Upper Canada Lodge in NOTL is one of 10 nursing homes in outbreak across region
Niagara is in the midst of a seventh wave of COVID-19 and this one has the potential to be worse than the previous one, says Niagara’s acting chief medical officer of health.
As of Wednesday, there are 15 active outbreaks in the region, 10 of them in long-term care and retirement homes.
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Upper Canada Lodge, which escaped COVID outbreaks earlier in the pandemic, is now among the nursing homes affected.
The region also reported 753 active cases, 62 of them in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Dr. Mustafa Hirji says the vaccine doesn’t seem to provide the same protection against the BA.5 variant, the driving force behind this wave, as it did for previous strains.
The new variant spreads more easily and seems to cause more severe illness.
“It’s able to evade the protection of the vaccine and actually, even the protection that people get from past infection from the virus,” he said.
Hirji said people may not be practising the same type of precautions as in previous waves. This could be because people have taken signals from government that the pandemic is almost over, he said.
He doesn’t think we’re hearing a consistent message from our provincial and federal leaders, which worries him.
“That gives me concern that this wave is not going to be as well-controlled as maybe, perhaps, the previous ones,” he said.
“Which is going to raise the potential that more people can get sick,” he added.
Outbreaks in long-term care homes are still a concern across the region, especially with staff and residents spending more time out in the community.
The good news is health officials aren’t seeing big, wide-scale outbreaks as they did in previous waves, Hirji said.
That’s because many residents have their fourth vaccine dose, some even having a fifth shot.
It’s still challenging for long-term care homes and retirement homes. Since the province revoked the Long-Term Care Home COVID-19 Immunization Policy in March, it’s difficult for the homes to enforce a vaccination policy.
“It’s hard for them to maintain that without having the province’s backing for that,” he said.
This wave also seems to be affecting seniors living outside of long-term care and retirement homes.
Hirji couldn’t confirm the number of deaths among seniors 80 and up but said it’s probably true that deaths are higher in that age group among people living outside of long-term care homes.
There’s a much greater risk they’re going to get infected since they’re out within the community, he said.
“That’s a direct function that we’re not doing as much to slow the spread of the virus out in the community,” he said.
Moving forward, Hirji said we should go back to wearing our masks indoors as it is a simple way to limit the spread of infection.
He also said everybody who does not yet have three doses of the vaccine, should focus on getting it. With the Omicron variants, two is not enough, he said.
“About 30 per cent of adults don’t have that third dose,” he said.
He thinks there needs to be some incentives for people to get the third dose, like a tax cut.
Waves are going to keep happening as long as the virus keeps mutating. Looking at long-term solutions, like upgrading the ventilation systems in all public spaces, would help minimize the increase spread.
“We really need to find a more sustainable way of doing this pandemic.”