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New COVID-19 measures in Ontario and Québec as omicron cases climb – North Country Public Radio

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Auxiliary nurse Nadia Knodja administers Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to Danielle Marceau, an employee of CHSLD St-Antoine, a nursing home in Quebec City on Dec. 14, 2020. Photo courtesy: Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux Quebec.

The COVID-19 omicron variant has driven case counts high in recent days across Eastern Ontario.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU), the local public health department for all of Ontario east of Ottawa between the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, reported 1,588 active cases of COVID-19 across its territory on December 31. Six people are in hospital and one individual is in intensive care. The highest number of cases on December 31 were in Cornwall with 506 cases. South Stormont had 142 cases, and Clarence-Rockland had 132 cases.  

According to EOHU Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, it cannot be confirmed or denied if employees of long-term care and retirement facilities who test positive for COVID-19 are being allowed to remain on the job. 

“We have to look at the precautions,” Roumeliotis said on December 31. 

Allowing asymptomatic employees who test positive to remain working could be permitted if there are extreme shortages of staff. Roumeliotis said he was not aware if a nurse at a retirement home who tested positive for COVID-19 was allowed to keep working, nor was he aware of other similar examples across the region. 

However, Roumeliotis said it is possible he may permit asymptomatic long-term care and retirement facility employees who test positive in the future to remain on the job. 

“I’m not ruling it out.” 

The Québec government recently announced it will allow asymptomatic health care workers who test positive for COVID-19 to continue working if circumstances warrant. 

There were COVID-19 outbreaks at six retirement and nursing homes across the EOHU’s jurisdiction as of December 31. 

The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, which includes Brockville, Prescott, and Gananoque in its territory, had 613 active cases of COVID-19 among its residents on December 31. The City of Ottawa’s public health department reported 693 active cases of COVID-19 within its jurisdiction. 

The Eastern Ontario Heath Unit (EOHU) is advising the public that effective December 31, Ontario is updating its public health measures and guidance as the number of Omicron variant COVID-19 cases across the province rapidly rises. 

During a special press conference on Friday morning, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said the COVID-19 positivity rate for the EOHU’s territory is 21 per cent, and the Ontario positivity rate is 30 per cent. He said most outbreaks in long-term care and retirement facilities are among asymptomatic staff. 

In an effort to protect the province’s most vulnerable residents, Ontario is shifting its strategy and making publicly funded PCR testing only available to high-risk individuals who are symptomatic and/or at risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Workers and residents in the highest risk settings and other vulnerable populations will continue to have access to PCR testing. 

However, members of the public who have mild symptoms and are not part of a high-risk population are being asked not to seek testing. As such, individuals with a positive result from a rapid antigen test will no longer have to get a PCR or rapid molecular test to confirm their COVID status. Health units will no longer perform contact tracing and case management for a positive case in a low risk setting. 

“Testing was overwhelmed,” said Roumeliotis. 

The shift in case and contact management will allow health units to redirect some staff members towards the vaccination effort, where the need is greatest. 

Ontario is also changing the isolation period for people who contract COVID-19 as research is demonstrating that healthy individuals who contract the virus are most infectious in the two days before they start having symptoms and the three days afterward. 

Fully vaccinated individuals who have COVID-19, as well as children under 12, must isolate for 5 days from the onset of symptoms. Their household members must also isolate for 5 days. Contacts from outside the affected household must self-monitor for symptoms for 10 days. 

Individuals who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or immunocompromised must isolate for 10 days. 

Effective immediately, Ontario will make fourth doses of mRNA vaccines available to all residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, Elder Care Lodges and other congregate care settings. In order for residents to receive their fourth dose, a minimum of three months or 84 days must have passed since their third dose.  

In order to bring in additional measures to ensure the safety of students in Ontario’s schools, the province is delaying the return to school by two days. Students who were set to return on January 3 will head back to school on January 5.  

As of December 31, 2021, Ontario is restricting spectator capacity in large indoor settings to 50 per cent, or 1,000, whichever is less. The new limit will apply to spectator areas of sports and recreational fitness activities, concert venues and theatres. 

Roumeliotis emphasized on December 31 that vaccination is still effective against the omicron variant of COVID-19. Even if vaccination does not entirely prevent illness, it will prevent severe disease in 80 to 90 per cent of people. He said people who are not vaccinated are 20 to 40 times more likely to end up in intensive care if they are infected with COVID-19. 

Québec cracks down 

On December 30, Québec Premier François Legault and Minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, announced several measures designed to get the rapid spread of COVID-19 under control across Québec.   

According to the Institut national de sante public du Québec (INSPQ), 86,866 active cases of COVID-19 across Québec as of December 30.   

There were 939 people in hospital across Québec due to COVID-19 as of December 30, and 139 patients were in intensive care. The new measures announced by Legault and Dubé are in addition to those already in force. 

A curfew is in effect between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. nightly across Québec. Penalties ranging from $ 1,000 to $ 6,000 will apply for offenders. 

On Friday, Roumeliotis said he is concerned about Québec residents coming to Ontario communities near the provincial boundary to shop and dine and how that could affect the spread of COVID-19. 

“We’re going to keep an eye on that,” said Roumeliotis. 

In Québec, private gatherings in homes must be limited to occupants of the same residence. 

The start of the school year in elementary, secondary, general adult education and vocational training has been postponed to January 17, 2022, in all regions of Québec. 

Places of worship across Québec are closed, with an exception for funerals which must be limited to 25 people. 

Outdoor events in Québec are still authorized but with a maximum of 250 people. 

Indoor dining rooms at all restaurants in Québec are closed. Delivery and take-out orders are still possible. 

All stores in Québec will be closed on Sundays, except for certain businesses such as convenience stores, gas stations and pharmacies. 

Indoor sports across Québec are suspended, unless they are practiced by a single person, by two people, or by the occupants of the same residence. 

The indoor facilities of downhill ski centers and snowmobile relays will be open only to allow people to warm up and have access to the bathrooms. It will be forbidden to consume food inside ski facility buildings. Food services may still offer take-out orders. 

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Why has BC stopped doing contact tracing for coronavirus? – Dawson Creek Mirror

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Contact tracing is no longer an effective tool in the province’s fight against surging cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, says B.C.’s top health officer. 

The province has adapted its strategy to prevent transmission of the highly-infectious COVID-19 strain, Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters in a press briefing Friday (Jan. 21) morning.

And while contact tracing has been an effective mechanism for public health intervention in the past, Henry noted that is an increasingly difficult process due to the infectious variant. 

“Disease characteristics that make contact tracing effective are things like having a longer incubation period because you have to have time to find people after somebody has been tested,” she explained, highlighting that the Omicron variant has a signifcantly shorter incubation period.

As COVID-19 strains “become more and more infectious,” it is more challenging to find people through contact tracing, added Henry. 

A disease such as measles, on the other hand, has a two- to three-week incubation period. The health officer said contact tracing for diseases with longer incubation periods like this allows time to identify and reach a high proportion of contacts and take measures to prevent the spread of the virus. 

Earlier in the pandemic, individuals infected with the Delta variant typically had a five- to seven-day incubation period, Henry noted. This period allowed public health teams to locate the individuals and prevent them from spreading the virus to others before they developed symptoms. 

Individuals infected with Omicron may also “have mild or asymptomatic infections and not even realize that they are affected,” she emphasized. Further, at this juncture in the pandemic, the majority of B.C. residents are vaccinated. Some adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of progressing to serious disease will have access to Canada’s first oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment

“So with the emergence of these more transmissible variants are shorter incubation periods, COVID-19 is no longer an infection for which contact tracing is an effective intervention,” Henry underscored. 

“We now need to shift our management and think about the things that we can do across the board to prevent transmission and to prevent ourselves from being exposed.”

While vaccination is the most effective way to prevent transmission from COVID-19, individuals should also manage their symptoms and stay home if they feel ill. 

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Patients with COVID in Fraser Health may now share hospital rooms with uninfected – Chilliwack Progress – Chilliwack Progress

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A policy introduced to hospital staff last Friday by Fraser Health means some COVID-19 positive patients can share rooms with fully-vaccinated patients who are not infected with the virus.

Black Press received a copy of the memo issued Jan. 14 to staff at Chilliwack General Hospital (CGH) announcing the revised recommendations “for COVID-19 patient placement in acute care settings.”

The memo states that due to evolving epidemiology of the Omicron variant, and that “this virus generally causes mild disease,” areas for COVID patients will be reserved for only those with significant respiratory symptoms.

“A single occupancy room… is the preferred accommodation for any patients with respiratory symptoms. If a single occupancy room is not available, accommodate the patient in a multi-bed room ensuring at least two metres of space from other beds.

“Place COVID-19 positive patients only with fully vaccinated roommates.”

Hospital staff are directed to follow Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) droplet precaution guidelines, and the memo made it clear that COVID-positive patients should not share a room with immunocompromised patients, patients with chronic cardiac or respiratory disease, newborns, or others with respiratory illnesses.

At a briefing Friday morning with Health Minister Adrian Dix and Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, Black Press asked about the rationale behind this revised policy, and she made it clear it was not unique to CGH.

Henry said the increased number of people being admitted to hospitals means that space is at a premium, and this policy helps maximize space with additional precautions in place.

She said the type of COVID-positive patients who might be placed with a non-COVID patient are those who come to hospitals for other reasons, they are tested, and the positive result is considered “incidental” to the reason they are in hospital.

“That is an infection prevention control team decision made at a hospital by hospital, and actually room by room and ward by ward basis, depending on the needs in that facility.”

