On Wednesday afternoon, Peterborough Public Health’s MOH Dr. Thomas Piggott provided an update on the pandemic, stating he is concerned about the rate of COVID-19 transmission in the region. He said wastewater surveillance from Peterborough, Lakefield and Millbrook over the past seven days shows transmission rates are higher than the peak levels reached in January amid the Omicron variant.
He also noted concerns from the health-care system about the rise of hospitalized cases but also illness among staff. Peterborough Regional Health Centre as of Wednesday afternoon reported 24 inpatients with COVID-19 — up from 22 on Tuesday and 16 reported on Friday.
“We are at a concerning phase. None of us want to be here but I do not know what the next couple of weeks will bring,” said Piggott. “But the trajectory we are on is deeply concerning.”
The health unit’s risk index on Wednesday puts the region at “high risk” again with case rate and PCR test positivity percentages at “very high.”
“COVID-19 is not a mild illness; this still is no cold. This still is no flu,” he said. “The severity is much worse and the concern too is with the longer-term impacts of the infection on people.”
With a number of celebrations this month (Easter, Ramadan, Passover), Piggott encouraged continued use of face masks, getting all eligible vaccine doses, using rapid antigen tests, gathering outdoors and physical distancing — especially if you are seeing people more at risk to COVID-19 such as the elderly, immunocompromised or unvaccinated.
“It’s really important to think about the other people you are seeing and the other activities you are doing,” he said. “Because your decisions and your activities could put others at risk. Even if you do not have symptoms, you could still transmit the infection. Rapid antigen tests and staying home if you are sick continues to be critically important so that we can diagnose and stop the spread of this infection.”
Piggott also noted for those eligible to consider Pfizer’s anti-viral COVID-19 pill Paxlovid. Assessments for adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 are conducted at PRHC to see if an individual qualifies. The drug can only be prescribed within the first five days after symptoms of COVID-19 begin.
Piggott is “strongly recommending” people wear face masks and says it remains an effective tool to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
When asked if he would consider implementing a local mask-wearing mandate, Piggott said he would prefer to see the province resume legislation similar to under the Reopening Ontario Act. The act superseded any legislation health units had initially enacted in the early stages of the pandemic such as Section 22 orders of the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
“Right now, what we’re trying to do is strongly recommend people put their masks back on,” he said. “But ideally this kind of an issue is solved through provincial legislation — not local Section 22 orders in response.”
On Tuesday, health minister Christine Elliott there is no need to reimpose a widespread mask mandate despite provincial data showing increased COVID-19 spread
Piggott says a mask mandate is not the best tool because of significant challenges with enforcement along with inconsistency if neighbouring health units aren’t aligned with the mandate.
“It is nonetheless something I am considering,” he said. “But it comes with significant challenges and implications. It is something we are looking at and we would consider.
“But at this stage, it is not ideal. But I hope with the revolving context, there will be provincial consideration of the precautions that are needed in the context of mitigating the sixth wave.”
Piggott also said he’s “quite concerned” about “significant transmission” in school settings within the health unit’s jurisdiction of Peterborough, Peterborough County, Hiawatha First Nation and Curve Lake First Nation.
He said a “significant” number of students are absent from school due to COVID-19. Since last week alone, he noted seven schools have exceeded the absence thresholds in a “concerning way.” In January the province said schools had to report absences of more than 30 per cent to public health units, which Piggott acknowledged was the situation locally.
Piggott noted letters were sent to families of two schools recommending that for any student or staff who are not fully vaccinated that stay home for a period of five days. Piggott would not identify the schools.
“This is to both protect from onwards transmission — because people who are fully vaccinated will have less risk of onwards transmission. It’s also to protect them — to protect the student that has not yet had the chance to have the vaccine and is not themselves protected.”
According to the province’s database, the following schools in the health unit’s jurisdiction as of Tuesday, April 5 reported over 30 per cent absenteeism among students and staff:
- Kawartha Heights Public School in Peterborough: 43.2 per cent
- Queen Elizabeth Public School in Peterborough: 41.5 per cent
- Hastings Public School in Hastings: 30.5 per cent
Other schools on Tuesday reporting between 20 to 30 per cent absence:
- Chemong Public School in Bridgenorth 21.2 per cent
- Hillcrest Public School in Campbellford: 21.8 per cent
- Northshore Public School in Keene: 26.6 per cent
- Prince of Wales Public School in Peterborough: 23.1 per cent
- Westmount Public School in Peterborough: 19.6 per cent
— more to come.