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Omicron infects over 1,675 people during Christmas weekend in Hamilton – CBC.ca

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Over 1,675 people got infected with COVID-19 from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day, according to data from Hamilton Public Health Services.

The local public health unit reported 1,675 new confirmed or probable cases detected by contact tracers on the final weekend of 2021.

Public health officials say the actual number of infections in Hamilton is much higher because not everyone is getting a PCR test or reporting their case to public health. There is also a delay in testing and delivering testing results.

Experts have said the key metric to watch is the number of people in hospital since official case counts can’t capture the true magnitude of COVID-19’s Omicron variant.

Data from St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) show over 75 Hamiltonians were in local hospitals with COVID-19 as of Christmas Eve.

St. Joe’s is caring for 10 COVID patients and HHS is tending to 68 COVID patients. There are no more than eight people with the virus in both hospital networks’s intensive care units, according to the data.

Provincewide, there are 480 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 and 176 people are in intensive care units. 

Hamilton Public Health Services data shows how being unvaccinated against COVID-19 puts you at higher risk of hospitalization or death. (Hamilton Public Health Services)

The city’s case positivity rate is at 8.3 per cent — for context, local contact tracing is overwhelmed at about three per cent.

All this comes as the city tries to vaccinate as many people as possible with first doses, second doses and booster shots.

Booster shots vital in fight against Omicron: expert

Matthew Miller, an associate professor of infectious diseases and immunology at McMaster University, told CBC Hamilton while Omicron seems to lead to more mild symptoms, the general public may not understand what “mild illness” means.

“It doesn’t mean you’re walking around with sort of a minor sniffle, it basically means anything short of having to be hospitalized,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean you don’t feel really awful for a really long time … we don’t have a good grasp on [long-term effects] of people with Omicron.”

Miller adds that while two shots offer great protection against severe illness, people with only two doses are at much higher risk of getting infected by Omicron because it has more mutations that impact how antibodies bind. 

“What these third doses do is they really ramp up the amount of antibodies present in our blood and those antibodies, when present in high numbers, can protect us from ever being infected at all,” he said.

“When you get a third dose, those antibody levels rise really quickly [compared to the first and second dose].”

McMaster University assistant professor Matthew Miller says everyone should consider getting a booster shot against COVID-19. (McMaster University)

He also recommended people who already have COVID-19 should get a booster instead of relying on natural immunity.

“Studies are showing that vaccination of previously infected people gives really outstanding immunity. They make, sort of, a special class of antibodies that even people who are triply vaccinated don’t seem to make,” Miller said.

He said getting a booster will also stop people from spreading Omicron, which will prevent hospitalizations and ultimately end the wave of infections.

“What if you get in a car crash and hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID patients and can’t look after you? Those are the unintended consequences the average person doesn’t think of and that’s why it’s imperative we protect health-care capacity.”

Local doctor calls for booster walk-ins

Hamilton public health data shows as of Monday, there have already been 115,850 booster shots put into arms.

In comparison, there have been and 443,687 first doses administered since they’ve been available.

The city says 79.9 per cent of locals have the first shot and 75.1 per cent have the second dose.

A Hamilton public health worker prepares a vaccination. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Still, Dr. Jill Wiwcharuk, a member of Hamilton Social Medicine Response Team, said public health-led vaccine clinics aren’t as efficient as they should be.

In a video posted on Dec. 23, Wiwcharuk recalled responding to an urgent call for help at a vaccine clinic and only jabbing about 20 people in three-and-a-half hours.

“I had long periods of time with nothing to do, looking at all the empty chairs in this huge space,” she said.

She said the public should be “outraged” the province pays doctors up to $220 per hour to vaccinate people despite the “gross inefficiencies.”

She added while health-care workers are eager to vaccinate people and locals are eager to get vaccinated, bureaucracy is preventing clinics from being more efficient.

“Third doses are fast to give … we could be vaccinating many more times the numbers now if public health opened clinics to walk-ins for third doses,” Wiwcharuk said.

“Waiting on this … is simply unethical in my opinion, not to mention it once again leaves behind the most marginalized individuals in our communities who may not have reliable access to phones and computers for booked appointments.”

In response to comments from Wiwcharuk, Hamilton public health told CBC “that booked appointments rather than walk-ins are a more effective strategy during this phase of the local vaccine program.” 

Aisling Higgins, a city communications officer, said feedback is “encouraged and welcomed” from healthcare partners to ensure “improvements are continually made to the operations of vaccine clinics across Hamilton.” 

“We do encourage our community partners who are working with vulnerable populations to use the most effective strategy to provide COVID-19 vaccines to the individuals they are serving, in the vaccines clinics that they are operating,” she added. “That has been a key part of the success of reaching vulnerable populations.” 

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U of G to close public COVID-19 vaccine clinic due to high vaccination rates and availability – GuelphToday

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NEWS RELEASE
UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH
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The public COVID-19 vaccination clinic on the University of Guelph campus will close Jan. 21 due to high vaccination rates and greater vaccine availability within the Guelph community.

Since opening Jan. 4, about 9,000 people received vaccine doses at the campus clinic.

