Q & A: Region of Waterloo Public Health discusses latest deaths, outbreaks and the Delta variant
KITCHENER -- COVID-19 cases in Waterloo Region continue to rise, mainly due to spread of the Delta variant in the community.
The variant, also known as B.1.617 and first identified in India, is more transmissible than previous variants.
CTV Kitchener spoke to Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Rabia Bana about the latest cases and deaths in the region, along with outbreaks and vaccinations.
Over the weekend, the region reported a COVID-19-related death in a woman in her 90s who was fully vaccinated. The death was linked to an outbreak at a long-term care home, where five residents and four staff members have tested positive for the disease.
Q: Do you believe that this long-term care outbreak is all linked to the Delta variant?
Dr. Bana: We have confirmation from the lab that at least one case is associated with the Delta variant, so we do expect that the remaining cases are likely Delta variant cases as well.
Lab testing is underway, and the Delta variant case numbers are updated on our dashboard as we receive that information.
Q: I understand that the resident that did die was fully vaccinated. Does public health know how that outbreak took hold, if residents are fully vaccinated?
Dr. Bana: Vaccines are an effective way to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus, the risk of severe illness as well as the risk of death, and they are very effective at doing that. It is still important to ensure that other infection prevention and control measures and the other public health measures are also maintained in order to reduce the risk of transmission.
Q: Have there been additional measures been put in place at that facility to prevent further cases?
Dr. Bana: As we do with all our outbreaks, we're working very closely with our facility to ensure that all the infection prevention and control outbreak measures are in place, and that includes things such as ensuring isolation of all cases and all high-risk contacts, doing regular testing to be able to detect additional cases, suspending any communal activities and doing enhanced environmental cleaning.
Q: Are you concerned that there could be further outbreaks in long-term care homes because of this current outbreak, because the Delta variant is in the community and it is transmitting?
Dr. Bana: Ensuring that residents and staff and long-term care homes are vaccinated will really help us to reduce the risk of outbreaks in these settings, and we have seen that outbreaks in these settings have decreased since vaccination in this setting has happened, and has reached good rates. It's important to continue to follow the proper infection prevention and control measures in order to further reduce risk of transmission in the settings and it's important for us as a community to continue to remain vigilant and follow public health guidance in order to reduce the spread of the Delta variant in the community.
Q: There are a number of outbreaks that are in workplaces. Is there anything new being sent to workplaces to ensure that they abide by public health measures?
Dr. Bana: We have a number of resources available for workplaces, both on our website as well as when we speak with workplaces directly in order to help them manage the outbreaks. If any workplaces have questions or concerns, they can reach out to us or reach out to our website for those resources.
Q: What more needs to be done within our community to prevent this from continuing and to bring those case numbers down?
Dr. Bana: A couple of things like continuing to follow the public health measures, such as physical distancing, wearing masks, ensuring that we're not gathering, if we are choosing to gather, gathering outdoors and following public health measures. It's going to be very important to continue to reduce the spread of the variant in our community. And in addition to that, getting vaccinated. All those who are eligible and have vaccines available to them should get their first dose should get their second dose, because having that community-wide vaccination is really going to help us build that protection in our community, in order to control and reduce the spread of the Delta variant.
Q: We have that delay with the Pfizer shipment. Do you think that this will impact a race against the Delta variant?
Dr. Bana: Our teams are working really hard to adjust to any changes in supply that we have. We still have clinics available, and it's important for people to remember that they should accept the first vaccine that's available to them. In terms of the mRNA vaccines, the Pfizer in the Moderna vaccines, they are interchangeable. They are both highly and equally effective. And those who have received Pfizer for their first dose should feel confident and safe to receive Moderna for their second dose and vice versa.
Q: Case numbers have not gone down and the hospitalizations are still climbing. Do you think that we are closer to potentially going backwards in the reopening plan?
Dr. Bana: We're in regular conversations with the province and with the ministry and closely monitoring the situation in order to assess how we can proceed with reopening in a safe way for our region.
Q: Is the region considering a Section 22 order this week to potentially shut things down?
Dr. Bana: We're continuing to monitor the situation and we'll let the community know if there are any particular actions that are being considered in terms of reopening.
Q: There was a congregate outbreak that started June 3 and that now sits at more than 100 cases. Does public health have any indication that that could have been a contributing factor to our case numbers climbing over the last few days?
Dr. Bana: All our outbreaks, including congregate care settings, all of them would contribute to our overall case numbers in terms of our general case numbers in the community. We know that the outbreak is contributing to those numbers, but we also know that general community transmission, including close contact household contact, is a fairly significant contributor to our case numbers in general.
Q: What measures were taken to vaccinate people in congregate settings?
Dr. Bana: Our vaccine teams have been working with congregate settings to ensure that they have access to vaccines, whether that's in our vaccination clinics or through mobile teams to get vaccines to them as easily and quickly as possible.
Some questions and responses have been edited for length or clarity.