NWHU supports students going back to school

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

The Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) fully supports the provincial decision to return to in-person classes. 

Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the NWHU, said the benefits of increased learning far outweigh the risks at a population level.

“Although the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, the risk of serious illness and hospitalization is not high in our school aged population,” Young Hoon said. “I recognize that this shift in the pandemic response can be difficult for parents to adjust to and I’d like to explain why some of the changes have taken place.”

She added that because the Omicron variant is more transmissible and transmits faster than previous periods, the healthcare system does not have the resources to test or contact trace everybody.

“Contact tracing is also less effective when a virus transmits very quickly,” she said. “To reduce hospitalizations and deaths, it is necessary to focus efforts on high risk settings.”

Schools have not been a high risk setting for transmission of COVID-19, Young Hoon said, adding that most cases of the overcrowded area to children tend to be mild illness or do not require hospitalization.

“Some groups still have a higher risk for more severe illness including people who are unvaccinated, older individuals and those who are immunocompromised,” she added. “Public health is focusing contact tracing efforts on high risk settings like long term care homes, and people who work in health care settings.”

Daily case numbers do not reflect the spread of COVID-19 within a community or the region, Young Hoon said, adding that the percent positivity rate for Jan. 10 to Jan.16 was 16.9 per cent, which is a slight reduction from 17.7 per cent to the week before.

“The cases reported are only those who are eligible for PCR testing are mostly those who live or work in higher risk settings,” Young Hoon said. “There are currently three Northwestern Health Unit region residents hospitalized due to COVID-19. Two of those are being hospitalized in our local hospitals.”

Young Hoon also reported that 53 per cent of children aged five to 11 in our region have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. She stressed that the vaccine is considered safe and effective and protects children from getting and spreading COVID-19.

“Our vaccine clinics are continuing,” Young Hoon said. “And I encourage parents to make an appointment with us if you’d like to get your child vaccinated. Those children who have had their first dose at the beginning of the vaccine rollout should look into making an appointment for their children’s second dose if they haven’t already.”

Young Hoon said she would like to remind the public that a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine provides protection against infection and not only against severe outcomes of infection.

“A booster dose helps prevent you from getting sick, which means you’re less likely to have to miss work and other activities,” she added. “Anyone who is eligible for a dose should book an appointment to keep themselves or their loved one safe.”