Windsor-Essex medical officer says region should shift to 'normalizing' COVID-19

Windsor-Essex County Health Unit held its first meeting of 2023 on Thursday.  (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)
Windsor-Essex County Health Unit held its first meeting of 2023 on Thursday. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)

At the first Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) board meeting of 2023, Windsor-Essex county medical officer Dr. Shanker Nesathurai said COVID-19 should be normalized, and the health unit needs to refocus on other health crises in the region, like opioid overdoses.

The board held its first health board meeting of the new year Thursday afternoon.

During the meeting, board member and Windsor Ward 3 Coun. Renaldo Agostino asked about how far the county is from moving into the next stage of the pandemic.

Acting medical officer for WECHU, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, said there isn't a clear epidemiological definition of where the region is at in terms of COVID-19.

TJ Dhir/CBC
TJ Dhir/CBC

He said his own perspective is that COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex could be considered endemic — or part of regular life — "starting today."

"We have to move toward normalization, and normalization doesn't mean that COVID is going away. Normalization means that we will learn to live with it," he said.

Nesathurai said normalization of COVID would be similar to how society HIV and other infectious diseases still exist, but are managed.

Nesathurai said management would mean "putting forth a suite of programs and services so we can continue on with our lives as a community, but also minimize the burden of the disease."

He said making sure hospitals have adequate room for people with COVID-19 is one of the ways to manage and normalize the illness in the health-care system.

2023 should be a year where WECHU continues to manage COVID-19, Nesathurai said, but also shifts to other priorities — like the county's number of opioid overdoses and deaths, he said.

New board chair appointed

The board elected Windsor Ward 2 Coun. Fabio Costante as the new chair for 2023 in the opening minutes of the meeting. He replaces Tecumseh mayor Gary McNamara, who had long served as chair.

Tecumseh deputy mayor Joe Bachetti is the health unit's new vice chair and Leamington mayor Hilda MacDonald is the new treasurer.

The board went over the success of the Immunization of School Pupils Act, which has led to a little under 7,000 students left who need immunizations for illness like diptheria, polio and the mumps.

The meeting went over WECHU's 2023 budget and its annual service plan, which covers the health units plans to address community health issues like nutrition, extreme weather care, school immunizations and community oral care in the county.

Dr. Ken Blanchette, CEO of WECHU, said the pandemic has made the region more aware of the health unit and the services they provide to the community, like how residents over 65 can receive free dental care from the unit.

"It's our job to run with that awareness," he said.