Local Special Education workers now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

By Natali Trivuncic
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Special education teachers are now eligible to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU), announced on Friday.

“The province has given direction that staff that work with special education students are eligible for vaccines, so we’ve got processes in place and they are now able to book an appointment at one of our mass immunization clinics.”

While this is good news for special education teachers, Young Hoon said the general staff of the education system will become eligible when the system opens up to those who cannot work remotely. This is estimated to start at about the beginning of June, Young Hoon said, adding that is it also highly dependent on vaccine supply.

The NWHU has administered 19,070 doses of the vaccine from their allotment.

Young Hoon said 84 per cent of people aged 80 and older in the region have now received at least their first dose, and 60 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 in our region have received at least their first dose. Thirty per cent of those aged 18 years and older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

This rate is very similar to the coverage rate of Ontario at this time.

With case numbers still on the rise, Premiere Doug Ford announced further lockdown restrictions for the province.

Young Hoon said the rapid increase in provincial cases will likely have an impact on hospital’s intensive care units with the possibility of patients being moved from other parts of Ontario to northern Ontario, which will impact the region’s healthcare system.

“For our catchment area, we are seeing that the case numbers are continuing so likely there will be some benefit on public health measures across our catchment area,” Young Hoon said.

Young Hoon said the NWHU is encouraging everyone to follow the stay-at-home order and follow public health recommendations so that case numbers in the region can decrease.

As of yesterday, there are 72 active cases in the region, six in the Dryden health hub, 18 in the Emo Health hub, one in the Fort Frances health hub, eight in the Kenora health hub, one in the Rainy River health hub and 38 in the Sioux Lookout health hub.

There are currently three people hospitalized for COVID-19.

Young Hoon said there is an elevated risk in the Emo area and that most of the cases are related to one incident.

Young Hoon said investigation are still ongoing concerning outbreaks in Emo, adding that the NWHU is avoiding putting out too much information due to privacy concerns.

“Linking outbreaks is always a tricky thing to do particularly in small communities and it does lead to privacy issues when we start identifying if there are links between outbreaks because then people can be identified,” Young Hoon said.

Another concern is the Sioux Lookout area, Young Hoon said, adding that cases are affecting multiple communities.

Young Hoon said the NWHU is aware of at least one variant of concern in the Sioux Lookout health hub.

“At this time, a lot of it is spread from household to household of what we can identify,” Young Hoon said. “There are still cases however, we cannot identify what the likely acquisition is. At this point it is very important particularly in the Sioux Lookout health hub that people are following the stay-at-home orders and the public health recommendations.”

The NWHU recommends that everyone, including those vaccinated, continue to physical distance, wear a mask in enclosed public spaces and when physical distancing is a challenge, practice good hand hygiene and isolate and get tested if you are experiencing symptoms or have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVD-19.