The best way to protect against an increased spread of COVID infection is for more children to be vaccinated.
Dr. Azim Kasmani, Niagara’s associate medical officer of health, says that’s where the greatest risk is, and vaccinations are the best way to reduce that risk.
He explained that out of caution Niagara is one of 26 of 34 public health units in the province that has issued a letter of instruction, under the terms of the provincial COVID recovery legislation — the Reopening Ontario Act — to organizations and businesses operating indoor sports and recreational facilities, implementing restrictions to prevent more outbreaks.
Kasmani says the younger age group is where outbreaks are spreading, although they are not beginning in schools, but out of concern for privacy, he wouldn’t release information about where outbreaks are originating.
The instructions regarding further restrictions require the following:
1. Controlling the capacity in the highest risk areas of sports and recreation facilities (e.g. change rooms) to facilitate physical distance and reduce the spread of infection.
2. Closing exceptions and loopholes in the current proof of vaccination requirement to use indoor sports and recreational fitness facilities. Operators are now instructed that everyone aged 12 and older must show proof of vaccination to enter these facilities, unless a person has a valid medical exemption.
3. Requiring a vaccination policy for employees of these facilities. Given vaccine-eligible patrons must be vaccinated to protect each other and the staff of the facilities, staff should provide the same protection back to patrons.
“Over the past six weeks, children have had the highest risk of being infected from COVID-19, and participation in sports and athletics has unfortunately become a significant contributor to those infections,” said Dr. Mustafa Hirji, acting chief medical officer of health. “When these infections get into schools, classes are closed, children must isolate and fall behind in learning, and parents must stay home to care for them. The narrow, targeted measures we are requiring will keep children safe and in school as we head into the holiday season, when infections are likely to surge, and we potentially face the omicron variant.”
To give facilities time to make the necessary changes to follow the instructions, the first set of instructions, related to capacity limits, begin Dec. 10. The second set of instructions, related to vaccination requirements, will go into effect on Dec. 25.
The restrictions are necessary to prevent an increased number of cases from occurring, said Kasmani. They may also help to ensure people can keep their plans to get together over the holidays, after being denied that pleasure last year, he added. With cases going up in some areas of Ontario, the province has been leaving it up to individual health units to handle restrictions locally, although that might change if the number of cases continues to rise.
In Niagara there was a jump in cases to 41 on Friday and 42 on Saturday, down to 29 on Sunday, Monday to 24, and up to 29 on Tuesday.
“I would really encourage everyone to get their children vaccinated before the holidays to protect the community and our children,” said Kasmani.
By Monday, 5,200 doses had been administered to children five to 11 in Niagara, or about 16 per cent of the 32,500 children who are eligible, he said.
If clinic appointments fill up, Public Health is ready to scale up their clinics. “This remains a priority for us.”
“We’ve been really encouraged by the growth (in the number of vaccinations) every day,” he added.
“It’s a very safe vaccination. If I had children in that age group I would vaccination them without hesitation.”
There are three clinics planned at the community centre in NOTL, beginning Friday, with 53 appointment slots still available at press time, 90 on Dec. 11, and 122 on Dec. 12.
To make an appointment for children aged five to 11, visit https://niagararegion.ca/health/