Province to enter Step 3 of the reopening plan this Friday

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—This Friday, Ontario will enter Step 3 of the Provincial reopening framework, leading to more services being available and a greater focus on a return to indoor activities.

For an overview of what’s allowed under Step 3, refer to the chart below. While Haldimand Norfolk is within the specifications required to enter Step 3, the Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU) is warning that vaccine rates need to go up further in order for the counties to stay on track with Provincial targets.

“We are very much on target for meeting the Step 3 guidelines. We’re making great progress there. The next round of targets is a little bit steep for us,” said HNHU Epidemiologist Dr. Katherine Bishop-Williams, referencing the currently unofficial Step 4 that would require 75% of the general public to be fully vaccinated. “We’re looking at how we can look at the populations that have chosen not to be vaccinated…. There’s a lot more nuance to reaching those populations and we certainly have our work cut out for us. It’s reachable, but not without the participation of our community.”

COVID Vaccine Team Lead Sarah Page added, “Hesitancy based on choosing outright not to be vaccinated is a barrier that every health unit across the province and around the world is facing. There is always going to be that portion of the population that we’re not going to reach.”

Healthcare workers lagging behind provincial vaccine rates

      While about 98% of residents in long-term care (LTC) facilities in Haldimand and Norfolk have been fully vaccinated, that number drops steeply to 68% for the healthcare workers in LTC homes.

Recently, the provincial government put a requirement in place for LTC facilities that workers must either be vaccinated or provide a physician’s statement stating that they are exempt: “I’m not sure that would apply to too many people,” said interim Medical Officer of Health Dr. Alex Hukowich. “Unfortunately, we live in a politically based system and that system gives people a lot of rights even when those rights may endanger the larger society.”

He continued, “There’s no requirement for hospitals to report on what proportion of their staff are fully immunized.”

Hukowich believes that all health care workers should be required to get the vaccine in order to continue working, but he does not believe he has the authority as the Medical Officer of Health to enforce such a decree.

“It poses a major concern to us. If individuals who have access to the information are also not participating in the program it creates a potential for concern or distrust in the program more broadly,” added Bishop-Williams. “These mandates for long-term care went live on July 1, so I think that our next round of data collection from LTC and retirement facilities we can anticipate seeing an increase there.”

County continues to push for higher youth vaccination rates

      The Province has stated that it wants at least 80% of the 12-18 age range to receive their first doses by August 6 with hopes to see the majority of students fully vaccinated before returning to school in September.

“We’re at about 71% right now for first doses, so we’re actively working on different vulnerable populations and hard to reach populations in order to get our numbers up,” said Page. “We have fallen behind the province a little bit, even for our numbers in the 18 and over ranges.”

She added that approximately 40% of youth are fully vaccinated in Haldimand Norfolk: “We’re doing a massive youth push over the next couple weeks. We’ve sent out mailers … with some information about youth-specific clinics going up and some information about how safe the vaccine is and how necessary it is to get back to normal activity.”

A sports-themed vaccine clinic will run on Wednesday, July 21 from 4 to 8 p.m. at Dunnville Secondary School. There will be individual draws for participants, and local athletes can come in wearing their team jersey or apparel for the chance to win a team party once public health measures allow it.

Bishop-Williams stressed that anyone 12 and up is able to consent for themselves, even in a situation where their parents might oppose the vaccine: “If youth are facing challenges accessing a vaccine because of their parents not wanting them vaccinated, they are encouraged to call the vaccine hotline…. They can request support for transportation,” she said. “While it’s a challenge when a parent might not want the same thing for their youth that they’re choosing to participate in, our priority as a health unit is to serve them as individuals.”

Health officials concerned about Friday the 13th in Port Dover

      Friday the 13th has officially been deemed a non-event by Norfolk County, however HNHU does not believe this will deter hordes of people from descending on Port Dover next month to mark the occasion.

“The best thing we can do for our communities, even regarding Friday the 13th, is to ensure that our population is vaccinated before the influx of people where we will have no idea of their vaccination status,” said Page.

Hukowich added, “I would make no assumption that bikers would have lower immunization rates than anybody else in our population. Hopefully, a good proportion of those people coming in will be fully immunized.”

Regardless, the upcoming date has Page’s full attention: “I am quite concerned about the event and the amount of people that will come in, especially if the province is open and if the border from the States is open with unknown vaccination status, unknown public health measures in place…. What we’re doing in response to that is a lot of messaging about social distancing, keeping public health measures in place.”

 

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