Pembroke -- Renfrew County and District’s top doctor is urging people to stay home and follow provincial directives as Ontario reaches a crisis point with COVID -19 cases and the district reporting 53 variant cases.
“What astounds me in this situation is Mr. Ford (Ontario Premier Doug Ford) has told everyone to stay home and many are not,” Dr. Robert Cushman, acting medical officer of health for the Renfrew County District Health Unit (RCDHU), said. “I think people are thumbing their nose.”
The premier issued a second Stay-At-Home order last Thursday, a week after the province had issued a lockdown order in an attempt to quell bourgeoning COVID numbers. However, on Sunday the province recorded the single highest daily count of cases with 4,456. Ontarians were told ICUs were at the breaking point and on Monday elective surgeries were cancelled in the province. Locally, the numbers are also showing an increase with 44 active cases on Monday, including two who are very ill in ICU in an Ottawa hospital.
“We are like everybody else with our numbers,” Dr. Cushman said on Monday afternoon. “It is rough. It looks like 16 cases in 36 hours, just from yesterday and early today.”
As well, the Canadian trend is troubling with Canada surpassing the United States for the first time in number of per capita COVID infections, he said. Canadian numbers, which were always significantly lower than the United States, have seen an upswing in the last few days as the numbers in the USA plateau.
Locally, the high number of variants, which are more contagious and appear to cause a more severe illness is a concern, but he is more worried with how much social contact people are having.
“What is really alarming is we have 284 high risk contacts,” he said. “That is really alarming.”
This shows people are not staying home and not following directives to distance and wear masks. Instances in workplaces of outbreaks and people becoming infected and then taking the virus home where the whole family are infected are becoming more frequent.
“The variants are more transmissible,” he cautioned. “We have younger people in the ICU.”
Although the district and county has had high vaccination numbers and apparently less vaccine hesitancy compared to other regions in the province, Dr. Cushman still had words of encouragement for anyone hesitating over taking the vaccine.
“I’m getting AstraZeneca this Thursday,” he said. “If you are over 55, I encourage people to get this.”
The reported risk of blood clots is nothing compared to COVID, especially with the current variants, he said. As well, the AstraZeneca shots are more available in more places, including drive-through vaccination clinics in Arnprior and Deep River. Anyone who does get that vaccine will also receive their second dose sooner, he added.
“It is safe and you will get it faster,” he said. “Driving to get your vaccine is more dangerous than the vaccine. If you look at the risk of road traffic accidents. And these variants are nasty.”
He pointed out the best vaccine is the one available right now. The other vaccine most in use in the county now is the Pfizer with less of the Moderna shipments.
“We must remember that the AstraZeneca vaccine is the driver of Britain’s highly successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign,” he said, adding Health Canada states it is safe for individuals over 55.
While so far the demand for vaccinations in the county remains steady, the issue continues to be supply, he said. The supply issue is a Canada-wide problem as Canada lags way behind other nations in vaccine rollout. Locally there is more desire for vaccines than what the health unit has to distribute, Dr. Cushman said.
“There is remarkable interest,” he said. “There is a big uptake. We have 20,600 vaccines given as of Sunday. That is roughly 20 per cent of the county when you factor in second vaccines.”
As the stay-at-home order continues for at least another three weeks, Dr. Cushman said it is important for people to listen to the provincial guidelines, stay at home and stick to their family units.
“We need to get through the next three weeks,” he said. “It is all hands on deck. We may be jeopardizing summer if we don’t get this under control.”
As Ontario students enjoy their delayed “March break” and the province announced virtual learning will occur after the break, Dr. Cushman encouraged families to stay within their family unit and continue to wear masks and practice physical distancing with others.
“It is as bad as it has ever been,” he said.
Acknowledging the attitude this April among the general public appears to be quite different than last year, he said it is time for people to modify their behaviour.
“We have had over 400 cases and we have had deaths in families here,” he said. “It is not as visceral as downtown Toronto or Ottawa, but certainly Wave Three has done more damage than what we saw before.”
MPP Receives Vaccine
Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski was reached for comment just prior to being immunized with the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday. He pointed out this was the vaccine he was eligible for and he was following provincial directives.
“I have every confidence this vaccine is safe,” he said, adding this could be an example to others wondering about AstraZeneca.
The MPP, who is also minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, said the province has been working hard to make sure a plan is in place to vaccinate Ontarians when the vaccines are available. The rising COVID numbers in the province are a concern, he said.
“We’ve got to get this slowed down,” he said. “During the stay-at-home period we want to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible.” Minister Yakabuski urged residents of the riding to follow provincial directives and stay within their household units. With nice weather people want to be outside but this needs to be done safely.
“Congregating in large groups has been a challenge,” he said. “We are asking people to limit their activity to what they need to do and being with their immediate household.”
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader