Dr. Mustafa Hirji had some good news on the vaccination front this week, and on the declining number of coronavirus cases.
Niagara’s acting chief medical officer says numbers of new cases have been coming down, as we move further away from the holidays and further into the lockdown. There were 34 new cases Tuesday, the fewest since Dec. 22. In January, numbers hit record highs.
“We feel good about the way thing are trending,” he says. “It’s been good to see the new numbers in double digits,” compared to many days in January when there were more than 100, and some close to 200.
Sadly, the number of deaths has been high, with eight Tuesday, but that’s a result of the timing of new cases. Although most are resolved, some unfortunately lead to people becoming ill, are hospitalized, and some of those people die.
The number of people being hospitalized with COVID is declining, and the number of deaths should come down accordingly, he says, hopefully beginning this week.
Although there are still a large number of outbreaks in hospitals and long-term care homes, the number of cases in those situations is also decreasing as more are resolved, he said.
In Niagara Long Term Care on Wellington Street, there are still 19 residents in the home testing positive, down from 74 at its highest, but sadly, the number of deaths has increased to 11. There are six staff members still considered positive.
The numbers in long-term care and retirement homes across the region reflect what is happening in the community, which is to be expected, says Hirji, and also may already be a result of the first vaccinations.
Niagara was expecting enough vaccine to give residents of long-term care and retirement homes their second doses this week, he says, but there is still not enough vaccine for staff.
Vaccinations are ready to roll out as soon as more vaccine arrives, now going to a temporary location an arena floor in St. Catharines. Public Health is also involved with discussions about potential sites in each of the municipalities, including Niagara-on-the-Lake, and in many cases, arenas present the ideal location. They have always been a consideration for mass vaccination sites, he says, because of the number of people who can go through in a day.
Public health is looking at long-term locations, he added, assuming that COVID vaccinations could require booster doses, and possibly new vaccines for variants, as with annual flu shots.
There is also a possibility that arrival of the Moderna vaccine, which is easier to store, is not too far off. It means doses can be stored in the public health building, and in primary care clinics and pharmacies around the region.
“It will be a bit more flexible, and helpful,” says Hirji.
“Right now, we’ll take what we can get and make it work.”
Although national surveys are showing a discouraging 50 per cent of people don’t want the vaccine, the good news is 50 per cent do, he says, not a bad achievement when only 20 to 25 per cent of the population is willing to be vaccinated against influenza.
The hope is as this plays out, as more people get the vaccine, and don’t report adverse reactions, others will begin to have confidence in it. They also might see it as the way to get out of pandemic restrictions and back to normal, says Hirji.
Going forward, he says, all levels of government will be working toward building trust and encouraging people to decide in favour of being vaccinated.