Health providers bracing for Fall wave of COVID-19

Julie Aubin, Owner of Pharmacie Aubin Pharmasave, administers a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to her staff.

While many hoped they were finally done with COVID-19, it seems like COVID-19 isn’t done with us quite yet. With a new strain, Omicron BA.5, currently making up the majority of new cases, infections are on the rise once again. Recently, the neighbouring Health Unit in Sudbury increased its COVID-19 Risk Index to high, and a rise in cases there usually suggests an imminent rise in cases in the Nipissing district as well.

The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit still tracks and displays case counts and positivity rates within the region. However, they offer multiple disclaimers, indicating that due to changes in testing eligibility, case counts are grossly underestimated. The Health Unit also advises that positive results from Rapid Antigen Tests are not counted among their results. Ultimately, whatever information the Health Unit has on COVID-19, the reality is that it’s likely much worse.

Cynthia Desormiers, President and CEO of the West Nipissing General Hospital, confirms that they’ve seen a spike at their facilities, and that we are in for a fall surge of COVID-19. “We are monitoring daily, we’re keeping an eye to the east and west [Health Units]. We’ve been working at it for 2.5 years, and we have a very strong pandemic plan in place,” she asserts.

Desormiers describes the hospital’s plan as fluid and based on numbers. While at low spread, as things are now, they keep things relatively normal. However, it is designed for quick turn-around when high-risk situations occur. “It’s important that we’re nimble, [so we can] quickly make changes as new data is presented to us, and make changes in our policies.”

Fortunately, the underreported numbers from the Health Unit are only one of the measures used to inform COVID policy changes at the hospital. “We also take into account other factors like staff sickness, and we do our own testing on-site,” Desormiers explains. She adds that they see how neighbouring healthcare providers are managing in order to learn from them. After dealing with the ebb and flow of COVID waves, Desormiers and the staff of the WNGH have become proficient at dealing with the unexpected. “[There are] good measures we’ve done over the past 2.5 years; I am confident and hopeful they’ll get us through the next wave,” she assures.

Still, Desormiers recognizes that even in spite of planning, some things can catch you by surprise. In fact, shortly after providing these comments, the WNGH declared an outbreak in the Complex Continuing Care unit on July 29. “An outbreak is declared if we have 2 patients who test positive in the same unit,” Desormiers clarifies. In quick reaction, temporary policies were put in place such as closing the unit to all visitors and restricting visitor access to adjacent units while the outbreak is managed. The earliest that this outbreak will be declared over is on Monday, August 8th, provided there are no new cases.

Au Chateau Home for the Aged is also bracing for the coming wave. “In the Fall, it’s going to be a significant uptake with school coming back, people spending more time inside, and also with influenza,” predicts Jacques Dupuis, Administrator of the long-term care facility. The home has been making sure to secure enough PPE and other equipment to deal with another wave of COVID, and Dupuis mentions that they are also beginning education programs for staff, to remind everyone of at-home procedures for hand washing and staying COVID-safe in general.

Despite recent positive COVID cases among staff, Au Chateau does not have any current cases among residents. Dupuis attributes this to their robust screening measures. “Screening and testing are at their highest level, and we’ll continue to maintain those through to the Fall.”

The current measures have employees testing 3 times per week using Rapid Antigen Tests, and following up with a PCR test to confirm any positives. Dupuis adds that these policies extend to all staff, volunteers, and visitors. “We have to be vigilant,” he states.

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