“I am delighted and inspired by the enthusiasm and spirit of collaboration that was displayed, once again, by our University and greater Guelph community,” said U of G president Dr. Charlotte Yates.

“People came together under tight time constraints and challenging circumstances to organize and operate our second successful campus vaccination clinic, with many of our faculty, staff and students volunteering their time and expertise. Vaccination is the best way to protect people from the most serious negative health effects of COVID-19, and I am so proud the University was able to help make a difference.”

Run in partnership with Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health and the Guelph Family Health Team, the clinic was established as part of a community-wide effort to boost vaccination rates and help stem the current pandemic wave.

Held in the W.F. Mitchell gym of the Athletics Centre, the clinic initially saw 1,200 vaccination appointments a day. That number had dwindled to fewer than 100 by late this week, said Christine Zulauf, catering manager with Hospitality Services.

She said the clinic attracted visitors from across the region.

“It’s been a really unique experience to play a role and help get all of these vaccines into the community,” said Zulauf. “Hopefully, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we won’t have to do it again. I’m glad the University was able to help out.”

About 55 volunteers, including staff, faculty and community members, helped direct clinic visitors into and out of the facility. They contributed almost 1,000 volunteer hours in all this month; on average, about 16 volunteers were on hand at the clinic each day.

Many of those volunteers had also helped with the first campus vaccination clinic held for almost five months in 2021. More than 80,000 vaccinations were administered during that earlier five-month clinic.

“It was really wonderful that so many volunteers came back to help us this time around,” said Zulauf.

COVID-19 vaccinations will continue to be offered to faculty, staff and students on campus through Student Health Services.

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'Very nice spring, very nice summer': Omicron will bring us closer to normal, experts say – National Post

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‘We need to lay out a strategy and a plan towards moving back toward something that is nearer normality’

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Anna Bershteyn says there are absolutely no guarantees, of course, but if asked to read the tea leaves, she sees “a very nice spring, a very nice summer, where people can let loose,” see others and not worry so much about COVID-19 .

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It’s just a hope, “but if I had to make a guess, I would say that what Omicron will probably give us is a period of respite,” said Bershteyn, an assistant professor in the department of population health at New York University Grossman School of Medicine. Immunity gained through vaccination, infection or a combination of the two, could move populations closer to controllable levels of COVID, she and other scientists said. The hope is that the virus “sort of vaccinates itself” — that a milder strain gives us immunity to a later, potentially more severe one.

While hospital and ICU numbers are rising nationally, Omicron infections may have peaked and the country could be on a downward slope, federal health officials said Friday.

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COVID is here to stay. SARS-CoV-2 will continue to live in the human population, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer said. While we must prepare for more potential unusual variants, “we do need to lay out a strategy and a plan towards moving back toward something that is nearer normality,” Tam said . In England, mandatory masking in public spaces and vaccine passports will be dropped beginning next week, while Spain is moving toward treating SARS-CoV-2 much like seasonal flu.

Many questions linger: It’s not clear how long immunity to Omicron will last, whether we could see a second wave, or whether infection with a milder stain will indeed provide immunity against whichever Greek letter-named version of SARS-CoV-2 comes next. The virus has already proven whip smart — scientists didn’t see heavily mutated Omicron coming — and it’s still evolving.

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“The big game changer is indeed the moment when nearly everybody will have had some sort of immunity,” Dr. Peter Juni, of Ontario’s COVID-19 science table  recently told a COVID research consortium . “I can’t guarantee endemicity relatively soon, but I can guarantee we can move much closer to endemicity after the Omicron wave.”

Here’s what we know about where we are now and where we need to go.

Rapid rise, rapid descent?

“Our modelling suggests that we are at the peak around now, with some provinces (Ontario and Quebec, which experienced Omicron earliest) just past the peak and others just behind it,” said Caroline Colijn, an associate professor of mathematics at Simon Fraser University and COVID-19 modeller.

In Ontario, the rate of hospitalizations and intensive care admissions is slowing. Restaurants and gyms will reopen starting Jan. 31, with all remaining restrictions to go by mid-March, Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday. British Columbia is seeing a slowing in transmission rate. “That’s partly the end of the holidays, but I think it partly is  a lot  of people have COVID right now,” said Colijn and that’s having a dampening effect. More people are isolating “or cancelling things if they hear five of their friends have COVID.” That, combined with a shorter course of infections, can drive a speedy decline, she said.

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Our modelling suggests that we are at the peak around now

But Canada might also have a more rounded peak, or double peaks, because of the timing with schools and universities reopening and the lifting of restrictions, Colijn said. “We may not see the very rapid decline that has been seen in South Africa, for example.”

Official case counts are almost irrelevant, with testing systems so overwhelmed. “But it’s important if the number of actual infections happening starts to go down quickly, because that’s going to decrease the burden on everybody — fewer people sick, fewer people in hospital, fewer workplace closures, fewer schools affected,” Colijn said.

Why not just get infected and get it over with?

