The COVID-19 omicron variant has arrived in the Peterborough area, with two confirmed cases being reported by Peterborough Public Health.
During a health unit briefing held Tuesday (December 14), medical officer of health Dr. Thomas Piggott said the two omicron cases aren’t linked to one another, but one is linked to another known omicron case.
“My advice to the public is behave as though omicron is here and is spreading in the community — I do anticipate we will see many more cases in the coming days,” said Dr. Piggott, adding “This is something we are keeping a close eye on but remain extremely concerned by.”
“We’ve always said that COVID-19 is ever changing and the past couple of weeks have once again reminded us of that. This is something we knew was coming, so it’s not surprising. Omicron has become the dominant strain in Ontario.”
“We know that it is so transmissible that up to eight times as many people may be infected as compared to the previous strains. There is lots of conversation as to whether omicron is less severe than previous strains. It is too early to know for sure, because severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths tend to lag behind and tend to affect more vulnerable populations.”
“Even if omicron ends up being half as severe as other strains, it could still have four times the burden of any previous wave on our public health and heath care systems.”
Now more than ever, said Dr. Piggott, vaccination “remains our most important tool,” adding a third dose booster show “is very effective against omicron.”
“We are pivoting and we are focusing all of the effort that we can mobilize to scale up our vaccine clinic capacity and vaccinate as many people with third dose boosters as we can,” said Dr. Piggott.
“I have told our team, and given our community an ambitious target, of a five-fold increase in the number of vaccinations over the coming weeks compared to what we were originally planning. Today we are launching 5,500 additional appointments. If you’ve been trying to get an appointment for your third dose booster and have not been able to, please keep checking back.”
“We are redeploying all of the (public health) staff that we can to aid in this effort but we’re also turning to the community and seeking help from volunteers as well as people that can serve as vaccinators. This an all hands on deck effort.”
If you’re interested in volunteering at a mass immunization clinic, you can apply online.
To date, 7.9 per cent of eligible residents aged 18 and up have rolled up their sleeve for a third time. That number jumps to 23.2 per cent for the more vulnerable aged 70 and up age group. Those seeking a third shot can book an appointment online at covid19.ontariohealth.ca or by phone at 1-833-943-3900. Walk-ins will not be accommodated.
In addition, yesterday Dr. Piggott issued two enforceable letters of instruction for enhanced public health measures — one covering workplaces and the other for food premises — in a bid to slow down the expected continued rise in new cases due to the emergence of the omicron variant.
Effective Wednesday (December 15), local workplaces are required to shift all non-essential employees to remote work arrangements, except where an onsite presence is required. Essential staff that must remain on site must keep two metres’ physical distance from one another and stagger lunch times to avoid crowded eating areas. If a workspace does not allow for physical distancing, workers must wear tightly fitting masks.
Also effective Wednesday, food premises must ensure the following:
- That the maximum number of patrons seated at each table does not exceed 10 people.
- That patrons seated at separate tables are distanced by at least two metres or separated by an impermeable barrier.
- That patrons to consume food and/or beverages only while seated.
- The modification of buffet-style food service to permit only one table at the buffet at a time and ensure patrons wear masks at all times when accessing the buffet.
- That all serving staff are provided with, and wear, appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when in close proximity to patrons.
- That patrons be directed to wear tightly fitting face masks when they are not actively eating or drinking.
More details concerning both letters of instruction can be found on the Peterborough Public Health website at peterboroughpublichealth.ca/public-health-orders/
“While we continue to focus on vaccination, we are also strengthening local public health measures,” said Dr. Piggott. “The time to get off the train tracks is when we see the train approaching, not after it has hit us.”
Asked how worried he is about what we may see locally post-holiday season, Dr. Piggott said “It’s my job to lose sleep and I think the current situation is deeply concerning, but it’s also my job and our job in public health to try and get out in front of this.”
“The most important protection we have is vaccination. You should not be gathering with individuals who have not been vaccinated. We know the risk (of transmission) is even more significant with omicron.”
Dr. Piggott added that if you have symptoms (even mild), stay home, noting even those double vaccinated can carry the virus.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 49 active cases in the region with 238 close contacts of cases being monitored. To date this week, 10 new local cases have been detected. This follows a week that saw 41 new cases emerge. While encouraging on the surface, it is early in the week and it’s expected the number of new local cases will rise.
Meanwhile, the total number of local COVID-related deaths reported has risen to 27 as result of three deaths reported since December 6, the latest being that of an unvaccinated male in his 40s.
The vaccination picture continues to show modest increases across the board.
Vaccination numbers will be updated this Thursday morning but, as of December 8, 82.8 per cent of eligible residents aged five and up have received one dose while 79.1 per cent have received two doses.
Meanwhile, first dose vaccination of local children aged five to 11 has seen an uptake of 19.5 per cent. With no walk-ins being taken, parents and guardians must book a vaccination appointment. Visit peterboroughpublichealth.ca/clinics for a listing of locations and times of clinics.