By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—The UK variant of the COVID-19 virus has been identified in Haldimand Norfolk, announced the Health Unit on January 29, 2021.
“The appearance of this more easily-transmittable variant of COVID-19 in Haldimand Norfolk underscores the importance of continuing to follow public health guidance,” said Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Medical Officer of Health. “Continue to keep your distance from others, wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, and avoid having close contact with those you don’t live with.”
Nesathurai noted the biggest concern with COVID-19 transmitting faster is how it could affect the number of cases requiring a hospital stay at one time, which could overwhelm the number of available beds for both COVID patients and others. He said that there is no “laboratory evidence” that the variant has spread in the community yet, although “that evidence may be forthcoming in the next few weeks.”
When asked for more details about this particular case, such as which county it was found in and if it is part of an outbreak, Matt Terry, Director for Corporate Communications of Norfolk County, stated, “Unfortunately, we’re not able to provide any more details at this time. The Health Unit must balance the desire of the community to know more about specific cases of COVID-19 with everyone’s right to medical privacy. Given the small size of our community, providing any more details would risk identifying a specific individual or individuals, and jeopardizing that medical privacy.”
The UK variant appears to be more contagious, though early suggestions are that the vaccines distributed in Ontario will be effective against this variant, said the Health Unit.
Nesthurai noted that those who received their first dose of the vaccine already in the health district were expected to begin receiving the second dose this Wednesday after press time. Both vaccines currently approved by Health Canada require two doses a few weeks apart to be effective.
Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU) received a new “tray” of additional doses on February 1, 2021, which holds approximately 1,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. HNHU had 407 doses remaining from their last shipment, which saw 1,543 residents and staff members of long-term care and retirement homes receive their first dose.
When asked if he had any concerns for the first round receiving their second dose, Nesathurai responded, “Nothing in the pandemic is absolutely certain, but I think that we will be able to meet the requirements to vaccinate people for the second dose.”
He added that the timeline for moving forward with new vaccinations is “a fluid situation”, although his goal is “to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as we can and to have as little vaccine in storage and as much out to the people we serve … as efficiently as we can.”
Along with getting out vaccines, Nesathurai noted that HNHU staff are also prioritizing handling outbreaks in congregate settings and contact management to trace any new positive cases so those exposed can isolate and be tested themselves. Additionally, he noted other health challenges remain in the community, such as opioids, that HNHU has to balance its resources between with the strain of COVID-19.
“Our office has been open seven days a week since March. They (the staff) are doing an extraordinarily difficult task,” said Nesathurai. “We’re doing the very best we can to contain COVID-19…. Staff are working hard and I’m proud of their efforts.”