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Arra: Too soon to be sounding alarm about Omicron

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GREY-BRUCE – Dr. Ian Arra, Grey-Bruce medical officer of health (MOH), said in an interview Tuesday, Nov. 30, that it’s too soon to be getting excited about the new Omicron variant that’s been hitting the headlines.

“We don’t have much information about it,” Arra said, noting that while the variant appears to have the potential for increased transmission and “vaccine escape,” it will take a couple of weeks to understand more about it. He added that even if the variant does prove to be more easily transmitted than other forms of the virus, and current vaccines are less effective in prevention, “we have a robust set of tools” to use against it.

The virus was fought quite effectively before vaccines were available, the MOH said. Measures such as mask-wearing and distancing worked before vaccines, and they work now.

“There is no benefit in getting excited,” he said, noting that just as a spike in the number of cases for two or three days cannot be viewed as a trend, neither can the presence of a new variant of the virus be seen as reason for alarm. “It is concerning but not a cause for panic,” he said.

While there have been some days recently where the number of new cases of COVID-19 was up, Arra said that Monday and Tuesday of this week saw only three new cases in the previous 24 hours. He does not consider it a trend unless a week goes by with increased numbers. He explained that because the number of people in Grey-Bruce is so low compared to other areas, even a small increase in numbers is important. “But is it significant?” he asked.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Arra said. “In Grey-Bruce, the numbers are as good as it gets for the fourth wave. There are no outbreaks in long-term care, in daycare, in workplaces.”

He added, “It is a privilege to work in an area where there is such a strong commitment… to reduce the risk for all of us.

“My advice is for people to be vigilant,” Arra said, especially during the holidays.

A person who is unvaccinated should invest 10 to 15 minutes a day for a few days to get informed (from valid sources, such as the public health unit’s website) about the vaccine and COVID-19, and make the decision on vaccination accordingly, for the protection of the person’s family and community.

During the holidays, anyone who is unvaccinated and visiting others would be advised to mask and distance.

Arra said the people of Grey-Bruce have “invested considerable effort” in taking precautions against COVID-19, and were able to enjoy Halloween “with no impact.” He expressed the sincere hope that the people of Grey-Bruce will be able to safely enjoy Christmas and the holidays.

Outbreak at school

The Grey Bruce Health Unit is working with Bluewater District School Board to address an outbreak of COVID-19 at Holland Chatsworth Central School.

There have been several instances of COVID in schools this fall. However, this is the first one to be considered an outbreak, meaning there is evidence of transmission within the school environment. Two confirmed cases have been identified.

Any involved bus routes are considered low-risk. Anyone at risk has been contacted and four cohorts identified as contacts are presently excluded from the school.

The MOH said that there are presently seven people at the school who have tested positive for COVID-19, but transmission in most cases has proved to have taken place outside the school, for example, between family members at home. The outbreak involves only the two cases.

The health unit states that this outbreak highlights the need for everyone who’s eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

That now includes children who turn five years old this year, and older. The health unit will be hosting vaccination clinics at arenas, community centres and schools (during non-school hours) on a regular basis. Some clinics are designed for children aged five to 11. These can be found on the health unit’s vaccine schedule. Appointments are needed for children in this age group; these cannot be booked through the health unit.

For children aged five to 11, COVID-19 vaccines should be booked through the provincial vaccination portal or by calling 1-833-943-3900. The COVID-19 vaccine should be given at least 14 days before or after other vaccines. Second doses must be booked separately at least eight weeks after the first dose. People aged 12 and over do not need an appointment. In addition, primary care providers and pharmacies may be offering COVID-19 vaccines for children and youth.

On Saturday, Nov. 27, eight new cases were reported. That was down to three new cases on Nov. 28. There are 47 active cases and 390 active high-risk contacts. Two people are hospitalized with COVID in Grey-Bruce.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times

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