Sudbury

Pandemic in current 'transition' period, Sudbury's medical officer of health says

As Ontario gets ready for new COVID-19 restrictions to be put in place in an attempt to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, several medical officers of health in northeastern Ontario say health officials are starting to shift their approach to the virus.

Shift in provincial rules for PCR testing means reported cases ‘tip of the iceberg,’ Dr. Penny Sutcliffe says

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe is the medical officer of health with Public Health Sudbury and Districts. (Submitted by Public Health Sudbury and Districts)

As Ontario gets ready for new COVID-19 restrictions to be put in place in an attempt to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, several medical officers of health in northeastern Ontario say health officials are starting to shift their approach to the virus.

On Wednesday, restaurants and bars will shut down to indoor dining and gyms will close as well. Schools are moving to online learning until Jan. 17.

The move comes as Ontario continues to see hospital admissions rise due to cases. On Tuesday, it was reported than 1,232 people are now admitted in Ontario hospitals due to COVID-19, an increase of 58 people from the day before.

Dr. Jennifer Loo, the medical officer of health for Algoma Public Health, said what's happening in Ontario is similar to what's happening in other areas in Canada and around the world.

"The early evidence points to the fact that this virus seems to cause less hospitalization and death — 54 per cent lower risk of hospitalization and death," she said.

"But because it's spreading to so many people all at once, our healthcare system is still at risk of being overwhelmed."

Last week, the province announced changes for eligibility for lab-based PCR tests. Symptomatic testing is now only available for high-risk individuals or for people who work in high-risk settings, such as hospitals or long-term care facilities.

"For everyone else, the idea here is to really do the same thing that we do every cold and flu season, which is if we're feeling sick, to stay at home," she said.

"The key thing about COVID-19 is that if you have symptoms of COVID, you and your household must isolate, generally for five days, if you're fully immunized and otherwise healthy."

'Tip of the iceberg'

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, the medical officer of health for Public Health Sudbury and Districts, said the pandemic is in a "transition period," and added the public should start thinking of this virus like other infectious diseases, such as a cold or flu.

"Our numbers really are demonstrating the tip of the iceberg with regards to cases and there will be many more cases of COVID-19 in our communities," she said.

With limited access to PCR testing and no provincial system to collect results from rapid antigen tests, Sutcliffe said right now, data from hospitals can provide more information about what's happening with COVID-19.

"Having a good sense of admissions to hospital, admissions to ICU and that then being an indication of the amount of spread within our communities," she said.

"So that is very critical right now in what we are watching very carefully."

Dr. Lianne Catton is the Medical Officer of Health with the Porcupine Health Unit. (Porcupine Health Unit/Facebook)

As for contact tracing, Dr. Lianne Catton, the medical officer of health with the Porcupine Health Unit, said that is also shifting currently at this time in the pandemic.

"For people to let others know they've been in close contact with in the couple of days before they had symptoms …. Or a positive test, that they need to monitor for symptoms and potentially to isolate," she said.

"That responsibility is really with all of our community members to follow those measures and protect themselves, their families and workplaces."

We heard from the Medical Officers of Health for Sudbury, Algoma and Porcupine, as provincial restrictions tighten, schools close, and COVID numbers continue to soar.

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