Contact tracing hindered by high case counts

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Simcoe Muskoka is seeing its highest COVID-19 case counts to date.

Medical officer of health Dr. Charles Gardner is reporting that the region has seen a record 1,081 cases of COVID-19 in the past week, and on Wednesday it saw its highest single day count with 197 cases.

“One thing that I need people to understand is that our capacity to keep up with the full number of cases that are surging with Omicron is very, very limited,” said Gardner, adding that it may hinder case and contact tracing. “In all instances we’ll be taking less data in our history-taking associated with these cases, and in many instances cases will be asked to follow up with your own contacts to advise them that they too should go into quarantine.”

“As our case counts continue to rise – if it does in fact follow the trajectory that is anticipated with the Science Table Report – there will be an increasing number of cases for which people will have difficulty accessing testing in the first place, or even if they do obtain testing, would not be reached by either the provincial work force or local public health,” said Gardner. “So, it’s very important that we all take it upon ourselves the responsibility to identify if we may be a case – if we have symptoms or if we have had contact with a case, or a possible case – and put ourselves into isolation for 10 days after the onset of symptoms or 10 days after the last contact with the case in question.”

He said it is imperative that people take on the responsibility of reducing transmission.

The volume of cases has also limited the health unit’s ability to follow outbreaks and other exposure sites, as staff focuses on severe cases, and health care settings.

The highly transmissible variant is circulating amongst the younger population, and there is a high rate of “vaccine failure” for two doses. However Gardner notes that the vaccine still offers protection against severe illness and hospitalization.

Thirty-four cases have tested positive for the Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant of concern, and an additional 883 cases have screened positive (awaiting confirmatory testing).

The data shows they are all under the age of 60, a significant number are associated with school outbreaks, 68 per cent have had two or three doses of vaccine.

In the current week, 72 per cent of local cases are suspected to be Omicron and Gardner is expecting it will continue to be the dominant strain.

Gardner said the health unit has reached a milestone in providing more than one million doses of vaccine and there has been a very high uptake for boosters with up to 90 per cent of all booster appointments booked into January. Ninety-five per cent of the population has been vaccinated with two doses, 82 per cent of youth ages 12-17 have had at least one dose and 37 per cent of children ages 5-11 have received at least one dose.

Gardner said he applauds the province’s recent implementation of restrictions including reducing capacity by 50 per cent for indoor public spaces and reducing social gathering limits to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

It is recommended that precautions be taken to reduce the risk associated with holiday gatherings:

• Individuals who are NOT fully vaccinated against COVID-19 keep gatherings to only those within their household, unless physical distancing is practised and face coverings are worn.

• Individuals who ARE fully vaccinated are advised to keep gatherings to a small number of people outside of their household. For the protection of all, preferably everyone should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

If you are hosting or attending a holiday gathering:

• Do not exceed capacity limits.

• Ask guests to NOT attend if they have symptoms, even if they are mild.

• Make a list of guests attending in case public health needs it for contact tracing.

• Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces.

• Provide all the necessary supplies for your guests, including hand sanitizer, soap and water.

• Open windows, if possible.

• If you are serving food and drinks, wash your hands often while preparing and serving food and suggest all those gathered do so before and after eating.

If you are attending a gathering or staying overnight:

• Stay home if you are ill, even if your symptoms are mild.

• If you are immunocompromised or at higher risk of severe disease and/or exposure to COVID-19, consider joining virtually or not attending the event.

• Avoid singing or shouting, especially indoors.

• Wear a face covering if physical distancing is not possible.

• Wash your hands and cover your cough.

Individuals from multiple households who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or status is unknown should always practise physical distancing (two metres) and wear face coverings.

Hosts and guests from multiple households who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or status is unknown should not sleep in the same bedroom and should use separate washrooms, if possible.

Monitor for COVID-19 symptoms (hosts and guests) and have a plan for what to do if someone becomes ill, even with mild symptoms.

Remember, should you or one of your guests become ill, test positive or be identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19, visit smdhu. org for information about your next steps, including testing, contact tracing and isolation requirements.

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