CORNWALL – Active cases of COVID-19 increased to 10 in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit region over the past week. Of those cases, eight are adults over the age of 18 who are unvaccinated.
“It just shows the importance of vaccination. We are still at a really low number [of infections] and I want to continue doing so,” said EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis.
The other two active cases are in children under the age of 12 who cannot yet get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Nine of the 10 active cases are in Cornwall, which Roumeliotis said are linked to two separate issues: a workplace transmission, and a family returning from travel outside of the region. The other active case is in Russell, near Ottawa.
There are no active cases in the SDG Counties.
Local cases among those who are unvaccinated mirrors provincial data for COVID-19 infections.
Roumeliotis said that provincially, 99.6 per cent of COVID-19 infections since December 2020 were in people not vaccinated or those only partially vaccinated.
“People who had only one dose made up only four per cent of all infections and over 90 per cent of the cases in Ontario are people who are unvaccinated,” Roumeliotis explained. “The pandemic is becoming the pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Later during his July 26th media briefing, he clarified his remarks adding that it is people who are choosing to remain unvaccinated that his comments are directed at and he does not mean to stigmatize those who are unable to be vaccinated. This includes individuals who medically cannot receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and those under 12 for whom no vaccine is yet approved.
While encouraging residents to get vaccinated, the EOHU is still “looking at” outreach into rural communities where getting to one of the eight mass vaccination centres in the region is difficult.
“That’s our plan,” he said. “We’re looking at it. We’re looking at areas like in Chesterville and those areas. That’s what we’re planning now as we have a wind-down approach so we can have more on-the-ground clinics.”
He added that the health unit has a converted ambulance which now serves as a mobile vaccination clinic. That unit will be going into communities, but he did not offer any time-lines for when or where this would happen.
Vaccination rates in the EOHU region continue to increase, but the pace is slowing for first doses, mainly in people age 40 and younger.
The highest vaccination rates are in the 80-plus age group (97.3 per cent one dose, 90.8 per cent second dose), 70-79 year olds (97.2 per cent first dose, 87.2 per cent second dose), and 60-69 year olds (93.1 per cent first dose, 79.8 per cent second dose).
First dose vaccinations among people age 40 to 59 average 76.2 per cent, but hover just under 60 per cent for second dose.
For Roumeliotis, the most concerning age groups are still in the 18 to 29 year-old age range and the 12 to 17 year-old age range. Only 59.5 per cent of those 18 to 29 have received first doses, and 38.1 per cent second; for the 12 to 17 year-old age group, 58.2 per cent have gotten their first dose, but only 26.5 per cent have gotten their second.
As of July 25 over 257,000 vaccine doses have been given at health unit clinics, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, hospitals, and pop-up clinics.
The EOHU announced that all mass immunization clinics run by the health unit will end on August 27. Staff of the health unit are working on contacting many of the 16,000 people in the region whose appointments were originally scheduled for after the clinic shut down date.
School guidance coming?
Roumeliotis said that he has heard that the recommendations or plan for back-to-school were coming out soon. This counters comments made by Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry MPP Jim McDonell, who told The Leader last week that he didn’t think the plan would be released until about two weeks before school begins, and blamed provincial health officials for wanting the most up-to-date information.
Roumeliotis said, “I heard that the guidelines and recommendations would come out imminently. That they would come out before the end of this month. We need at least that amount of time to prepare.”
“There is going to be some continuation of masking, attention on cohorts, and a return to some curricular activities depending on the age groups.”
He said he was surprised to hear the MPP’s comments. “I spoke to Minister Lecce about a week, week-and-a-half ago, and it sounded to me that they were imminently trying to put guidelines out.”
Until August 27, the EOHU is still operating its eight mass immunization sites including in Winchester at the Joel Steele Arena, and in Cornwall at the Benson Centre. Youth age 12-17 can walk in to any clinic without appointment to receive their first and second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Roumeliotis said there are thousands of appointments available for clinics and people can book or re-book their appointments online through the provincial booking website at https://covid-19.ontario.ca/book-vaccine/ or by calling 1-833-943-3900.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Morrisburg Leader