Many friends and family keep asking me when the pandemic is going to be over. It has been a very long year with anxiety and isolation, compounded by a prolonged state of restrictions throughout the winter months.
I will defer to the experts in answering this question. Just over a week ago, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table shared an updated pandemic modelling report. The highlights of the report include that the public health measures and restrictions throughout the month of January 2021 are working to reduce the number of new cases and the burden of disease on the healthcare system. However, not all aspects of healthcare are recovering at the same rate. The reduction in the number of COVID-19 positive patients in intensive care units (ICUs) across the province remains high, impacting the ability to treat the most acutely ill.
The largest unknown variable remains the emergence of COVID-19 variants such as the B.1.1.7 or “UK” variant. Variants spread more easily and will soon play a larger part in the pandemic in Ontario and locally. This has been confirmed with our Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) who remains very concerned of the possible rapid transmission of the variants. The COVID-19 variants are predicted to be the dominant strain in a possible third wave as early as mid-March.
What does this mean to us and our community? Although we have made some significant advancements in our pandemic response, it is far from over. I appreciate there are some confusing messages so I would like to break it down further.
Overall, COVID-19 cases have declined in Simcoe County which means our sacrifices since the end of December have worked. However, the number of UK variant cases in our region remains very concerning. With the reopening of schools and businesses, the numbers of new cases could grow exponentially within Simcoe County at a rate higher than other areas of the province. While supporting Roberta Place, our team at OSMH has seen firsthand how quickly the UK variant can attack a vulnerable population with devastatingly fast speed. It is incredibly hard on patients, residents, families and care providers and can quickly overwhelm any healthcare facility.
Different regions across the province have moved forward with reopening. Simcoe Muskoka is in the red category or “control” which limits gatherings and imposes rules for all businesses. Everyone is asked to only go out for absolutely essential reasons however, there are some non-essential businesses that are now open. As the public debate continues with exactly how to find the right balance between public health measures and the economy, I will leave you with the thought that a healthy community is an economically viable community. Let’s continue with the distancing, avoiding indoor gatherings and stick to what is truly essential as we look to our solution – mass vaccination.
The COVID-19 vaccination process has begun and we have successfully vaccinated all Long Term Care facilities in the area. This is a major step forwards in protecting some of the most vulnerable in society. Unfortunately, COVID-19 vaccination in Ontario has been delayed as of late, with many other populations at risk still waiting to receive notice of their turn in the priority list for vaccination.
A lot has been said about the difficulties in getting vaccine supply. It is improving but will take time to get to everyone. We know the vaccines work well, we just need to get vaccines in arms of our community members as quickly as possible. You will hear more in the days and weeks to come as we are working on a community vaccination strategy targeted for early March. It will be an important collaborative effort led by SMDHU supported by the Couchiching Ontario Health Team partners. We will vaccinate everyone, starting with high priority groups first such as those age 80 years and older. Soon you will see a phone number and website from the SMDHU to book a vaccination appointment at the community clinic. Your primary care provider may be contacting you to facilitate appointments if you are in a priority group.
The vaccine is the answer to the pandemic and a full reopening of our community. My message to the community is the same as my message to the OSMH team. Let’s finish strong. While we put a full effort into getting the vaccinations moving, let’s adhere to the difficult but necessary restrictions, staying at home and avoiding gatherings.
President & CEO
Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital