUTURE SCENARIO

Dr. Arra described two major views as to how COVID will affect us in the future.

Both of them hold that the disease will become endemic – it will not just “go away.”

The first view is that people will need ongoing booster shots for protection.

“I am in the second group,” he said. The coronavirus is part of the same large family of viruses as the common cold, he said. When it was new and there was no immunity that was one situation.

“Fast-forward” a year from now, he said and when the target level of vaccination is reached along with immunity from wild infections, the effect of coronavirus across the population could be like a common cold.

VACCINES FOR CHILDREN

Dr. Arra said that he recommends parents examine all the best available informationas they make their decision about having children from five to 11 immunized when that is approved in Canada.

The field of developing vaccines is well-established, he added.

“Invest 15 minutes per day to look at Public Health Canada and Public Health Ontario websites,” he said.

“It’s prudent to invest time and make the decision that’s best for my child,” he said, speaking of how he thinks as a father.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald

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