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Experts suggest ‘snug’ masks important as Hamilton battles surging Omicron variant

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: CDC head explains decision to cut isolation period to 5 days' COVID-19: CDC head explains decision to cut isolation period to 5 days
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), explained on Wednesday the organization’s decision to cut the isolation period for those who test positive for COVID-19 to five days – Dec 29, 2021

A pair of infectious disease specialists are suggesting the practice of wearing well-fitted masks in public will be as important a measure as social distancing and vaccinations following the shortening of COVID-19 isolation recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Earlier this week, U.S. health officials cut the recommended isolation and quarantine period from 10 days to five based on data that suggests the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the one to two days prior to the onset of symptoms and the two to three days after.

Read more: Ontario health officials evaluating new CDC guidance on shortened COVID isolation

“People who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others,” the agency said in its statement on Monday.

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Ontario health officials are now looking into the new CDC guidance, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

 

“In light of the recently updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on shortening the recommended isolation and quarantine period, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and Public Health Ontario are evaluating this guidance against Ontario-specific evidence,” a statement from Carly Luis, communications director for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said.

The CDC says those who received a booster shot won’t need to quarantine following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days.

Rodney Rohde, professor and chair of a clinical laboratory science program with Texas State University, told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton that following the latest CDC statement, he concurs with a number of other health officials on the idea of ditching single-layer cloth masks for something more robust, like a KN95 mask.

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“There’s a lot more material in them that help them adhere to the sides of your face and around your nose, and you can even feel it when you breathe in them,” Rhode said.

“It’s much more secure and snug … and they’re also just better at filtering … those aerosols and the different things that are you’re breathing in.”

Earlier in December, the scientific director of Ontario’s Science Advisory Table said cloth masks don’t stand a chance against the new Omicron variant, which is “four to eight times more infectious than Delta.”

“The issue here is if you have a single layer, the ability to filtrate is absolutely minimal and doesn’t make a difference whatsoever,” said Dr. Peter Juni told Global News in mid-December.

Read more: Single-layer cloth masks not effective against Omicron, says Ontario science advisory table director

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The calls to eliminate the wearing of cloth masks conflicts with current CDC guidelines, which still suggest effectiveness with “two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric” for the general public.

However, the recommendations were last updated on Oct. 25, about a month before the first cases of Omicron were detected in South Africa.

Thomas Tenkate, a professor with Ryerson University who specializes in health and safety, understands the difficulty one might have breathing through tight-fitting surgical masks but says those are the only ones that provide maximum protection.

“I see a lot of people wearing masks…not fitted very well, and really, to get the best value and the best benefit out of the mask, it has to be quite tight fitted,” said Tenkate.

Rohde says the practice remains a critical measure since there’s still a portion of the population that can’t get vaccinated, particularly children under five years old.

“So if you’re doing nothing else, mask up, get vaccinated, get boosted and be careful for those around you, children and the immunocompromised that may not have a choice,” said Rohde.

Free COVID-19 rapid antigen tests in Hamilton area

In recent weeks Ontarians have flocked to distribution points set out by the Ford government to pick up free COVID-19 rapid antigen tests – screening tools for asymptomatic individuals.

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Up to two million rapid tests are being offered in high-traffic locations such as malls and other retail settings across the province until mid-January.

Read more: Rapid COVID-19 tests: When to take one, and what to do if it’s positive

The first of a pair of scheduled pop-ups at CF Lime Ridge went on Wednesday morning with about 5,000 tests available for pickup.

More are expected to be handed on Thursday morning starting at around 8:30 a.m. with a limit of one test kit per person.

A full list of pop-up locations and hours of operations for the next few days can be found on ontario.ca.

Ontarians can also purchase a rapid test at select pharmacies, such as Shoppers Drug Mart, however, these come at a price of $40 and will be administered by a pharmacist.

Hamilton hospitals report swell in COVID-19 hospitalizations

Hamilton’s two hospital networks reported a spike of new COVID-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday with another 50 needing care since the weekend.

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Combined both St. Joe’s and Hamilton Health Sciences have 137 COVID patients as of Dec. 29 with 15 in intensive care units (ICU).

The increase follows current trends as Public Health Ontario reported another day-over-day increase in admissions by 270, equating to a total of 726 in hospital wards as of Wednesday.

Three more were admitted to ICUs in the last 24 hours, moving the total current acute care patients to 190.

As of Dec. 29, Hamilton’s seven-day average number of cases per day is up to 461, equalling the previous all-time high reported on Monday.

Active cases are also up to 3,188 compared with the 2,828 reported on Dec. 28.

Read more: Ontario sets daily record of 10,436 new COVID cases since the pandemic began

Close to 78 per cent of active cases are in people aged under 50, while 46 per cent of infected individuals are between the ages of 20 to 39.

Two more COVID-related deaths were recorded in the city over the last two days, one person in their 60’s and another over 80 years-old.

The city is reporting 38 outbreaks tied to 211 total cases as of Dec. 29, with 61 of the cases tied to eight facilities with the city’s hospital networks. Forty of those affected are patients.

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Thirteen outbreaks are in city schools, accounting for 62 total cases among 50 students and six workers.

In the last 14 days, there have been 106 new COVID cases reported at the two public boards. Students account for 80 of those infections, with 84 cases among students and staff in elementary schools.

Five seniors’ homes in the city have outbreaks involving 17 residents and 19 staffers.

Close to 79% of eligible Hamiltonians fully vaccinated

Hamilton’s health partners administered close to 8,900 vaccine doses on Tuesday, a slight decrease in shots compared with the same day a week ago when about 10,342 doses were given.

More than 42,000 doses have been administered over the past seven days, which is down from the estimated 45,000 given out the seven days before.

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Read more: Children born in 2017 ineligible for COVID vaccine until their 5th birthday: Ontario

As of Tuesday, 79.2 per cent of eligible Hamiltonians aged five and up have been fully vaccinated while 84.4 per cent have had at least a single dose.

Just under 86 per cent of residents aged 12-plus have had at a pair of shots, while about 88 per cent have had at least one.

The city is still behind the provincial average, which has 88.1 per cent of those 12-plus fully vaccinated and 90.7 per cent with at least a single dose.

Over 90 per cent of those aged 60-plus in the city are fully vaccinated.

Excluding kids aged five to 11, Hamiltonians in the 18-to-24 age group represent the lowest vaccination rates of those eligible in the community at just over 78 per cent fully vaccinated.

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