HURON-PERTH – Dr. Miriam Klassen, Huron-Perth medical officer of health, spoke hopefully about the slowing rates of COVID-19 transmission province-wide during the Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH) media briefing on Feb. 4.
Klassen reported only 10 new cases over the past 24 hours to bring the total number of case in the region to 1,244, 75 of which are active.
She announced one resident is in hospital and two more people have died due to COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths to 44. Of the last four deaths, two were Seaforth Manor long-term care home residents, one was a Caressant Care long-term care home resident and the other was a Caressant Care retirement home resident. There have been no new cases at Caressant Care since the last HPPH report.
At Seaforth Manor, there have been three new cases among staff, bringing the number of cases to 16 staff and 41 residents. In the retirement home side, an outbreak was declared on Jan. 31 with five confirmed cases among residents.
An outbreak was declared at St. Marys Memorial Hospital on Jan. 31. There are five staff members and one patient who are have tested positive. Fordwich Village and Hillside Manor each have one staff member with a confirmed case.
Return to school
Klassen said she is very pleased by the province’s announcement to return to in-class learning.
“We have seen a downward trend in community transmission of COVID-19 over the last two weeks,” she said.
“This decline in addition to public health measures in schools means there is a lower risk of the virus spreading in schools … keeping the community rates down will also continue to protect our long-term care homes and retirement homes and as you can see, we do continue to struggle with outbreaks in those very vulnerable settings.”
Klassen said at the time schools closed in December, the cases were ramping up and over the holidays and well into January there were numerous cases in school-aged children and staff.
“Had schools been opened there would have been potential for dismissing many cohorts and with that number of cases there would have been a higher risk of transmission in the school setting – what we would call an outbreak,” she said.
“Then as the lockdown measures started to restrict those contacts, you saw those cases dropping off so I think by the time we start the case count will be, I’m talking Huron-Perth wide, at a safer level.”
Klassen acknowledged that as long as the pandemic is ongoing there will continue to be cases that involve school exposures.
She said up until December, with protocols in place at schools, there were only two school-related outbreaks in the area.
“It was quite limited. Again, with the case count manageable and the right protocols in place, what I expect we will continue to see are school-related exposures and dismissals but not a lot of transmission in the school setting,” said Klassen.
“I do think for families who want to have their children in the in-person learning environment it is the best choice and I’m glad it becomes available on Monday.”
Second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are now being administered to residents of long-term care homes and high-risk retirement homes.
Klassen said other health units have started to release mass vaccination plans and HPPH will soon be following suit with its own.
“The important thing to remember is everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be vaccinated,” she said.
By the end of February the plan is to start receiving vaccine directly in Huron-Perth.
“That is very exciting to us. It will give us more flexibility with logistics and will mean that … if there is still a requirement for staff to continue their vaccination, we can set up clinics within Huron-Perth, so rather than driving to London they will be able to get it within our borders,” she said.
“That is projected to start in February, but it hasn’t been 100 per cent confirmed yet.”
Numbers going down
Klassen thinks it’s positive to see the numbers going down across the province because what happens elsewhere impacts Huron-Perth.
“That has been great and that does start to create confidence that conditions will soon allow for some opening of businesses,” she said.
She acknowledged the significant negative impact the closures have had on many businesses and organizations.
“While many families have been impacted by illness and death … others have also been impacted by these other challenges concerning employment and also with respect to the fact that social connections have been severely impacted and that’s something we all need for our mental health as well,” said Klassen.
“I just want to acknowledge lockdowns hurt people in other ways.”
Despite acknowledging the impact on mental health for many residents of Huron-Perth, she did say she felt it was necessary to lockdown to get the transmission of COVID-19 under control.
“The case counts would have skyrocketed to the point where the health care system would have been overwhelmed and we would have seen many more cases and preventable deaths,” said Klassen.
To help deal with some of the stress caused by this unprecedented situation, Klassen recommended making exercise a priority.
“Physical activity is so good for us and so good for relieving stress,” she said.
Klassen also recommended finding new ways to make social connections to beat isolation. She has been making use of Zoom calls, phone calls and old-fashioned letter writing to stay in touch with family and friends.
“Those are some of the ways I try to deal with stress,” she said.
Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.