It's not 'normal' yet: York Region's top doc provides latest info on pandemic
At least half of Ontarians have had COVID, but it's not over yet, Dr. Barry Pakes says
April 29, 2022
COVID-19 is far from normal, still very much a pandemic and not an endemic, says York Region’s medical officer of health.
Those were words of caution from Dr. Barry Pakes in his regular update to regional council April 28.
Pakes predicted that masking in transit, health care and long-term-care settings will likely remain in place past the province’s end date of June 11 as Ontario public health experts brace for an increase in COVID and other respiratory illnesses come fall.
More key points from his update:
CASE COUNTS MAY HAVE CRESTED
Wastewater data shows case numbers are elevated in York Region, but never rose to the levels of the first Omicron wave as they did in other areas of Ontario, Pakes said.
In some regions of the province, particularly the north, cases continue to increase, “but in York Region, I believe we're in a good place," he said.
It's estimated that 50 per cent, or seven million Ontarians, have had COVID, most during the Omicron wave beginning earlier this year.
“That is considerably lower than many other jurisdictions in the world and that's thanks to our efforts collectively,” Pakes said.
OMICRON BA.2 DOMINATES
Virtually all cases of COVID-19 in York Region are of the Omicron BA.2 subvariant.
“As far as we know there's no BA.4, BA.5 variant, which have been found in some other parts of the world,” Pakes said.
A unique COVID-19 variant, 2.2.0, found elsewhere in Ontario, has not appeared in York, he said, and so far there are no concerns about this variant in terms of vaccine escape or being more severe than others.
There has been a slow increase in hospital-admitted and intensive care unit cases over the past several weeks in York and across Ontario.
Since the mask mandate was removed in late March, Pakes said, that number has risen from about 500 hospital in-patients to almost 1,800 in Ontario.
Hospitals have capacity to meet this need, he said, but it would be better if that capacity were dedicated to those who need regular hospital services.
“In fact, hospitals are finding ... very sick people are coming in who may not have had care for some time.”
VACCINATION BOOSTERS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
About 53 per cent of York Region residents have had their third vaccine dose, with much higher percentages among those who need it most, people over age 60.
That’s encouraging, Pakes said, but everyone over age 12 is eligible for a third dose and is encouraged to get theirs.
For those who have had all three doses, Pakes said it’s important to know their immunity diminishes over time.
A fourth dose is strongly recommended for those with weakened immunity or over age 60, three months after the third dose, he said.
UNVACCINATED PEOPLE PRESENT A RISK TO ALL
A recently released Canadian Medical Association Journal article presented proof that those who remain unvaccinated, even if a small proportion of the population, still pose a threat to overall health and to those who have received vaccines, he said.
“The unvaccinated disproportionately contribute to the burden of COVID in the community ... and there have been calls to reinstitute vaccine mandates, but certainly that's not something under active consideration.”
SPECIAL THANK YOU
As the region officially lifted the first-ever state of emergency this week, Georgina regional councillor Rob Grossi suggested former medical officer of health Dr. Karim Kurji be given recognition for his part in the crisis.
Pakes took over from Kurji, who led the region’s COVID-19 response during the first 18 months of the pandemic, on Sept. 30, 2021.
“He was first out of the gate for all the residents in York Region,” Grossi said. “He took a little bit of abuse in the early days, and I think it would be appropriate if we sent a personal thank you.”Regional chairperson Wayne Emmerson agreed to send the “thank you” on behalf of members of council, to Kurji, who is “doing well and enjoying retirement with the grandchildren.”