Haldimand Norfolk’s medical office of health said Monday he is hopeful that, as the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be rolled out, there will be a relaxation of public health measures at some point.
“We remain concerned about COVID-19 and the challenges associated with variants of concern,” Dr. Shanker Nesathurai told reporters in his weekly media briefing. “The variants of concern are more likely to infect more people, and younger people as well. As you know, the number of cases has stressed the human resources envelope at the health unit.”
The medical officer of health said that while he’s always happy when the case counts are lower – currently averaging 20 cases per day over the past two weeks – the current case count “is still unsatisfactory and we have to work to advance containment.”
Nesathurai said there is a new process by which the health unit will now disclose outbreaks at workplaces rather than giving companies/operations autonomy to do so.
“Our first goal is to minimize the consequences of COVID-19 to the people that might work at that commercial enterprise, institution, or retirement home,” he said. “We want the community to know about outbreaks.”
Nesathurai said the use of the word outbreak is a signal that it requires more attention on the part of the public health service, and perhaps more resources from the community.
“In this health district there are more migrant farm workers per 1,000 community residents than any other district in the province,” he noted. “The burden of COVID-19 as it relates to people who reside on farms is greater than other health districts.”
The medical officer of health estimated there are 600 communal residences where people share bathrooms and kitchens.
“Despite the fact we’ve had about 28 farm outbreaks (in 2021), we’ve been able to minimize the spread to the migrant farm workers on the farm, and to others,” he said. “I remain hopeful we won’t have any large outbreaks and deaths among this community.”
Currently there are seven active outbreaks in the agriculture sector, and while some workers have been assessed in hospital, none have been admitted this year.
Meantime Sarah Page, the vaccination task force lead, said Haldimand Norfolk would mark 40,000 doses administered by the end of the day Monday, including 4,000 given at local physicians’ offices and about 13,000 at Norfolk General Hospital.
“The eligibility did expand greatly today to (age) 50 and over,” Page said, noting that all essential workers in Group 1 can now book appointments on either the provincial website or the local online system.
Group 1 essential workers include educators, custodial, bus and administration staff in school systems; critical event responders including police, fire, special constables. Children’s Aid, emergency management, and infrastructure restoration.
Also in Group 1 are enforcement, compliance and inspection officials including by-law, building, food, animal welfare, border and labour inspectors, along with WSIB field workers.
Foster care agency workers, in-home foster care providers; food manufacturing and distribution workers including truck drivers delivering food; agriculture and farm workers; funeral, crematorium and cemetery workers are also now eligible to receive the vaccine.
While a provincial target is to have those over the age of 18 vaccinated by the end of May, Norfolk’s Paramedic Service chief said eligibility for that age group would open up May 24 to 25.
“We will not have capacity to complete all those first doses by the end of May,” Page observed. “We are projecting that our first doses will go well into the summer.”
Nesathurai added “as we get additional supply, we’ll do everything in our power to roll that out as quickly as possible.”