Wastewater surveillance data published for more accurate COVID-19 case reporting

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Following the announcement of a COVID-19 outbreak at a hospital in the region, Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) reminds residents to stay up to date on their vaccinations to minimize the need for hospital visits, and announces changes in local COVID-19 reporting.

On October 14, Riverside Health Care in conjunction with the Northwestern Public Health Unit declared a COVID-19 Outbreak at La Verendrye General Hospital Inpatient Unit – First Floor.

La Verendrye General Hospital restricted general visitors for First Floor inpatients to one visitor or caregiver, with the exception of palliative patients who can have up to four visitors, two at a time. N95 masks are required by both staff and visitors in designated areas.

Shortly after, NWHU announces that the bivalent COVID-19 booster is only available for those aged 12 and up, but children aged 5 to 11 can still receive a booster dose of the original vaccine.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is still the best protection we have against the virus – I highly recommend that everyone stays up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations,” says Dr. Kit Young Hoon, Medical Officer of Health at NWHU.

“Anyone aged 65+, and those aged 18+ who are pregnant, immunocompromised, or identify as Indigenous should get their booster dose three months after their last dose or COVID-19 infection.”

In addition to COVID-19 vaccines, flu shot are also offered at most NWHU clinics. People can get both flu and COVID-19 vaccines from pharmacies, their health care provider, or by booking at the NWHU website.

“Preventing hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and influenza increases the likelihood there will be capacity to treat patients for other illnesses locally. Catching up on surgical waitlists is a priority for many local hospitals, and progress can be slowed when forced to shift time and resources to treat COVID-19 and influenza patients. As hospitals in our area face staffing and bed shortages, it is important that residents take steps to minimize the need for hospital visits due to vaccine preventable disease,” NWHU says in a media release.

As of October 12, COVID-19 local data reported that there has been a total of 16 outbreaks at hospitals in the area, and currently two hospital outbreaks that are still active.

COVID-19 local data reports 70 active cases in the region, with a percent positivity of 12.1%. Most of the active cases are in the Sioux Lookout area. Only one active case has been reported in Fort Frances. Although case numbers may not have increased drastically, the numbers only include individuals who have been PCR tested.

Beginning next week, NWHU will revise their local COVID-19 data reports to offer more meaningful information to the public. One major change will be the addition of wastewater surveillance data, rather than raw case numbers based on PCR testing which is only available to a small percentage of the people who have COVID-19.

“Wastewater surveillance is a way to test community wastewater for the presence of the COVID-19 virus. As fewer people get PCR tested for the virus, this data is a better indicator of COVID-19 rates and trends in our area,” says Dr. Young Hoon.

More information about local COVID-19 data or booking vaccines can be found at https://www2.nwhu.on.ca/