Four outbreaks of COVID-19 were active at Quinte Health Care’s hospitals in Belleville and Trenton as of Monday.
Four outbreaks of COVID-19 were active at Quinte Health Care’s hospitals in Belleville and Trenton as of Monday.
There were three outbreaks of COVID-19 at Belleville General Hospital plus one more at Trenton Memorial Hospital.
The latest was in Belleville’s Sills 3 rehabilitation unit, Quinte Health Care president and chief executive officer Stacey Daub told The Intelligencer.
Exact numbers were not immediately available, but the outbreaks involved at least 17 staff; the total number of patients affected remained unclear as of Monday’s deadline.
One Trenton patient tested positive but a second test’s result was negative. The positive test was included in the outbreak’s total number of cases, QHC spokesperson Carly Baxter wrote via e-mail.
Three patients on Sills 3 were in isolation but it wasn’t yet known where they had contracted the virus, she added. The investigation continued and it was not yet known if the cases were considered to be part of the outbreak, Baxter wrote.
Across QHC, 35 staff had tested positive for COVID-19 and were off work but most were unrelated to outbreaks, Daub said in a telephone interview. She added there were more symptomatic staff off work, but the number was not available.
“Our outbreaks right now are all … from community transmission,” Daub said.
“I truly feel a lot of the outbreaks are related to surveillance swabbing.”
She said such testing of personnel was likely “picking up people who have had COVID or currently have COVID – Omicron (variant) – but with no symptoms.”
There were more than 1,000 cases active in Hastings and Prince Edward Counties as of Friday, the last date on which local public health statistics were released.
The first outbreak in months was announced Friday and affected Belleville Genera’s emergency department. As of Monday it involved four staff cases and no patients, she said.
Staff on Sunday announced via the QHC website two more outbreaks involving seven staff at Belleville General’s Quinte 7 maternal-child care unit and two more in Trenton Memorial Hospital’s inpatient unit. Each outbreak had been declared that day.
For an outbreak to be declared, at least two cases – either patients or staff – must be recorded in a given work area within 14 days, with a reasonable possibility that at least one case was acquired in the hospital.
While some of the Quinte 7 cases “can be traced back to community exposure, some of the positive staff members worked together on recent shifts. This constitutes an outbreak,” the website states.
“Contact tracing is underway. Staff and physicians on the unit are being tested for COVID-19 for surveillance reasons.
“Patients who were on the unit during dates of potential exposure are being contacted and advised to monitor for symptoms, self-isolate if unvaccinated, limit contacts if vaccinated, and seek testing if symptoms develop (if eligible),” the statement reads.
“Care partners on Quinte 7 will continue to be COVID swabbed every 48 hours, and patients will continue to be COVID swabbed on admission.” The corporation does not currently allow patients to have social visitors but does permit care partners – loved ones designated by patients who provide key support and advocacy for them.
Trenton’s inpatient unit is now an exception to that rule. No care partners are being permitted unless a patient is receiving end-of-life care.
Both workers who tested positive “had outside exposure to community cases, however one patient also tested positive during surveillance swabbing so this is deemed an outbreak,” the website states.
In addition to contact tracing, patients, staff and doctors are being tested for surveillance reasons, it adds.
An outbreak of COVID-19 was also declared Dec. 30 in BGH’s emergency unit. That outbreak is also limited to staff and all are self-isolating at home.
“We wish them a fast and full recovery,” the website adds.
“The Belleville General Hospital emergency department is still a safe place to visit,” it states.
“Please do not delay seeking the emergency care you require.”
Daub said those coming to emergency departments should be prepared for long waits given the number of patients now being seen there. She encouraged those who did not need actual emergency care to consider getting care elsewhere. Options include as from a primary-care provider (i.e. family doctor or nurse practitioner), walk-in clinics, calling Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000. The Ontario Virtual Care Clinic, however, closed Dec. 8, citing “the high volume of primary care providers now offering safe, in-person office visits or virtual care alternatives” at the time.
As of Jan. 21, P.E.I. had the highest reported rate of COVID-19 cases, with 1,050 per 100,000 people, of any province in Canada over the last seven days.
