Pembroke – If they were handing out gold medals in terms of vaccination rates, Renfrew County residents would receive a gold with 82 per cent of eligible seniors over 80 receiving their vaccine.
“It is fantastic,” Dr. Robert Cushman, acting medical officer of health for the Renfrew County District Health Unit, told the Leader on Monday. “We are on the podium. I believe there is not another health unit in Ontario with those numbers.”
So far, there have been 14,000 vaccines administered in the county and district. With the county having a population of just over 100,000, this shows a large percentage of the population has already begun to be immunized with those most vulnerable already receiving their first dose.
Dr. Cushman said this high rate of vaccination is not what the province is seeing in other places, so area residents can be proud of making sure the most elderly and the most vulnerable have been vaccinated.
“It is a credit to the multi-sectoral communication team; it is a credit to all our clinicians and it is a credit to the people of Renfrew County,” he said. “People brought their parents and their grandparents to be vaccinated.”
With a population in a vast geographic area, it shows people have made an effort to ensure those over 80 had access to vaccination.
“It is community mobilization,” he said. “The community, family, friends, health care providers.”
Dr. Cushman said he also believed there was less vaccine hesitancy in Renfrew County and district than other places in the province. Some areas have seen vaccination rates as low as 50 per cent for the targetted age groups.
“They are not filling their clinics there,” he said.
In the district those over 75 are now eligible for a vaccine, as well as all health care workers and those identified as home health care recipients and some other categories.
Amidst the high vaccination rates, numbers of confirmed COVID cases continue to rise in the area with 37 cases including 30 people in self isolation, five hospitalized and two of those in intensive care. As well, 13 cases have screened positive for variants of concern. Cases are spread throughout the county with cases in Arnprior, Head, Clara and Maria, Horton, Laurentian Valley, Madawaska Valley, McNab/Braeside, Pembroke, Petawawa, Renfrew and Whitewater Region. The only places in the district without any infection since the pandemic began are Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards Township, the First Nation of Pikwakanagan and Nipissing District.
With the increase in cases, Dr. Cushman was quite pessimistic about the upcoming Easter long-weekend. He pointed out a long weekend is always a time of concern because that is when people congregate as families or groups traditionally and with the more contagious variants present in the county there is a worry about rapid spread.
“We have had three separate cases of variants,” he said.
On the weekend he had warned in a press release the district might be moving from yellow into orange or even red because of the rise in numbers and he said more evaluation is being done daily with a possible announcement in the next few days.
“Our numbers were orange last week,” he added, noting previously they had been green and before that yellow. (The zone numbers are based on cases per 100,000. For the orange zone the number of active cases is between 25 and 39 per 100,000.)
Dr. Cushman said he is concerned about what is happening in hospitals across the province and in other zones.
“Ottawa’s numbers were horrible today,” he said on Monday.
Last week the health unit issued a new dining directive stating as of April 2 (Friday) people could only eat out with immediate family members from the same household. Dr. Cushman said this was done to head off the upcoming Easter weekend because of what has happened in prior long weekends in the county. However, the numbers in the county started increasing last Thursday and Friday already.
With an employee working at both Tim Horton’s in Renfrew testing positive, the parent company made the move to close both stores for a deep clean. Dr. Cushman said anyone visiting the chain in Renfrew or using the drive through should not be concerned about transmission.
“We were concerned about staff,” he said. “Drive through is not a concern.”
What is becoming an issue is how many contacts people with a confirmed case have.
“If we have 30 active cases and 200 contacts, that shows,” he said. “And with the variants this moves a lot quicker. We are seeing younger people who are sicker.”
As Easter approaches, Dr. Cushman is cognizant of how many people are upset to see a second Easter come with COVID restrictions, but he noted COVID is still very much a reality and people need to be vigilant.
“The situation is as bad as it has ever been,” he said.
“If you have even one symptom of COVID-19, stay home and arrange for testing,” he said. “Tell your family members to also stay home and isolate until you have your test results back. Everyone, regardless of symptoms, is asked to only go out for essential reasons and to work remotely where possible.”
MPP Pleased With Vaccine Uptake
Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP and Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski is quite pleased with the high percentage of vaccination in the area. He said while his office has received some complaints about people not having access to the vaccine locally, in fact, the area has a higher vaccination rate than the big city hot spots in Southern Ontario.
“We have vaccinated a higher percentage of our population than Toronto,” he pointed out. “And we have vaccinated a much higher percentage than Peel.”
The vaccination rate in Renfrew County is around 11.5 per cent, at least a percentage higher than Toronto and much higher than in Peel where it as low as 7.2 per cent. Minister Yakabuski said it was important for area residents to realize they are not being left behind in terms of vaccination.
He added the province is working hard to distribute vaccines when they receive them and ensuring all vaccines are utilized quickly.
“We need to get more vaccines in the province,” he said.
While Ontario is ready to vaccinate those who wish to receive a vaccine as the different age groups and categories open up, he said the issue is simply vaccine supply.
“We have the capacity to do over one million a week,” he said.
While the vaccines appear to be used up quickly in the district, this is not the case everywhere in the province, he said. As a result the province has lowered the age where people can be vaccinated earlier than anticipated.
Minister Yakabuski has not received a vaccine yet, although he noted Minister of Health Christine Elliott was receiving a vaccine Monday since her age group is now eligible in the Toronto area.
“When it is my turn, I have no vaccine hesitancy and I will be receiving my vaccine,
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader