Public Health Sudbury raises COVID risk rating to high

This follows the increase in the positivity rate of COVID cases, the increase in the number of COVID cases in hospital, and the number of active COVID outbreaks has also increased.

Public Health Sudbury & District (PHSD) sends the message that COVID-19 continues to be a significant concern in the local health jurisdiction. This is reflected in public health COVID-19 Risk Indexwhich is now at the “high” level.

Indeed, the positivity rate of COVID cases is on the rise, the number of COVID cases in hospital is on the rise, and the number of active COVID outbreaks has also increased.

Katie Junkin, health protection specialist at PHSD, said those three factors prompted the health unit to raise the risk index from the “moderate” rating it sat on last week. She said that there are also other indicators, and although they are stable, none of the indicators are decreasing at the moment.

“So the worrying trend is things are going up,” Junkin said.

Not used at the height of the pandemic, the risk index was not launched until June 10 and for the first month the risk was listed as “low”. Then, on July 6, the risk changed to “moderate”. This week’s change to the “high” rating means the risk is at the second highest level, with “very high” being the highest rating in the index. Sudbury did not achieve this rating.

Junkin couldn’t pinpoint a specific reason, but she did acknowledge that an increase in summer travel could be a factor in the change in the risk score.

“It’s definitely possible because we’re seeing these trends across the province,” Junkin said. “So, you know, if members of the community are traveling across the province, it’s certainly possible that they’ll have additional exposures. And you know, usually in the summer months, we usually see a decrease in cases, so that we also concerned.

Junkin added that the BA.5 subvariant of Omicron is also a factor, as it is the predominant strain in Ontario right now and is considered more transmissible than previous variants. She said this is a concern because Omicron can still be transmitted when people are outdoors.

Omicron appeared at the end of 2021 and is considered by the Ontario Science Table as a mutated, more contagious version of the original coronavirus. The science table advocates that more booster shots are the best way to fight Omicron.

“What we know about this, the BA.5 variant of the Omicron, which is the one you know now, which is mostly circulating, is that it’s highly transmissible. So what it tells us, it’s that even if people congregate outdoors, that if they’re in close contact, it can still be transmitted, so there’s really the importance of physical distancing, if people are in close contact , even if it is outside.

She said it’s unclear how long the high-risk rating will continue, but Junkin said the PHSD will closely monitor hospital admissions and the number of critically ill cases.

“So really, in terms of duration, it really depends on what continues to happen within the community. And what we know is that our best forms of protection at the individual level in terms of reducing the severity of a result are continuing vaccination, stay up to date on those vaccinations and get your booster,” Junkin said.

She added that people may get tired of hearing it, but basic pandemic precautions are still the best advice.

“That includes masking, vigilant hand washing, physical distancing, including ventilation if you’re indoors and also staying home if you’re sick,” Junkin said.

On the immunization front, Junkin said the health unit is stepping up the program and making it easier for more people to access their vaccine boosters. PHSD will also offer vaccines this week for children aged six months to five years, she said.

Junkin said people need to understand that vaccines are not an eternal thing. After a while, vaccines lose their strength, she said. She added, however, that the public health community has found that people who get vaccinated are even better able to fight off the worst of COVID than those who aren’t vaccinated.

“So we’re definitely seeing that, you know, those who ended up in the hospital are mostly unvaccinated,” Junkin said.

She also said some people previously infected with COVID will get a brief period of immunity, but it won’t last.

“And the same goes with vaccination, they boost your immune system, but what we’re finding based on the research is that you know that immunity doesn’t last forever. Okay. That’s why we’re seeing these boosters and so even though people may have been vaccinated with their first two doses, we’re trying, I guess, to kind of emphasize the importance of getting these boosters, because the Immunity will decline over time,” Junkin explained.

Len Gillis covers health care and mining for Sudbury.com.

Martin E. Berry