HURON-PERTH – Twenty-eight cases of COVID-19 were added in the region on Jan. 14, for a total of 100 active cases in Huron-Perth. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the region has a total of 950 confirmed cases.
“There are seven Huron-Perth residents in hospital (due to COVID-19 symptoms) but they may not be all in Huron-Perth (hospitals),” said Dr. Miriam Klassen, Huron-Perth medical officer of health.
According to the Ontario Health West dashboard, as of Jan. 12 the ICU capacity is at 110 per cent and acute care capacity is at 81 per cent across the region.
“This hospital capacity dashboard always exists in the province and it’s always there when you are working in the acute care system,” said Klassen.
“I’m thinking back to my days if you had a trauma or something in emergency and if your hospital was full you could look on the dashboard and see where in the province capacity exists.”
Klassen said that as of Jan. 11, when she was speaking with local hospital CEOs, capacity was still adequate but preparations were being made to receive people from other regions if they were experiencing over-capacity.
At this time there are 10 active outbreaks in long-term care and retirement homes.
In Listowel, at Caressant Care in the retirement home section, there are currently 18 residents and three staff who have tested positive. In the long-term care portion of the facility, 15 residents have tested positive. The outbreak at Livingstone Manor remains at two cases in residents and two in staff.
Exeter Villa in South Huron had 36 residents and 10 staff test positive. The outbreak in its retirement home was declared over Jan. 12.
Fordwich Village Nursing Home and Knollcrest Lodge in Milverton each have two staff who have tested positive. Greenwood Court and Spruce Lodge in Stratford, Wildwood Care Centre in St. Marys and Seaforth Manor in Huron East have all had one staff member test positive.
When discussing the high level of community transmission in North Perth, Klassen said, “once there is a certain level of community transmission it can just be very difficult to completely eradicate that.”
She said the municipality became a hot spot and has had a hospital outbreak and many school-related cases.
“I think that was the only place that I can think of offhand, but I might be wrong, but there was a school outbreak there too, which means there was actually transmission in the school setting,” said Klassen.
“I don’t think we saw that anywhere else in Huron-Perth. We saw cases that attended schools, we dismissed lots and lots of cohorts but I think it’s just a reflection that the rates of community transmission in North Perth got hold and remained high and that drove the outbreaks that you see.”
She clearly stated the message to the public that, “it’s on us all to try to bring the rates of community transmission as low as possible.”
“If we bring the rates of community transmission down that’s the best way to protect our long-term care homes and retirement homes,” said Klassen.
“That’s the best way to support our schools to be able to open successfully. If the rates in the community remain high it’s almost inevitable you are going to see these outbreaks.”
When asked for her opinion of the fact that the region is approaching 1,000 cases, she said it’s a mark that represents a lot of hard work for healthcare workers and Huron-Perth Public Health (HPPH) staff.
“I know our staff have done case and contact investigations on every single one of those cases and all their contacts and there are real stories associated with all of them and some of those – 25 people have died and families have suffered,” she said.
“When people were asked to self-isolate, it was a hardship for them so it represents a lot of very difficult time so that is, I think, part of the reason our staff are so excited and buoyed by this opportunity to finally start vaccinating because we think that’s going to help bend that curve.”
The stress on residents and their mental health was another point Klassen discussed.
“When I speak to our partners in social services and police services they talk about increased calls and responses to issues around mental health, addictions and domestic violence,” she said.
“There is no question, and I think we will learn about that for years after this pandemic, that some of the Public Health measures can add to stress and mental health problems which is why I think we’re always trying to find the right balance.”
Klassen said it’s been hard to provide Public Health direction that also takes into account certain accommodations for some individuals who have needs that the vast majority of people don’t.
“I always bring it back to thinking about what it is that each of us (needs) on an individual level, on a family level, on an organizational level,” she said.
“What can we do to contribute and decrease our number of contacts and what I can do might look a little bit different than what you and your family can do but it’s really about each of us taking the opportunity to do as much as we can to bend the curve … The problem with that is some people look for the workaround – looking at, well technically and legally they can do this.”
Klassen urges everybody to not look for the technical loophole but instead to look for a way to decrease contacts as much as possible but keep in mind sometimes we may not understand that other people are dealing with.
This week, residents at Spruce Lodge and residents at Seaforth Manor received the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
“Here at the Lodge, we received the call we have all been waiting for,” said Peter Bolland, administrator at Spruce Lodge.
“Residents and their families are so thankful and relieved, and staff can finally feel the weight of 2020 starting to lift. We haven’t seen so many smiles since this time last year.”
HPPH is working closely with partners to provide vaccine to all residents of long-term care homes and then retirement homes across Huron and Perth Counties over the next few weeks.
The province has a three-phase distribution plan and an ethical framework to ensure Ontario is prepared to receive, store and administer COVID-19 vaccines as vaccines continue to arrive over the next several months.
At this time, vaccine supply is very limited. Distribution focuses first on vulnerable populations that are at greatest risk of COVID-19 and severe illness and those who care for them.
In Huron-Perth, the Huron Perth Mass Vaccination Advisory Committee is creating a Huron Perth sequencing model as well as an administration and distribution plan based on the province’s distribution plan and ethical framework.
Currently, the focus is on long-term care homes and then retirement homes. Additional groups will be identified in the sequencing model; as vaccines become available those groups will be contacted. For the general public, this is not likely for a few months. HPPH asks the public to be patient and awaits further information – there is no vaccination waiting list set up for the general public.
“We are thrilled to have begun long-term care resident vaccinations in our community, but we are still in early days of COVID vaccination,” said Klassen.
“To build on vaccination efforts, it’s important that we continue to reduce the spread of COVID by avoiding non-essential trips outside of the home, practising physical distancing, wearing a face covering, washing hands frequently, and staying home when you are sick or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.”
Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.