Famed cardiologist and author Dr. Eric Topol isn’t thrilled with the “Omicron will ultimately find just about everybody,” messaging. “Let’s not invite an unpredictable virus that can cause long COVID,” or secondary attacks, where people who may not be particularly at risk of a bad infection themselves unwittingly pass the virus to someone who can wind up very sick,” Topol said, during a recent University of California, San Francisco Department of Medicine Grand Rounds Q&A. 

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In Australia, “COVID chasers” are hoping to time infections when it’s less inconvenient to isolate. Their thinking runs the lines of, “It’s going to happen anyway, I want to live my life, I’m sick of trying to avoid COVID and it’s likely to be mild in someone like me.”

It’s not a terribly brilliant idea, Topol, founder and director of Scripps Research Translational Institute, and other scientists said. Omicron can cause severe disease. It’s not uniformly mild. With hospitals grappling with shortages of staff and COVID-19 drugs, people who do end up in hospital risk ending up with less-than-optimal care, Juni said. And while it will take months before it’s known whether Omicron can cause long COVID, the phenomenon typically follows mild infections.

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  1. FILE PHOTO: A respiratory therapist and six nurses prone a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient inside the intensive care unit of Humber River Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada April 19, 2021.

    Dr. David Jacobs: Omicron has filled up my hospital, but the panic from the Delta wave is gone

  2. Despite some claims, the numbers do indicate that among the elderly, unvaccinated people are much more apt to be made badly sick by the virus.

    What hospitalization data really say about COVID-19 vaccines

  3. A new study found that vaccinated couples were no less likely to conceive than unvaccinated ones.

    No, COVID vaccines won’t make you infertile: study

Vaccines are still the best shot at making COVID manageable

The vaccines are still holding their own against severe disease with Omicron, and a third dose boosts immunity even higher. Still, demand for third doses appears to be slowing, and while Pfizer has said it should have a vaccine that targets Omicron specifically by March, Topol and others said what’s needed is a universal, “pan” coronavirus vaccine that would protect against all variants and make it harder for the virus to mutate its way around. Omicron proved that SARS-CoV-2 can take huge leaps in evolution, “and get all these mutations all in one jump,” Bershteyn said. “You really can’t place Omicron on the family tree of variants that we’ve seen before. It sort of came out of nowhere, and as far as I can tell there’s no biological rule that says that it couldn’t do this again  and  be very contagious and very deadly at the same time.”

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“The unvaccinated who do not have a boost to their immunity from vaccine are likely to become susceptible again to whatever variant comes next,” she said, and regulatory discussions should be happening now, including, would manufacturers have to do a full clinical trial of a new vaccine, or a small, short trial, looking at the antibody response? How long to monitor for safety? A vaccine against Omicron is three months away. If a more dangerous variant emerged, “we couldn’t wait three months. You’d have to completely lock down everything. It’s just not feasible.”

What’s the endgame?

“Waning immunity and the emergence of new variants will shape the long-term burden and dynamics of COVID-19,” Colijn and colleagues wrote in a pre-print.

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“If we can get another infection in a couple of months, that’s not a good thing for where this virus settles out,” Colijn said. “But if we’re well protected for a year, that’s pretty good news. And what that means is that (COVID) will decline to hopefully pretty low levels and stay at those levels.”

But endemic doesn’t mean “not a problem,” she said. “It just means that it’s stable — it’s not having this huge wave that goes through the population.”

Waning immunity and the emergence of new variants will shape the long-term burden and dynamics of COVID-19

She doesn’t think there’s pressure on the virus to get more severe. Transmission is where the virus is having “its reproductive opportunities. We have the high transmissibility without it carrying along a really high severity. So, hopefully, we don’t get the big, bad new variant,” Colijn said.

Hospitalizations will never be reduced to zero. “There are always going to be frail vulnerable people who succumb to this virus,” McMaster University infectious diseases specialist Dr. Martha Fulford said in an earlier interview. Once past this hump, and with more protection because of boosters, more immunity from infections and more effective treatments, a broader conversation will be needed about the risks posed by COVID and the risks that exist from locking down “forever and a day,” she said.

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Change to shorter isolation period part of managing COVID 19 in B.C.: top doctor – Vancouver Sun

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Dr. Bonnie Henry says unvaccinated adults who test positive are at risk of having longer-lasting and more severe illness and must isolate for 10 days but those who are vaccinated should isolate for five days.

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s top doctor says the current wave of COVID-19 is causing less severe illness and that calls for a shift to shorter periods of isolation in order to minimize societal disruptions.

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Dr. Bonnie Henry says unvaccinated adults who test positive are at risk of having longer-lasting and more severe illness and must isolate for 10 days but those who are vaccinated should isolate for five days.

She says children are at much lower risk of severe illness and are able to clear an infection faster, so five days’ isolation is also suitable for them, with mounting evidence showing they need to interact with others as part of their social development.

Henry says testing is not needed for most people who have symptoms and are likely to have a mild illness but those who are immunocompromised and over 70 could end up with more serious illness and likely need a test.

She says vaccination remains the best protection for everyone, especially for vulnerable groups, but anyone with symptoms should stay home until they feel better, the same as with other respiratory illnesses like the flu.

Henry says COVID-19 is far from being an endemic illness so restrictions that are in place are needed to prevent more hospitalizations, though those numbers have been declining.

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