Vaccines have COVID-19 on the ropes in Haldimand-Norfolk.
Transmission of the virus has plummeted in the rural health unit, which saw just 20 new cases over the past week and stood at 34 active cases on Tuesday.
“That’s a really good move in the right direction,” said epidemiologist Dr. Kate Bishop-Williams, who said the daily average for new cases fell last week from five to two.
No farms or long-term-care homes are dealing with outbreaks. The health unit is looking to keep the momentum going after vaccinating more than 7,000 people last week, including more than 2,000 shots administered Saturday alone thanks to a reconfigured intake process at the Cayuga arena that significantly increased capacity at that mass vaccination site.
Both figures are new records for the vaccine task force led by Norfolk EMS chief Sarah Page.
Page said the expanded capacity comes at a good time, since with the province widening eligibility for vaccination, there is again more demand than appointment space in Haldimand-Norfolk.
“We’re asking for everyone’s patience, but we are adding some additional spots to address this expanding eligibility,” she said.
Simcoe auto parts manufacturer Toyotetsu — the site of an outbreak in April that prompted a brief closure of the plant — will host a clinic for employees this week, while clinics are also planned for youth aged 12 to 17 in Haldimand-Norfolk and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
“We’re trying to explore as many different avenues to get the vaccine out as we can,” Page said.
More than two-thirds of adults in Haldimand-Norfolk are at least partially vaccinated, with almost 9,500 people having received their second dose.
The vaccine task force is pushing to stay ahead of the latest COVID-19 variant to pose a threat to Ontarians, known as B.1.617 or Delta.
Bishop-Williams said three of every four new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in Haldimand-Norfolk are variants of concern or mutations of the virus, which are more contagious and can cause more severe outcomes.
While there have not been any confirmed local cases of the Delta variant, Bishop-Williams said the health unit has requested additional analysis from the province on some samples showing unidentified mutations.
Variants are currently responsible for most COVID-related deaths in Ontario, and Bishop-Williams said the situation is similar in Haldimand-Norfolk, where two people died of COVID-19 last week after lengthy hospital stays.
Health unit analysis has found most residents who test positive for COVID-19 are unvaccinated, which Bishop-Williams said underscores the effectiveness of vaccines and the importance of keeping up the pace of the rollout.
Over the past month, there have been “a few” new cases among people who have received one shot, with “an incredibly minute portion” — about 1.5 per cent — among those who are fully vaccinated, she said.
“That gives us a really strong indication that the vaccine program is working,” Bishop-Williams said, adding that patients who show symptoms, and especially those with “severe outcomes” such as hospitalization and death, are “almost entirely” unvaccinated.
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator