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Investigation continues into Listowel Memorial Hospital COVID outbreak

HURON-PERTH – During the Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH) media briefing on Dec. 17, Dr. Miriam Klassen, Huron-Perth’s medical officer of health, said the region has reached 499 cumulative COVID-19 cases, with 71 currently active. There are five people in hospital due to COVID-19.

An outbreak has been declared on the second-floor medicine unit of the Listowel Memorial Hospital (LMH). Currently, three patients and seven staff have been identified as part of the outbreak. All staff who have worked in the hospital since Dec. 11 have been requested to be tested and outbreak measures are in place.

Addressing concerns that Listowel Wingham Hospitals Alliance staff who work in both hospitals,  Klassen said at this point all the cases are connected with LMH.

“It would be very difficult to staff certain hospitals … human health resources are a big strain across the province so while it’s always preferable to cohort, to work for only one facility, that’s not always possible,” she said.

“There are many measures put into place to try to mitigate against the risk of (transmission from) one facility to another when staff do work in more than one and certainly right now given that LMH is in outbreak the direction has been given to minimize any staff movement.”

The investigation has not revealed a source of acquisition for the outbreak.

“When you have a 14-day incubation period it can be hard to always attribute the source,” said Klassen.

“The North Perth area has very high rates of transmission so at this point we’re still investigating how and when cases may have acquired the virus. That isn’t clear yet to us.”

The outbreak at Northside Christian School in Listowel was declared over on Dec.14 and the school has reopened. The outbreak at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Listowel was declared over today.

The outbreak at the medicine unit of Stratford General Hospital appears to be under control and remains at seven staff members.

There are currently no long-term care outbreaks and there continue to be no changes with the numbers related to the Cedarcroft Place Retirement Home outbreak, which is 50 confirmed cases in residents and 24 cases in staff, none of which are currently active.

The first Huron-Perth mass immunization meeting was held on Dec. 17, gathering representatives from HPPH, area hospitals, primary care, the Huron-Perth and Area Ontario Health Team, paramedic services, Home and Community Care and Mental Health and Addictions.

“We started planning to support distribution to Huron-Perth residents using the ethical framework and the prioritization plan that has been issued by the province,” said Klassen.

“At this point, we don’t have specific dates of when the vaccine will become available.”

Information about vaccinations will be made available at https://www.hpph.ca/en/health-matters/covid-19-vaccine-information.aspx.

“Just to be clear the vaccine program which is starting is with the ultracold Pfizer vaccine,” she said.

“There have been sites designated across the province and those decisions were made at the federal level. There is not a site in Huron-Perth, so we are not part of that initial vaccine planning.”

Klassen addressed concerns about people she referred to as “vaccine-hesitant.”

“From the HPPH perspective we’re going to keep putting messages out there about how safe vaccines are,” she said.

“It’s a highly regulated process with multiple phases and trials to get to approval and then even after a vaccine is approved – after phase three trials have occurred on many thousands of people.”

Even after approval, she said post-marketing surveillance continues through a worldwide network looking for adverse events following immunization, looking for any signals of rare events that only happen after millions of doses.

“Vaccines are highly safe,” said Klassen. “It’s not a new technology or science by any means and we know they are highly effective. The Pfizer vaccine being rolled out now in Canada is 95 per cent effective in people who are vaccinated so it works very well and it has shown to be very safe.”

Klassen mentioned allergic reactions, saying those are not unheard of in vaccines.

“That is something we know can happen … and certain people with severe allergic reactions might be advised not to get this vaccine, but for the vast majority of people this will be a safe vaccine that will cause your arm to be sore for a little while but will protect you against COVID-19,” she said.

According to Klassen, HPPH staff are excited about the vaccine approval.

“Hopefully as people see others stepping up and getting the vaccine and seeing the good outcome vaccine hesitancy will be minimized,” she said.

Klassen said cases remain high and in the red zone but some of the other criteria have remained in the orange or yellow zone.

“I include things like per cent positivity and the ability for Public Health to do the case and contact management within the target times of 24 hours,” she said.

“Having said that, I am aware that as cases continue across the province the provincial picture of hospital capacity has changed. I know the Ontario Hospital Association put out a strong statement today asking for stricter measures so that is still entirely possible and I think that we should be prepared that we may move into the red but I have no specific knowledge of that.”

Klassen reminded residents to continue to follow Public Health instructions and only have one circle.

“The idea is you have your household you live with and everywhere else you go you follow the Public Health recommendations,” she said.

”In workplaces, the expectation is that all measures have been put into place – screening, two-metre distances between workers, masks when (workers) are indoors, working from home when possible – so really workplaces, I think, could be running without transmission.”

She also recommended staying vigilant around people you are familiar with.

“Just because you know someone it doesn’t mean they can’t be harbouring the virus and make you sick,” she said.

“We continue to hear of cases where people have mild symptoms and they go to work or go and visit someone else. People with even the mildest symptoms need to keep those home to themselves and get accessed and possibly tested. That is very important so this Christmas, this holiday, this Hanukah will look different.”

Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.