The bad news is cases of COVID-19 and variants of concern are on the rise, in Ontario and the Golden Horseshoe area.
The good news, says Dr. Mustafa Hirji, is what we could expect this summer: movie theatres and the Shaw reopening, although likely with restrictions, an increase in indoor dining, and more freedom to enjoy social interactions with friends and family.
During Monday’s weekly press briefing, the acting chief medical officer of health said, “I’m pessimistic about the next couple of months, and our ability to get through these two months without triggering a third wave.”
But if we can get through the next two months without that happening, “I’m very optimistic for what this summer could look like,” he added.
“It’s all a question of what we do now that affects what happens over the next couple of months.”
He spoke of getting to the point this summer “where we’re actually able to really relax and recalibrate.”
But to get there, he continues to ask Niagara residents to do their part by staying at home except for essential reasons, wearing masks and limiting social interactions to our own households, for another two months.
After that, the increased number of vaccinations and the warm weather will be on our side, he says.
While other medical health officials are calling current COVID numbers a third wave of infections, Hirji talks of moving toward one, and the possibility of avoiding it. There is no absolute number that says we’re in or nearing a third wave — judgement of where we’re at is “in the eye of the beholder” — all that matters is where the numbers take us, he says.
“We will only know after the fact” if we end up in a third wave, “or we’re able to curb it to a small ripple.”
Although previously the largest number of cases were through outbreaks, the cases Niagara is seeing now are mostly from community spread, within households or through co-workers, extended family and friends, Hirji says.
With the rising trend of variant cases, he admitted to being surprised by the government’s rush to open up restaurants to 50 per cent of their capacity, although he said the restriction of tables to one household, as has been the case in Niagara since the region moved into red, will help limit the spread of infections.
Any further lockdown, he suggested, would have to include the Golden Horseshoe area, with the second-highest number of cases in Ontario.
In addition to our social behaviour, vaccinations are what will help us contain the spread, he says.
Almost all — 99 per cent — of the 80-plus age group have either had their first vaccination or are booked to get it, says Hirji.
Beginning Monday, residents ages 75 to 79 were able to book their appointments, and those vaccinations could be completed in by mid-April.
Encouraging Niagara residents to take the opportunity for vaccination when offered, Hirji says the four vaccines approved in Canada will prevent 100 per cent of hospitalizations and deaths, so take the first one offered. “The first vaccine you can get is the best vaccine you can get.”
To date, Niagara has mostly received the Pfizer vaccine, along with a small quantity of Moderna, but he said AstraZeneca, which has received some bad press recently, is also safe and effective. He pointed to a new U.S. study that shows it to be 78 per cent effective in preventing infections, and 100 per cent effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths.
It is also effective for the older age groups, he added.
While a few clinic sites around Niagara, including Niagara Falls, were almost fully booked this week, there are others with availability, he says.
Appointments can be booked at Ontario.ca/bookvaccine or by phone at 1-888-999-6488.
For the regional schedule of clinics until April 10, visit https://www.niagararegion.ca/health/covid-19/vaccination/clinic-schedule.aspx