By Pauline Kerr
Dr. Ian Arra, Grey-Bruce medical officer of health (MOH), presented a COVID-19 update to Bruce County council on Thursday, Jan. 13, focusing on “significant changes” caused by the omicron variant which is spreading at a much higher rate than previous forms of the virus.
The drastic increase in numbers has led to a shift in what public health is trying to do. “We have gone from containment to slowing the progress of the pandemic,” Arra said.
There are three main goals at present. The first is contact tracing. Following provincial guidelines, the focus is now on high-risk settings. People will now receive positive test results through text messages.
The second is communication, with stress on the public’s need to be vigilant.
The third is upping the vaccination numbers. Arra said the mass-vaccination “hockey hubs” have been activated to ensure easy access for the entire eligible population of Grey-Bruce.
He gave “a big shout-out to paramedics who have been instrumental in keeping other clinics open” while public health resources are focused on the hubs.
Arra described the school situation as “optimum,” with “minimal transmission – schools are safer than our homes,” he said.
Testing will be done through the schools; if the absentee rate among staff reaches 30 per cent, a school will probably not have the resources to remain open and will have to close, the MOH explained.
County Coun. Chris Peabody, Brockton, who chairs the County Homes board of management, expressed concern about test requirements and a perceived higher standard for long-term care staff in Grey-Bruce than the province requires, as stated in a news article.
Arra explained there is no difference – the 10-day isolation requirement is “nothing new” and neither is an exemption than allows staff to return after only six or seven days with a negative test, if there are no other staffing options.
Peabody continued to voice fears about staffing at the county’s long-term care homes, especially with the Jan. 28 deadline for third doses of vaccine fast approaching. “There are going to be severe staff shortages in two weeks. We (the county) have contingency plans in place but I’m concerned about our smaller homes.”
Arra responded by saying that while public health will do “everything we can to ensure these homes are supported,” staffing of such facilities is not part of public health’s mandate. “Our mandate is to protect health.” That includes prioritizing vaccination at long-term care homes.
County Coun. Luke Charbonneau, Saugeen Shores, commended the health unit for the “great access to third doses” and setting up the vaccination hubs “with the support of Bruce Power and a lot of volunteers.”
Three vaccination hubs were set up, in Chesley, Port Elgin and Owen Sound, with the goal of vaccinating everyone who’s eligible in a matter of two weeks.
County Coun. Steve Hammell, Arran-Elderslie, asked about the vaccination rate in Grey-Bruce, which is lower than the rest of the province.
Arra stated the rate in Grey-Bruce is “consistent with other non-urban areas in the province.” He explained that the low population of Grey-Bruce means people don’t see a large number of deaths from COVID, which influences perception of risk. In addition, the high transmissibility rate of the omicron variant means there is “no way to do containment … the main strategy is to slow the progress of the pandemic.” The result is “a three or four per cent difference in the vaccination rate is negligible.”