By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—Five fully-vaccinated residents of long-term care facility RVilla Caledonia Retirement Living have tested positive for COVID in an outbreak that has forced the home to halt group activities and have residents eat their meals individually in their rooms.
“There was one transferred to hospital for some additional assistance due to a comorbidity, or a disease that they already had prior to contracting COVID,” said COVID Vaccine Team Lead Sarah Page on the outbreak. “Of the five that are symptomatic, it’s all mild symptoms.”
“There are breakthrough cases of people becoming infected, but they’re not as seriously ill as they have been before the vaccines were available,” said interim Medical Officer of Health Alex Hukowich on September 13, 2021 in his final media briefing before the arrival of new Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Matt Strauss, who took over the role the following day.
Hukowich continued, “Before the vaccine was available, a lot of people in those facilities got significant disease, remained in hospital, and many of them died. Certainly, I don’t think that’s the case now with the people we’re seeing in that facility.”
Third doses continue rolling out to local LTC facilities and high-risk residents
Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU)staff are working to roll out third doses of the vaccine to the most vulnerable members of the community.
“We started last week with some of our larger-scale nursing homes. We’ve completed five nursing homes in the area so far and we have about 10 nursing homes and 10 retirement homes to get to,” explained Page.
Hukowich touched on the need for booster shots: “It does appear that we are starting to see breakthrough cases in people that have been fully immunized. Some of them are in the older population…. It’s a good thing that we’re going to be providing third doses to those individuals right now; I think that’s going to be quite important to continue their protection.”
In addition to those living in retirement homes, certain high-risk members of the community are also eligible for a third dose, including transplant recipients, patients with hematological cancers such as leukemia, recipients of an anti-CD20 agent, and residents in other high-risk congregate settings.
“If you believe you are eligible under the very specific medical conditions provided by the Province, we’re asking you to contact your family physician or specialist. They have the form that needs to get filled out and then we can book you into a clinic,” said Page.
Vaccination rates and cases up slightly
As of September 22, all Ontarians wishing to enter designated indoor public settings will need to show proof that they are fully vaccinated. This has led to a slight uptick in vaccinations.
HNHU staff have noted an increase in first dose shots, with the County now almost completely caught up with provincial vaccination rates. Currently, 81% locally have received their first dose, compared to 82.5% provincially, with 74.7% of residents fully immunized versus 76.6% provincially.
Haldimand Norfolk has seen 21 new cases over the past week, with a per day case rate of 3, up from 2.3 over the previous week.
“We continue to have a higher level of infection than we had at our lowest point…. On one hand, rates are three or four times higher than they were a couple weeks ago, but they’re still fairly low,” said Hukowich. “When you compare our rates to both the province and Canada as a whole, we’re doing quite well. Overall, the rate per 100,000 in Canada has been about 72, the rate in Ontario has been about 32, and our own rate locally has only been 17.”
The Health Unit has confirmed the first case of the new Mu variant locally, however Hukowich is not overly concered that the new strain will prove more dangerous than existing strains such as the Delta variant: “I don’t think they’ve been seeing worse disease or greater transmission rates than we have had with the Delta variant. It’s still a bit early, but it doesn’t seem like this is going to be something worse than what we’re already dealing with.”
Benefit of a different kind of vaccine
Before turning over the reins, Hukowich touched on what needs to happen before COVID can be eradicated and we can fully move forward as a society: “The only thing that would change that dramatically is some other kind of vaccine.”
“For many vaccines, they not only protect you from serious illness, but they protect you from being infected and protect others from spreading the disease,” he continued. “When you have so many people who are unable to spread because they’re unable to carry the virus, even if it’s still around in some fashion, it only produces very limited outbreaks, if at all.”
He continued, “One can only hope that as time goes along, that some other kind of vaccine will be developed that will keep people from being carriers of the virus. If that happens, this could very well go away. That’s kind of the only thing we could look forward to as being something that could significantly change the current circumstances.”