Uptick in Hamilton’s COVID-19 cases ‘a concern’ as city lags vaccination target

On his last day with the city of Hamilton, the outgoing emergency operations centre (EOC) director told councillors on Monday that there “is a concern” over recent upticks in COVID-19 case numbers across the city.

Paul Johnson, who’s set to take on a post with the city of Toronto, said growth of the Delta variant and only half of Ontario’s public health units meeting vaccination targets put questions on when the “right time” would be to exit the reopening plan.

“So (there’s) lots of concern about just what this wave looks like and how this wave will behave in terms of hospitalizations and the rest,” Johnson told councillors on Monday.

“I know that’s all factoring into the conversations that the province is having and that they’re having with our boards of health.”

Read more: Ontario reports 325 COVID-19 cases, 0 deaths

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On July 9, Hamilton reported fewer than 100 active cases with the number of tests coming back positive from provincial labs at less than 2.0 per cent. Yet Aug. 9, public health reported another 89 cases over the weekend to push active cases to 178 with a positivity number of 2.4 per cent.

As of Monday, there are seven reported outbreaks involving 35 total cases across the city. Three of the outbreaks involve shelters accounting for nine cases.

Hospitalizations remain low compared to the first three waves of the pandemic with 22 reported at both Hamilton hospitals over the weekend.

Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) has 14 patients being treated for COVID-19 with just four in intensive care (ICU), while St. Joe’s has eight patients, six in ICUs.

Last Friday, there were a combined 16 total patients with eight in intensive care units (ICU).

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Hamilton’s medical officer of health says current numbers mirror activity seen in early to mid October of 2020 and that the age group primarily being affected by new infections are residents 59 and under.

“That is a concern as well, because we know that our vaccination rates aren’t as high in those lower age groups and of course, those under the age of 12 not being able to be vaccinated at all,” Dr. Elizabeth Richardson said.

In accordance with the province thresholds for a departure from the Roadmap to Reopen and the lifting of the majority of public health measures, first shot vaccinations rates are required to be at 80 per cent for Ontarians aged 12-plus with 75 per cent of people in the age group fully vaccinated.

It also expects 70 per cent of residents 12-plus in each public health unit to be fully vaccinated.

Of the province’s 34 health units, only about half meet the second dose conditions as of Friday.

Read more: Final vaccination hurdles remain before Ontario further lifts COVID-19 pandemic restrictions

Hamilton is not one of them with just 67.8 per cent of those aged 12-plus having been fully vaccinated as of Sunday.

Residents under 50 represent Hamilton’s current struggle to meet the Ford government’s standards with just 59 per cent of those aged 12 to 49 having had two shots.

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Just over 53 per cent of those under 30 in the city have a pair of doses.

Richardson revealed that between last December and late July, around 17,200 new COVID infections have been reported in Hamilton. Over 95 per cent of those affected in that time period were individuals not vaccinated.

“And when we’re talking about this Delta variant, it is that full two doses that is most important to get good protection,” said Richardson.

“So you’ll see, along with all of our health care partners here in Hamilton, there’s a continued push to increase vaccination rates across all parts of our community.”


Johnson departs as EOC Director

After nearly 11 years, and after managing the city through 16 months of the pandemic, Johnson now departs the city of Hamilton to become the deputy city manager of community and social services for the city of Toronto.

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The 2021 Citizen of the Year, alongside Hamilton’s medical officer of health, said the new opportunity in Toronto is a “tremendously exciting one” that allows him to continue doing some of the work in social services and housing he’s been doing locally — as well as expand to areas like economic development, culture, and parks and forestry.

Jason Thorne, who is currently the city’s general manager of planning and economic development, will take over as director of the EOC on Monday night.

Read more: Hamilton’s emergency operations centre director takes new job with city of Toronto

“I know I’ve sometimes been the voice of frustration for the few things that didn’t go well or the few groups or organizations that that weren’t playing by the rules,” Johnson said to councillors before his departure.

“But the reality is the vast majority of Hamiltonians came together to both help in terms of delivering service during this pandemic, but also keeping our community as safe as possible.”


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