All West Nipissing residents aged 12 and up are now eligible to be vaccinated, as more and more people in the region are getting inoculated against COVID-19.
As of May 25, the Health Unit had provided nearly 61 per cent of adults with at least one dose of the vaccine.
The interest has been high locally, according to West Nipissing General Hospital CEO Cynthia Desormiers, with around 800 doses getting administered at the most recent clinic on Saturday, May 22. As a result of the demand, additional clinic dates have been booked for June 10 and July 2.
Also, starting on Sunday, youth aged 12 to 17 became eligible to book a COVID-19 appointment through the province’s online booking system.
“It is great news that we are able to start vaccinating youth,” said Dr. Carol Zimbalatti, public health physician, in a North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit release. “Every youth in Ontario has had significant impacts from the pandemic. Getting vaccinated is a way for them to take control and get one step closer to a normal school year.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has approved for use on people under the age of 18. As a result, the Health Unit will be offering youth and family focused first dose Pfizer clinics during the weeks of June 14 and 21. Clinic dates during that stretch have not been announced at the Sturgeon Falls Arena just yet.
“I have not yet heard from the (Health Unit) if any of the clinics are being set specifically for youth and family. I am confident it will be well received once announced,” wrote Desormiers in an email. “The more people we get vaccinated, the better we all are. One step closer to normalcy.”
The Health Unit does not require a youth to have parental consent to receive a vaccine, as long as the healthcare provider administering the vaccine deems the youth capable of understanding the decision to be vaccinated. Though youth do not need to attend a clinic with a parent or guardian, the Health Unit says they are “welcome to attend a clinic with the youth as support for them.”
Despite unveiling their reopening plan last week, the province still has not announced any decision on whether students will be able to return to in-person learning before the end of this school year.
Reopening tied to vaccination rates
Ontario announced its three-step “Roadmap to Reopen” on May 20, with the percentage of the population vaccinated serving as one of the markers that will determine when the province can progress to the next step and therefore, fewer restrictions.
Step One of the roadmap will begin after 60 per cent of Ontario’s adults receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (currently, around 52 per cent have received at least one dose), as well as “when public health indicators, such as hospitalizations, ICU occupancy and new admissions and case rates indicate the province can safely move to this step.”
Step One of the reopen includes outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people, outdoor dining of up to 4 people per table, and the reopening of non-essential retail at 15 per cent capacity. Based on current trends, the government expects to enter Step One during the week of June 14.
Until Ontario enters Step One, the province will stay under similar guidelines to the current stay-at-home order – which ends on June 2 – including curbside pickup at non-essential retailers. However, the controversial decision to close outdoor amenities like golf courses, tennis courts and skate parks was reversed over the weekend. Those places were allowed to reopen with restrictions in place as of May 22.
The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care also began permitting outdoor visits for LTC residents that day. Two visitors are allowed per resident and the visitors need to be screened upon arrival, but a rapid antigen test is not required. Because of the current stay-at-home order, visitors must reside in the same Health Unit.
“Over the weekend it went very well for our residents, with families and friends having the opportunity to schedule visits, which is great,” says Desormiers. “Hopefully this is the first step in the right direction for our residents.”
Local COVID cases still present as May sets new high
May has already seen the largest number of COVID cases in one month in the local Health Unit since the beginning of the pandemic.
With 87 new cases as of May 25, this month has topped the previous high of 71 – with a week still to go. Currently, there are 33 active cases in the region, with 26 in the Nipissing District.
“The May long weekend marks the unofficial start to summer, however, this does not mark the end of COVID-19,” warns Dr. Jim Chirico, Medical Officer of Health. “Until we’re able to get everyone vaccinated, our only way to lower the provincial numbers and local numbers is for everyone to follow public health measures. By following health measures and booking your vaccine appointment, we can help make this our last shutdown.”