By Sue Tiffin
The following are brief reports from a Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit press conference held virtually Jan. 26 with medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking.
While Bocking usually starts the session noting the total number of cases to date during the pandemic, last week’s meeting was different.
“I’m not actually going to do that today, because we know that the number on our dashboard of the confirmed number of cases really is no longer an accurate reflection of what the activity of COVID-19 is in the community,” said Bocking.
Bocking said the health unit was still sharing the information, and that higher numbers were still being recorded meaning there is ongoing COVID-19 transmission and infection happening in the area.
The incidence rate, a reflection of by-population number, has started to plateau. At the peak of cases in the HKPRD region, there were above 500 cases per 100,000. The last week prior to the meeting, though an underestimate still due to limited testing, the incidence rate has been stabilizing at 250 cases per 100,000 which is still much higher activity then had generally been seen previously. Prior to the highly contagious Omicron variant, the region was seeing five to six cases per 100,000. At the peak of the third wave last spring and early summer, there were 90 cases per 100,000.
Test positivity has been about the same, around 12 to 13 per cent, which Bocking said is “much better” than 23 per cent a few weeks ago, but much higher than the two to three per cent being seen prior to the Omicron wave.
Measures preventing severity of illness a ‘positive light’
Looking at summarized data since Jan. 1, Bocking said since the beginning of the year the health unit’s region has seen 39 admissions to hospital, 12 admissions to ICU and nine deaths from COVID-19.
“This is certainly the highest number of hospital admissions and ICU admissions than we’ve seen throughout the pandemic,” she noted. As of the time of the briefing, 20 residents across the region had been admitted to hospital with 10 in the ICU.
“What’s different about the Omicron wave compared to say the first wave of the pandemic, was [during] the first wave of the pandemic, we didn’t have any vaccines and we found out that our most elderly residents, especially those in LTC homes and retirement homes were significantly impacted, with some homes seeing very high mortality with COVID-19,” Bocking said.
Of the nine deaths since Jan. 1, four of those are associated with residents of LTC.
“So it’s not that Omicron is a totally mild illness, it can cause severe illness, but we have other measures in place that are also helping to prevent that same severity of illness and death that we saw with the first wave of the pandemic,” Bocking said. “I think that’s a positive light throughout all of this.”
Among the 39 residents admitted to hospitals since Jan. 1, 49 per cent, or almost half of those individuals, had not received any vaccinations, representing almost 50 per cent of hospital admissions, said Bocking. Only 10 – 15 per cent of the population is not vaccinated, she said, and there is a higher risk of needing admission to hospital for those unvaccinated.
More hospital admissions among older age groups
Statistics looking at hospital admissions show 53 per cent associated with residents 70 and older.
Two hospital admissions occurred for those under the age of 20 – one under 10-years-old and in the age group of 11 to 20.
“It’s uncommon for this region, we have not had many pediatric hospitalizations throughout the pandemic, and there’s certainly no evidence that this is causing more severe illness in children but if we do the math, if there’s more infection, even if it’s a relatively rare event it might happen more often with Omicron,” Bocking said.
In terms of ICU admissions, of those 12 individuals, 67 per cent were unvaccinated and 41 per cent over the age 70 and above. The vast majority were older than 60.
Bocking said vaccination continues to be one of the most important tools available to try to blunt the impact of Omicron on residents and hospitals.
Of those 70 and older, 79 per cent have received their booster. Of those 50 and older, 66 per cent of people have received their third dose. Of those 18 and older, 53.6 per cent have received their booster dose.
For kids aged five to 11, who became eligible for vaccinations at the beginning of December, 44.8 per cent have received their first dose.
Mental health during the fifth wave
“We know that this pandemic has had so many negative impacts on all facets of people’s lives contributing to challenges with mental wellness, mental health, and then an increase in mental health conditions across our communities,” said Bocking.
“I think one of the things that is most important about ‘Let’s Talk’ day, is acknowledging the stigma with mental health conditions, talking about the stigma associated with mental health conditions and then helping hopefully to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health conditions.”
Bocking said it is known that stigma contributes significantly to ongoing suffering by individuals with mental health conditions.
“All of us have a role to play in creating the space for not just individuals impacted by their own mental health condition, but by family members, friends, community members, to create that space where they feel safe and welcome and acknowledged and don’t have the fear associated with sharing their challenges associated with mental health,” she said. “I think the most important thing we can all be doing right now is continue to be kind to each other, to acknowledge that we all have challenges in many different areas of our lives, and that we’re all doing the best that we can to continue to get through this pandemic.”