Pembroke -- With another confirmed death due to COVID-19 on Tuesday, 13 new cases over the weekend, 21 active cases, a possible outbreak at Garrison Petawawa and the new vaccine rollout for children, it has been a busy week for the Renfrew County and District Health Unit as stricter measures have been brought in to contain the virus.
The death brings the total to 11 in the district since the pandemic began in March 2020. There have been 874 cases of COVID, and currently 842 are considered resolved. No individuals were reported to be in hospital or in the ICU on Tuesday morning.
The health unit issued tighter controls for high-risk contacts last week and is now requiring all high-risk household contacts, including those who are vaccinated and asymptomatic, to isolate at home until they have received a negative PCR test result, or a public health official has advised otherwise. This is much stricter than previous protocols which allowed for more freedom of movement for vaccinated household contacts.
The directive comes after a week in which soldiers on manoeuvers were diagnosed as positive as well as an elementary school student and high school student. Dr. Robert Cushman, the acting medical officer of health for the health unit, noted one of the issues is the number of contacts an individual can have. In some cases, it is quite high and this is a lot of work in contact tracing for the health unit staff. Right now, the health unit is dealing with 222 open high-risk contacts, he noted.
A possible outbreak at Garrison Petawawa saw a large number of soldiers isolating after possible exposure. Last Wednesday several individuals at Garrison Petawawa tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a field exercise during their contagious period. All military personnel who attended the field exercise were instructed to immediately self-isolate.
All household contacts of soldiers who attended the field exercise (vaccinated or unvaccinated) were advised to limit their movements in the community and only leave the house for essential reasons such as attending school, work or to seek medical attention.
“There were up to 10 confirmed cases,” Dr. Cushman said. “And we had another rapid antigen test which was positive. Then there were four community cases which were community members.”
Because of the number of soldiers involved in the manoeuver and those on base providing support, there was a lot of testing being done and a lot of families involved. He said there were between 350 and 370 soldiers and another 150 or so back on base providing support.
“But they were pretty well all vaccinated,” he said.
There was a gastrointestinal bug going around as well during the manoeuvers which complicated maters, but that could have been COVID, he said. The military handled the situation admirably, he said.
“The commanding officer shut it down right away and did aggressive testing and notified us, so hopefully we will get out of this,” he said. “I would expect and hope we don’t see much more.”
The health unit also confirmed last week one student from Cobden District Public School tested positive for the virus. More recently one student at Arnprior District High School was confirmed as having tested positive for COVID.
According to information released form the health unit, the areas hardest hit by COVID since the pandemic began include Arnprior, Laurentian Valley, Madawaska Valley, McNab/Braeside, Pembroke, Petawawa and Whitewater Region. Nipissing and Pikwakanagan are the only communities with no infections.
Pandemic of the Unvaccinated
With the recent upswing in cases in the last week after very few cases in late October and early November, Dr. Cushman repeated his message it is still a pandemic of the unvaccinated in the local area. He noted while there are cases among the vaccinated, their symptoms are usually mild to non-existent.
“It is a minor flu-like illness,” he said. “Some symptoms are very minor.”
Of the current active cases, all are self-isolating at home and none are in hospital, he said.
The concern for him remains the unvaccinated and the chance for mutations of the virus to occur in that population. The health unit reports 86 percent of the eligible population in the district is fully vaccinated.
“There is still a big pool of unvaccinated people which is roughly 20,000,” he said. “That is the children under 11 and the unvaccinated.”
As well, a lot of the parents of the younger children are in the age group which has the lowest vaccination rates in the county, he added. Vaccination rates for children between 12 and 17 are at about 81 percent.
Vaccine Rollout for Children Aged 5 to 11
The province announced the approval of vaccines for children over 5 and appointments were beginning this week. While the health unit had been offering walk-in clinics with no appointments necessary until recently, the shift has been made to appointment only clinics to make the best use of resources including vaccine supply and health care staff, Dr. Cushman explained.
“We want to control supply and demand,” he said. “The vaccination rate has been slow the last week or so.”
Having the clinics for parents to book a time is the best use of resources, he said.
“The kids can’t be vaccinated during school hours and we are looking at alternative times when parents can bring them,” he said.
Another issue is the large venues like the hockey arenas are no longer usable since the ice surface is being used for skating and hockey. The clinics are now available at other venues and the priority is for the children as well as those who need a first dose of the adult vaccine, health care workers requiring a booster and anyone over 70 requiring a booster.
Residents can book appointments for clinics dedicated to children 5 to 11 years of age online. Additional vaccination clinics dedicated to children 5 to 11 years of age may be added based on supply and demand.
Residents are also encouraged to contact their local pharmacy to book a COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11 years of age, as select pharmacies will also offer the COVID-19 vaccine for this age group. Residents will be asked to book an appointment online as this is the fastest way.
Dr. Cushman once again spoke to the public with his concerns about the spread of COVID, especially as winter sets in.
“We all need to do our part to get through the colder months without serious setbacks,” he said. “This includes getting vaccinated, adhering to masking and physical distancing, limiting gatherings to small groups especially when gathering indoors, and cooperating with public health officials if you are identified as a case or a contact.
“We recognize that this is an inconvenience and want to thank the residents of RCD for their cooperation and efforts to limit the spread. I encourage you all to keep up the good work,” he said.
He pointd out the increases in the number of cases in the district and the rapid spread to household contacts are major concerns.
“This winter will not be easy, but it will be better than last winter,” he said.
For more information, visit RCDHU’s website or call 613-732-3629 or 1-800-267-1097.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader