While there are 1,111 confirmed active cases of COVID-19 in the Peterborough area, the number of active cases in region is significantly much higher according to the medical officer of health.
During a Peterborough Public Health media briefing held Thursday (January 6), Dr. Thomas Piggott said that, due to the provincially mandated restrictions on PCR testing, “We know these current case numbers are a significant underestimation of transmission in our community.”
“Prior to the changes in the testing criteria, the modelling estimates we saw provincially showed potentially we were underreporting by a factor of eight. So there are eight times more cases.”
“Now that we’re testing a more narrow range of people, the active cases we’re reporting are an enormous underestimate,” Dr. Piggott added. “I would assume that the (actual) number could be in excess of 10,000, but we don’t know for certain.”
Dr. Piggott said that, with the omicron variant, “It’s like a whole new pandemic.”
“There is lots of concern and uncertainty with what’s happening, but there’s reason for hope,” he added. “I really feel we’re at the darkest part of the night before the dawn that is coming.”
While Dr. Piggott’s optimism is music to the ears of the pandemic-fatigued, the current picture isn’t a rosy one. Along with aforementioned 1,111 active cases confirmed — an increase of 141 on Wednesday alone — the COVID-related death of a man in his 80s who was double vaccinated is being reported. There have now been 30 deaths in the region from the virus since the pandemic began.
Outbreaks have risen dramatically as well, with nine on the go at the present — the most recent being declared Wednesday at a congregate living facility. Previously declared and still active outbreaks are being monitored at Rubidge Retirement Residence, St. Joseph’s at Fleming, Fairhaven Long-term Care, Extendicare Lakefield, Riverview Manor, Peterborough Regional Health Centre (PRHC), and two other congregate living facilities. PRHC, meanwhile, had 17 hospitalized COVID patients as of Thursday morning.
“The increases in hospitalizations that we’re seeing provincially and locally are deeply concerning,” said Dr. Piggott. “The coming weeks will be really telling. I hope it (COVID-19) won’t overwhelm our health care system. As much as I see hope on the other side, we’re still on this side of it at this point.”
“We will eventually get there (to the endemic stage) but we’re not there yet. We know this pandemic has taken an incredible toll. We know we need to get back to society functioning and ensure that there isn’t a continued disruption of the social fabric of our society and of our economy. We need to be very vigilant and careful in the face of omicron.”
Dr. Piggott points to local vaccination numbers as a central reason for any optimism we can muster at present.
“It’s really exciting to see that 45 per cent of local children aged 5 to 11 have received their first dose,” he said, noting more than 1,000 additional appointments for those in that age group have been opened up and available as soon as this coming weekend.
With no walk-ins being taken, parents and guardians must book a vaccination appointment. Visit www.peterboroughpublichealth.ca/clinics for a listing of locations and times of clinics.
To date, 41.6 per cent of eligible local residents aged 18 and up have received a third booster shot. 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. Some local pharmacies are also offering booster shots.
As of late Wednesday afternoon, 85.2 per cent of eligible residents aged five and up have received one dose while 80 per cent have received two doses. Dr. Piggott says those looking for a first or second shot can walk in to a clinic with no appointment.
“If you haven’t come forward yet (for vaccination), there’s no time that’s too late,” he said.
Dr. Piggott also spoke at length on “how we can get through” the next few weeks.
“The January blues were a thing before COVID,” he reminded. “This is going to be a very difficult month for some. I encourage you keep your connections to friends and family as much as you can — a phone call, a virtual visit, an outdoor visit. And look for signs that people aren’t coping well. If you need it, seek help.”
Also participating in the media briefing were Peterborough mayor Diane Therrien, Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith, and Selwyn mayor and Board of Health chair Andy Mitchell.
Mitchell admitted to never having “felt so frustrated and discouraged” as he feels now. That said, he stressed the need to persevere via vaccinations and continued adherence to measures such as masking, social distancing and isolating when feeling ill.
“Our mission is clear: keep people safe,” he said. “First by ensuring our health care system can care for the ill and keep the vulnerable protected, and second, ensure our essential services have the staff necessary to continue protecting us. We need to be focused. There will be lots of time later to discuss the what-ifs, and debate long-term solutions to structural challenges and determine processes that lead to good evidence-based decisions. But not today. For now, our mission is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible with as many doses as possible.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Therrien confirmed that while city services haven’t been adversely affected to date as a result of COVID-related staff absences, she is aware that has been the case in other municipalities.
Jodi DeNoble, the city’s manager of emergency management, insurance, and risk management, said there is a corporate business continuity plan in place, part of which involves regular review of the current status of each department in terms of COVID’s impact on staffing numbers.
“So far we’ve been able to manage,” DeNoble explained. “We’re not in the critical stage that some of our municipal colleagues are finding themselves in, but we are seeing absences. When and if need be, we will make adjustments to service levels.”