Dix added that yesterday there were 891 people hospitalized in the province with COVID-19, and the pre-Omicron record was 500.

“When you have a lot of people in the hospital, you have to manage within the space you have and ensure infection control stays high and that’s what our teams are doing across B.C.”


Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
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COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, Jan. 21: weekly recap, 94 hospitalized, 601 new cases – Halifax Examiner

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Jump to sections in this article:
Overview
Vaccination
Testing

There are now now 94 people in hospital who were admitted because of COVID symptoms, 13 of whom are in ICU. Those 57 range in age from 0 to 100 years old, and the average age is 68.

Additionally, there are:
• 73 people admitted to hospital for other reasons but who tested positive for COVID during the admissions screening or who were admitted for COVID but no longer require specialized care
• 113 people in hospital who contracted COVID in the hospital outbreaks

The 94 people now hospitalized because of COVID have the following vaccination status:
The vaccination status of those 94 is:
• 11 (11.7%) have had 3 doses
• 60 (63.8%) have had 2 doses but not 3
• 4 (4.3%) have had 1 dose
• 19 (20.2%) are unvaccinated
Note that only 9.3% of the population is unvaccinated

My very rough calculation of the rate by vaccination status of those hospitalized (based on numbers of the population in each category two weeks ago) is as follows:
• (11) a rate of 6.1 per 100K with 3 doses
• (60) a rate of 9.8 per 100K with 2 doses (but not 3)
• (4) a rate of 5.7 per 100K with 1 dose only
• (19) a rate of 18.0 per 100k unvaccinated

Additionally, the province announced 601 new cases of COVID-19 today. The new cases are people who received a positive PCR test result from a Nova Scotia Health lab; it does not include people who tested positive using a take-home rapid (antigen) test.

By Nova Scotia Health zone, the new cases break down as:
• 269 Central
• 120 Eastern
• 49 Northern
• 163 Western

Public Health estimates that there are 5,241 active cases in the province; the actual number is undoubtedly much higher.

The graph above shows the weekly (Sat-Fri) number of new cases for the duration of the pandemic.

The graph above shows the number of weekly cases (green, left axis) and weekly deaths (red, right axis). If deaths lag three weeks behind cases, we may (nothing is certain) see 10-20 more deaths in the next couple of weeks.

The graph above shows the number of weekly cases (green, left axis) and the number hospitalized on Fridays (orange, right axis) for the duration of the pandemic.

Jail outbreak

“Active COVID-19 cases at the provincial jail in Burnside are down to 11,” reports Zane Woodford:

The Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility has had an outbreak since late-December, and Justice Department spokesperson Heather Fairbairn told the Halifax Examiner there have now been a total of 140 cases at the jail.

“As of Jan. 21, there are 11 active cases among those currently in custody at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility,” Fairbairn wrote in an email.

As has been the case throughout, according to Fairbairn, none of the prisoners is in hospital and there are no cases in the jail’s women’s unit.

Fairbairn said since January 1, five people have been approved for temporary absences or early release. The population at the jail, as of January 20, was 223. That means about 63% of prisoners at the facility have had COVID-19.

Hospital outbreaks

There are two new cases at ongoing hospital outbreaks, one each at:
• Cape Breton Regional Hospital for a total of fewer than 10 in that ward
• Victoria General for a total of fewer than 10


Vaccination

Vaccination data were not reported today “due to a technical issue.”

The graph above shows the vaccination progress as captured on Fridays through the pandemic, except Thursday for this week. The yellow line is people with at least one dose of vaccine The blue line is people with only one dose. The green line is people with two doses but not three. The grey line is people with three doses. The red line is 80% of the population.

Appointments for boosters are now open to people 30 and over for whom 168 days have passed since their second shot.

Vaccination appointments for people 5 years of age and older can be booked here.

People in rural areas who need transportation to a vaccination appointment should contact Rural Rides, which will get you there and back home for just $5. You need to book the ride 24 hours ahead of time.

There are many drop-in Pfizer vaccine clinics scheduled, starting next week, several for kids five years old and older.


Testing

Nova Scotia Health labs completed 3,975 PCR tests yesterday, with a positivity rate of 15.1%.

If you test positive with a rapid (antigen) test, you are assumed to definitely have COVID, and you and your household are to self-isolate as required.

But take-home rapid testing kits are no longer widely available.

Pop-up testing has been scheduled for the following sites:

Saturday
Halifax Central Library, 11am-6pm
Alderney Gate, 10am-2pm
Glace Bay Legion, 11am-3pm

Sunday
Halifax Central Library, 11am-6pm
Knights of Columbus (KOC) Hall (New Waterford), 11am-3pm

Monday
Halifax Central Library, noon-7pm
Hubbards Lions Club, 11am-3pm

You can volunteer to work at the pop-up testing sites here or here. No medical experience is necessary.


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