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Klassen hopes provincial lockdown will help flatten the curve in Huron-Perth

HURON-PERTH – During a Huron-Perth Public Health media briefing on Dec. 21, which took place shortly after a province-wide lockdown coming into effect on Boxing Day was announced, Dr. Miriam Klassen, Huron-Perth’s medical officer of health spoke in favour of stronger measures being taken to flatten the curve.

“This was no doubt a difficult decision made by the province, but we are at a critical point in the pandemic,” she said.

“Although vaccines are arriving there is still a way to go before we can achieve widespread immunity that way.”

Hospital capacity is one important factor Klassen thinks is driving the decision to return to a province-wide lockdown.

“The provincial framework was developed looking at all the evidence in an attempt to allow for some regional response to varying rates of transmission,” she said. “But ultimately, in a pandemic, what is happening in Toronto impacts all of us and none of us is safe until all of us are safe – there isn’t a wall up.”

Klassen shares concerns raised by the Ontario Hospital Association that capacity issues affect the whole network of hospitals. She said the rate of COVID-19 transmission in Huron-Perth has been high enough to be at the red alert level for some time.

“Part of the reason we haven’t been placed up into the red up until now is that other factors have been in our favour, such as local hospital capacity and the capacity of local public health to do case and contact management but I can tell you that is very stretched,” said Klassen.

“To me, the numbers are going up. What has been put in place isn’t working enough so I think it makes sense to add additional measures.”

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health consults widely with all medical officers of health and Klassen had an opportunity for discussion about what is happening in Huron-Perth.

“We were all consulted and I will say that I am in favour of stronger measures … in Huron-Perth, as I say, our case counts are high,” she said.

“At this time our health unit case and contact management team are keeping up, but I don’t mind saying we’re getting tired. It’s been a long haul and it’s got to continue yet for quite some time before there is enough people vaccinated to create herd immunity … it’s been a very, very large task and it could very easily escalate to the point where we couldn’t keep up so the curve is not flattening in Huron-Perth and I would like to see it flatten.”

With 18 new cases added over the weekend, the cumulative total cases for the region is 531, with 50 cases currently active. There are three people in hospital due to COVID symptoms.

“The outbreak at Listowel Memorial Hospital continues,” said Klassen. “We’re reporting cases in four patients and nine staff.”

The outbreak at Stratford General Hospital has been declared over.

There are two long-term care outbreaks in the region; Exeter Villa in South Huron and Knollcrest Lodge in Perth East. Exeter Villa has two cases, one in a staff member and one in a resident. Knollcrest has one confirmed case in a staff member.

The Cedarcroft Place Retirement Residence outbreak is under control and no new cases to report.

“We’re hoping to be able to call that over fairly soon,” said Klassen.

Klassen recommends people avoid non-essential travel this holiday season.

“The virus doesn’t move – it is people who move this virus,” she said. “For this lockdown strategy to be effective the fewer contacts there are the more effective it will be, the lower we can get our cases the better position we are in when the lockdown ends and we get more vaccine in arms so I’m strongly recommending that everybody across the province curtail all non-essential travel for these four weeks and hunker down and all of us do everything we can to break the chains of transmission and bring down the burden of disease. That will allow the healthcare system to get some capacity again – it will prevent cases, it will prevent deaths and it will hopefully set us up for success.”

Klassen mentioned an announcement made by London Health Sciences Centre and Middlesex-London Health Unit regarding the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines.

“That was one of the locations chosen for the ultra-cold Pfizer vaccine,” she said. “This is very exciting news for our region. Healthcare workers in long-term care and retirement homes along with selected hospital staff will be the first in the region to receive the new vaccine under the provincial plan and ethical framework.”

HPPH is among the partners who will be collaborating at the London vaccination centre.

Klassen requested that people continue to be kind and do their best.

“Every individual action counts,” she said. “Everyone is stressed. Who knows what people are dealing with in their personal lives and then on top of that the pandemic is impacting everybody. Everyone is disappointed the holidays are going to look different this year so just that added dose of kindness as you do your best to follow the public health measures is what I am hoping is the message we can continue to get out.”

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