If cases continue to rise in KFL&A, Dr. Piotr Oglaza, medical officer of health for the region, said he’s poised to implement added restrictions that will target social behaviour leading to the spread of COVID-19 locally.
What those restrictions may be, Oglaza wouldn’t say just yet.
“In terms of details about the specific legal measures, because it’s under discussion and in the process of drafting, that needs a little bit more fine tuning before I can speak about this publicly,” he said.
Still, Oglaza said he has been in daily discussions with the Ministry of Health and Dr. Kieran Moore about the possibility of future health measures, which, he said, would be focusing on smaller social settings.
“We’re trying to accomplish a change in behavior, which is probably one of the hardest things to do,” Oglaza said.
In order to be effective, further restrictions would have to place limits on social interactions in indoor spaces where public health measures are not being followed, he said.
Coming up to the holidays, Oglaza said transmission is being found in close settings like office and house parties, where people are interacting in close quarters without masks or proof of vaccination.
“That is a prime setting for the spread of COVID-19, and sadly, this is the main pattern in which we are seeing the spread right now,” he said.
Currently, Oglaza said the vast majority of cases are being fueled through an unvaccinated population more than 40,000-strong of people with little to no natural immunity due to previously low case counts in the region. This includes those who were not eligible to be vaccinated, but also people continuing to refuse to be vaccinated.
But, he said another factor in the unprecedented local spread is people ignoring cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose, cough, or even digestive issues, and continuing to interact with others at social events or at work while symptomatic.
“Many individuals may not recognize that their symptoms – that they may attribute to be a mild cold – could in fact be COVID,” he said.
About two weeks ago, Oglaza and the health unit put out messaging saying that some local transmission was stemming from COVID-positive people interacting with others thinking they simply had a cold. Oglaza urged people to stay home when sick, but Wednesday, now two weeks later, he said contact tracers are seeing the same pattern of behaviour.
As for when new restrictions may be put in place, Oglaza did not say. He’s still waiting to see the effectiveness of a previous Section 22 order implemented last week, limiting private social gatherings to 10 people.
But, with the holidays fast approaching, and cases rates continuing to hit record highs, Oglaza said it may be time for locals to really buckle down and quit socializing.
Currently, the KFL&A region has the highest case rates among any public health region in southern Ontario. Case rates hit their peak Nov. 29, with 117 cases per 100,000 per week. As of Wednesday, the region has 304 active cases.
It was not lost on Oglaza that he’s prepping to implement even more restrictions on private settings ahead of the holidays, a season built around gathering with loved ones, but, he said the sacrifices over the holiday season won’t be for nothing.
“One of the goals here is to is to appeal to our community who has done so tremendously well over the course of this pandemic and demonstrate what’s at stake here,” he said.
He said the answer was threefold: the protection of the vulnerable and unvaccinated populations, keeping children in school and taking the pressure off of the local health-care system.
He spoke particularly strongly about the risk to schools and to the local hospital sector.
“We’ve all lived through the previous ways when we saw school closures and other measures and how profound an impact it had on our communities, on our children. We want to make sure that children can continue with in-person schooling,” he said.
Oglaza noted that currently, the local health-care system is dealing not only with a surge in COVID-19 cases — but also with unprecedented demand in other fields as well. If cases continue to rise, so will hospitalizations, with a risk of overburdening the system.
“Do we want to maintain acute care, hospital health-care capacity and children still being able to go to school? These are very important goals and they are a very serious consideration in implementing some of the additional measures,” he said.
Before such measures are put in place, the medical officer of health is asking residents to go back to the basics of the pandemic, to limit socializing, to stay home when sick even with the mildest of symptoms, and most of all, to get vaccinated.