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Tuesday, July 23, 2024
COVID cases slowly trending upward, but so is immunity
Dr. Azim Kasmani, Niagara's chief medical officer. (Supplied)

Niagara’s chief medical officer urges people to get booster shots

 

Thanks to vaccines and booster shots, the region’s chief medical officer says the community is much better prepared for any future outbreaks.

While hospitalization trends, intensive care unit admissions and wastewater data show COVID cases are on the rise once again, more people are immune to the virus than before, says Dr. Azim Kasmani, chief medical officer for Niagara Region. 

“I think, overall, because of that immunity, we’re in a much better place than we were,” he said in an interview.  

Kasmani noted that in addition to increased immunity within the population, we have more resources available now than we did at the beginning of the pandemic, including the medication Paxlovid, which helps lower the severity of COVID-19 for high-risk individuals. 

More than 14,000 residents and staff died in nursing and retirement homes across Canada in previous COVID waves and concerns remain for those institutions.

The Niagara Long Term Care Residence on Wellington Street in NOTL endured a rhinovirus upper-respiratory outbreak between Aug. 21 and Sept. 6, but fortunately it was not COVID-related, said Chris Poos, executive director of the home.

While many NOTL businesses and organizations, including the Shaw Festival, are still navigating their way through a post-pandemic world, they’re in a much better position now than they were three years ago.

A lot more is known about COVID and its prevention.

“We’ve put preventative measures in place, like covers and understudies, so when someone is (sick) with COVID or an illness, the understudy steps in,” Shaw spokesperson Jenniffer Anand said in an email to The Lake Report.

No Shaw shows have been cancelled in recent weeks solely due to COVID-19 — but some actors have caught the virus, Anand said.

“When shows were cancelled, it was a combined effect of illnesses — not necessarily COVID-specific — and understudy availability,” she said.

Kasmani said he isn’t sure if the uptick in cases across the province has to do with any of the new variants – it’s just too early to tell.

“We’re still waiting to see what comes (of) them,” he said. 

EG.5.1 is one of the new variants now dominating Ontario. There’s also a newer, highly mutated variant, BA.2.86, that was reported in British Columbia at the end of August.

Both variants are descendants of the Omicron strain, XBB.1.5.

As of Sept. 12, Health Canada authorized the use of Moderna’s COVID vaccine, Spikevax, which targets XBB.1.5.

As of Monday, there were 36 people with COVID in ICUs across Ontario, which is up from the summer months, said Kasmani, but down from this spring and even this time last year. 

None of the ICU cases are in Niagara, according to the region’s website. 

ICU numbers can be a delayed indication of the virus’s prevalence in an area, since it takes time for people to get sick enough to end up in the ICU, Kasmani noted. 

“It’s certainly trending up right now, but it’s nowhere near where it used to be,” he said.  

He also noted that mutating viruses are nothing new. 

“We’re always going to see evolution. We see that in every virus,” he said. 

The fall is also a time when viruses normally circulate, he said, adding that mid-September is when there’s usually an uptick in all virus cases — a trend that existed long before COVID-19. 

The pandemic years changed this pattern, Kasmani said, since no one was going out and viruses couldn’t spread. But it’s starting to normalize again. 

“As it gets cooler, it gets a little bit drier, people start spending more time inside. Kids go back to school and so they’re spending time inside classrooms together,” he said.

Children are also hanging out with friends indoors, adults are going back to work and more people are gathering for the holidays. 

“I think as those contexts go up, you see more spread of different things because there’s more opportunity for viruses to pass around,” he said. 

When the COVID-19 booster shot becomes available this fall, he advises people to get it, especially those who are at a higher risk of catching the virus, such as seniors.

According to the Niagara Region’s COVID-19 statistics page, those 80 and up are leading in COVID infections, followed by those between the ages of 60 and 79.

“If you’re at high risk, you may consider wearing a mask, especially when you’re in close personal contact with other people,” he said.

He also strongly recommends children’s vaccinations for illnesses such as mumps, measles and smallpox are kept up to date.

Taking safety measures such as washing your hands and staying home when sick are also important steps to take when trying to slow the spread of any virus.

However, he said as a society we need to make sure people have the opportunity to stay home when they’re sick. 

“If somebody works a job that they don’t have sick time, it comes down to a choice between eating, feeding your kids, paying the bills, paying the rent or going to work,” he said.

Then the individual gets blamed if they stay home from work, he added. 

“As a society, we need to really make sure that people have access to sick times so they don’t have to make difficult decisions,” he said. 

The region will continue to monitor wastewater data, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and updates from the government regarding COVID, he said. 

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