Only one jurisdiction, the Northwest Territories, surpassed the province’s rate of cases over the last week, with 2,024 cases per 100,000 people. The next closest province to P.E.I. was Alberta with 759 cases per 100,000.
But Susan Kirkland, head of Dalhousie University’s department of community health and epidemiology, said daily case counts and case rates do not capture the whole story.
“There does become a point where following cases – it collapses.”
Susan Kirkland, Dalhousie University Department of community health and epidemiology
Kirkland says it is now clear that community spread of COVID-19 is widespread in Atlantic Canada, including in provinces like P.E.I., where testing of incoming travellers had previously helped contain spread of the virus.
Kirkland said differences in testing criteria, as well as differing reporting details mean comparing case rates between provinces is becoming less and less useful.
While P.E.I. still allows PCR-RT testing for anyone with symptoms, Nova Scotia has limited PCR testing to specific vulnerable populations that are symptomatic. Rapid antigen tests are provided to the general population that is symptomatic.
In many provinces, daily positive case counts are not capturing the full number of people who have contracted the virus. New Brunswick has also stopped reporting daily case counts in COVID-19 briefings because of this, although the information is still available on the province’s website.
Kirkland said other indicators like hospitalization rates and test positivity are better indicators of how well a province like P.E.I. is faring amid the Omicron wave.
“Ultimately, what we are trying to do is stop the health-care system from (collapsing),” Kirkland said.
P.E.I.’s most recent test positivity rate was 20.7 per cent – significantly higher than all three other Atlantic provinces. There have been 19 hospitalizations since the first Omicron case was announced on Dec. 14.
After weeks of escalating case counts, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King imposed tighter public health restrictions on Jan. 19, closing gyms and in-room dining in restaurants.
Since Jan. 18, the P.E.I. government has stopped recording daily counts of outbreaks associated with long-term care homes, shelters, the provincial correctional centre and other congregate settings.
While the lack of daily reporting has occurred in conjunction with continuing escalating case counts, P.E.I. may not be the only province to have made a decision to report less information about outbreaks.
Nova Scotia is continuing to report daily positive cases associated with long-term care outbreaks, but the province has recently decided to not report school outbreak numbers.
As an epidemiologist, Kirkland said she was not sure what she thought of public health offices restricting reporting on outbreak case counts.
She said Atlantic Canadians have become used to COVID-19 being contained. This has made it difficult for public health offices to communicate that overall containment of the virus is less feasible, due to the higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant.
“I think that what public health is now doing is trying to turn the corner to say, ‘we have to start to learn how to live with COVID,’ ” Kirkland said.
“We have to deal with the things that we know will reduce risks – we have to wear masks. We have to improve ventilation where we can. We have to limit social contacts in areas where we can,” she said.
But Kirkland also believes governments are faced with the challenges of prioritizing a safe reopening of schools.
“Very often people will say, ‘why is it safe for kids to be in school but we need to close restaurants,’ ” she said.
“That’s not the point. The point is that the priority is to keep kids in school. So, we have to do these other things in the community so that kids can stay in school. Because that’s what we think is the most important.”
Less than half of Canadian children ages five to 11 have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, but Canadian experts say now may not be the time to start mandating them for students attending school in person.
In December, Windsor’s city council endorsed a recommendation from its health unit that all elementary school students be vaccinated before returning to school.
Meanwhile, in the United States, New York City now requires students to be vaccinated before taking part in extracurricular activities. California, which already has strict vaccine requirements for students, is mulling the addition of the COVID-19 vaccine to that list.
“For provinces that don’t have vaccine mandate policies, to start a conversation about vaccine mandates at a time where emotions are very heightened around vaccination is a risky endeavour,” said public health researcher Devon Greyson.
Greyson, an assistant professor of health communication at the University of British Columbia, has studied the efficacy of childhood vaccine mandates. They found that while uptake does increase, the boost can’t be solely attributed to mandates. Better communication, access and reporting systems also played a role.
In fact, in some jurisdictions, mandates did more harm than good by pushing some people away from vaccination, Greyson says.
“I recommend first really trying to build confidence in the population and make it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated before considering a policy that has potentially negative consequences on children or parents,” they said.
