Omicron variant presence increased in Ontario

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

The Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) is urging residents to continue following public health measures, especially now that the Omicron variant is being detected in northern Ontario.

Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health for the NWHU, said residents should not let their guards down especially as the holidays approach and gatherings increase. She added that a holiday safety fact sheet has been posted to the health unit’s website to help the public make safer plans.

“I highly encourage parents who want their children vaccinated to book an appointment before spots fill up,” Young Hoon said. “In our larger communities. We have appointments available throughout the holiday break.”

So far, 17 per cent of children aged five to 11 in our region received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, said Young Hoon, adding that the health unit had about 1,000 booking for the COVID-19 vaccine for children or for a booster shot.

Beginning Dec. 13, those aged 50 and older can book an appointment to receive a booster as long as the appointment is at least 168 days after their second dose, Young Hoon said.

“While cases are increasing in some areas of Canada, COVID-19 infection rates, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and mortality continue to be highest among those who are unvaccinated,” Young Hoon said.

Young Hoon said information about the Omicron variant is still emerging and that she is still waiting for more information. However, they have determined that it has a high rate of transmissibility.

“I think within our current situation with people following some public health measures, it does appear that case and contact management is an effective tool at controlling spread and preventing wide spread,” Young Hoon said. “What we’re seeing is that people are making an effort to follow the rules, so they self-isolate if they get sick and they get tested.”

As far as province-wide restrictions go, Young Hoon said should it be required, she believes the strategy will be locally implemented restrictions.

This is because overall cases in the province are increasing but very slowly, Young Hoon said.

“But it varies significantly across the province,” she added. “Some areas are seeing significant increases while other areas are remaining low. You’ve seen that a number of northern health units have all implemented local restrictions such as reductions in capacity and gathering limits.”

This is something that could be considered in our jurisdiction if the case numbers were significantly increasing, Young Hoon adds.

Young Hoon said there is not a specific number of cases after which the health unit will look at imposing restrictions. But she said the general rule is once you start getting above 60 to 100 per 100,000 population per week, it is important to start considering implementing those types of restrictions.

“Our population number is relatively small when you start talking about cases per 100,000 population per week. For some communities, 10 cases could put you to a sky high level. We do look at some of the qualitative information as well. We also look at percentages of positivity, and also the rates of hospitalization and the impact on the health care system.”