By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HN showing lowest vaccination rate in province
HALDIMAND—Interim Medical Officer of Health Dr. Alex Hukowich did not mince words when it comes to the looming fourth wave of COVID-19 during a media briefing earlier this week: “A lot of projections would indicate that this fourth wave may in fact be larger than the other three waves that we’ve had.”
“We continue to have a significant population who are eligible for vaccination over the age of 12 who are not immunized, and we have a population of about 10,000 children who cannot be immunized. They remain at risk of illness and being able to transmit the disease to others. We are going to be faced with an increasing number of cases in our area and we can only hope that those are mild cases,” said Hukowich. “For the general public, I’m very afraid.”
In the past week, the number of daily new cases in Haldimand Norfolk has increased dramatically. Over the past seven days, 30 new cases were reported, compared to 11 the previous week, and 10 the week before. There are five current outbreaks in the two counties, with three located on farms, one in a workplace, and one in a congregate setting.
As cases rise, the vaccine rate remains stagnant locally, with the rate of new doses administered dropping week over week. As of August 24, only 69% of the eligible population was fully vaccinated. According to provincial vaccination data, Haldimand Norfolk was the only region in Ontario that remained under 70%.
Epidemiologist Dr. Katherine Bishop-Williams offered up some alarming projections, predicting that the rate of new cases per day could double every 14 days or less. Without additional measures or increased vaccine rates, Haldimand Norfolk could see anywhere from 30 to 100 new cases a day; the widely diverging outcomes is based on an uncertainty of how the Delta variant will spread, which Bishop-Williams said is now responsible for 90% of new cases.
Additional issues considered in this projection is the return to schools and workplaces, the reduction of public health measures, and an increase of indoor gatherings as the weather cools.
“We’ll get to a period that we consider to be in the depths of that wave within a matter of just a few weeks, likely within the first couple weeks of October, but it could be sooner than that,” said Bishop-Williams.
On whether this increase could lead to another lockdown, Hukowich said, “(The Province) has indicated that they are slowing the openings again, but I don’t see anything from a Provincial point of view that they are particularly interested in a lockdown. That will depend on what happens. I see things getting worse rather than getting better or even staying the same.”
There are 41,000 unvaccinated individuals in Haldimand Norfolk, 16,000 of which are under 12. The ability to meet vaccine targets to help stop the new wave before it gets started seems less and less likely as Haldimand Norfolk is currently sporting the lowest vaccine rate in the province for those aged 12-17: “I would call our immunization rates amongst that group dismal,” said Hukowich.
“We’re down to some hardcore contingent of the population. They’ve had every opportunity to get immunized and haven’t been for whatever reason,” he continued. “They are the ones who are at the most risk of getting ill and spreading this to their close contacts. “
Hukowich added that “there is absolutely the potential for our healthcare systems to be completely overwhelmed, but the proportion of cases being hospitalized will likely shift” as fully vaccinated people are extremely unlikely to be hospitalized, but unvaccinated people contracting the Delta variant have a much higher risk “compared to what we were seeing in the early parts of the pandemic.”
The health unit is hoping to organize a virtual question and answer session for those unsure about vaccination to get information from a medical professional. Additionally, the unit is contacting residents directly who got a first dose but haven’t returned for their second.
Adding to concerns over the next wave, both Hukowich and Bishop-Williams touched on the extreme levels of burnout seen as the health industry set a record number of job vacancies, up over 40% from the same time last year.
“We have tens of thousands of health care workers who have been doing their best over the last 18 months,” said Hukowich. “If we’re going to see a fourth wave that’s worse than all the others, I’m not sure what’s going to happen to all those people that are trying to cope with helping people.”
Bishop-Williams added, “Our team here is putting their blood, sweat, and tears into this vaccination program, to do case and contact management, and to slow the spread of COVID-19 at every opportunity they have…. Still, I am fearful of what this fourth wave will look like. I fear for the health care workers and our partners across all these different health care spaces.”
Bishop-Williams touched on how the ongoing concerns are impacting her own mental health: “As a parent of two kids who are too young to be vaccinated … I am fearful for them, because I don’t want individuals who are potentially going to expose my children around right now…. It’s unfortunate that it has to come to the point of having to share that we are fearful, but I think that this really speaks to the way we are seeing this fourth wave emerge.”