No provincial or territorial governments have announced plans for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in schools, but jurisdictions such as Ontario and New Brunswick already require vaccinations for certain preventable diseases in students entering the public school system.
Legislation to strengthen mandatory-vaccination rules for N.B. schoolchildren was proposed in 2020, but was defeated. “There are varied opinions, and very strong opinions,” Premier Blaine Higgs, who voted in favour of the change, said earlier this month on CBC’s Power & Politics.
Dr. Cora Constantinescu, a pediatric infectious diseases expert who counsels vaccine-hesitant parents, says that with lower vaccine uptake among five- to 11-year-olds — and children returning to classrooms — there’s an urgency get them vaccinated as soon as possible. But she stopped short of calling for a mandate.
While Constantinescu believes that a vaccine mandate could be effective she pointed out some children risk being kept out of the classroom as a result of such a policy.
Only about five per cent of children ages five to 11 have been fully vaccinated, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed concern over the low vaccination rate on Wednesday, saying that it puts society’s most vulnerable people at greater risk.
In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the COVID-19 vaccine would be added to the list of vaccinations required for students to attend school in-person. The policy will be enforced after the federal government approves the vaccines, and the state will grant exemptions for medical reasons, plus religious and personal beliefs.
Some school districts have already enacted mandates in the state.
Young children are particularly good at spreading respiratory illnesses — and that’s likely the case for COVID-19 as well, according to Annette Reagan, adjunct assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health in California.
She says that justifies the addition of COVID-19 vaccines to existing mandates.
“Increasing vaccination rates and stopping transmission in younger children is a good thing for our community, but it comes with the mandates,” said Reagan, noting that such policies limit parental autonomy.
The reasons behind low uptake among the pediatric group in Canada are varied, according to Greyson, but might be explained by timing and limited access to clinics.
Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine was approved by Health Canada for the five to 11 cohort in late November — just weeks before the holidays when non-emergency medical appointments tend to slow down.
Pediatric vaccine doses may also be less widely accessible compared to adult doses, said Constantinescu, making it more difficult for parents to get their kids immunized.
“The low-hanging fruit of vaccine uptake is always access,” said Constantinescu. “We have not made this as easily accessible as we could have.”
Constantinescu believes, however, that the narrative children experience more “mild” illness when they contract COVID-19 is a key factor behind the low vaccination rate — a message that parents should reconsider.
“We pray and hope that it’s just going to be a mild illness in most kids. That would be fantastic and I sure hope that, but we don’t know,” she said.
“What we do know is that the vaccine is safe and we have enough supply.”
Perhaps the most significant risk that comes with vaccine mandates, however, is the potential for children with vaccine-hesitant parents to miss out on in-person learning.
Constantinescu argues that some children may not get the protection provided by vaccination or the benefits of learning in person.
With new evidence that negative side effects, such as myocarditis, are rare in the five to 11 bracket, she says now is the time to “shout from the rooftops” that vaccinating against COVID-19 is safe.
“This is the top vaccine-preventable threat to our children and we have a safe vaccine,” she said.
“We need to tell parents this is about protecting your child, first and foremost. It’s not about saving the pandemic, it’s not about saving the world.”
“This is because it’s in the best interest of your child.”
Written by Jason Vermes with files from Ashley Fraser, CBC News and The Associated Press.
In a news release Saturday afternoon, health officials in Nova Scotia said 82 people were admitted to hospital and are receiving specialized care in a COVID-19 designated unit. 11 people were reported to be in intensive care.
According to the province, the age range of those in hospital is 23-100 years old, and the average age is 67.
Of the 82 people receiving specialized care for COVID-19 in hospital, 79 were admitted during the Omicron wave.
There are also two other groups of people in hospital related to COVID-19:
The number of COVID-19 admits and discharges to hospital was not available Saturday.
On Jan. 21, the Nova Scotia Health Authority labs completed 3,682 tests.
According to a news release, an additional 502 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 are being reported.
Of the new cases; 219 are in the Central Zone, 88 are in the Eastern Zone, 59 are in the Northern Zone and 136 new cases are in the Western Zone.
Nova Scotia remains under a state of emergency. Provincial officials first declared a state of emergency on March 22, 2020 and it has now been extended to February 6, 2022.
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