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Doctors urge use of 'tools' we've been given to reduce impact of COVID's 'summer wave'

We should still be concerned about COVID and get our third shots if we haven't yet as the number of cases reported locally continues to trend upwards
Dr. Sharon Bal3
Dr. Sharon Bal is a Cambridge family physician and was the the primary care physician leading Waterloo region's vaccine rollout last year. |Photo provided by the Ontario College of Family Physicians

Local key indicators are showing an increase in COVID-19 activity in the region and across the province with test positivity in Ontario rising above 10 per cent for the first time in months.

And it comes as a worrying sign during the summer; a time when infection rates are typically low as most people tend to socialize outdoors.

“We're seeing locally what we are seeing provincially which is increased cases even in the context of less testing; seeing that percent of positivity go up, seeing the wastewater signal go up. We're seeing some increased cases for sure in the community,” said Cambridge family physician Dr. Sharon Bal.

Bal says we are most likely entering into seventh wave with the BA.5 Omicron variant taking the lead. The much more transmissible variant is also believed to break through vaccine immunity more readily than its predecessors and cause reinfection in people who've developed natural immunity from previous infections. 

Public Health Ontario says it expects hospitalization and mortality to increase due to the volume of cases, "but there is uncertainty about the extent of the increase since the severity of BA.4 and BA.5 cases is unclear."

“The newest strain is spreading quite quickly and we need people to make sure they have their third dose and booster up to date,” Bal added.

The wastewater signal and test positivity rate are indicating an increase in the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants in the Waterloo Region with the Cambridge signal slightly plateauing for now.

“Our community’s high levels of immunity from vaccination and infection, as well as additional layers of protection that members of the community can add on during periods of higher risk have given all of us the tools to continue to reduce the impact of the virus,” said Sharon Ord in an emailed response to CambridgeToday. 

The Waterloo Region public health community engagement manager stated the most important thing the community can do is stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations. 

Cambridge Memorial Hospital currently has 32 staff off sick or symptomatic with COVID-19 and confirmed those numbers are rising. 

The hospital has five or less patients in hospital with the virus as of Thursday. None of which are in the ICU, confirmed CMH communication’s lead, Stephan Beckhoff.

“This has been steady for the past few weeks,” he said.

Bal said they've also seen their staffing levels affected by COVID recently, especially within their HR departments, which often resembles what is happening in the wider community.  

But vaccinations have made a big difference and they are seeing how protective they were against severe disease and hospitalization in patients, she added.  

“If someone hasn’t had their third dose, now would be the time to get it. Obviously the fourth dose too if they are eligible.”

Fourth doses are available for those 60-years and older but the province is expected to announce within the next month when eligibility for fourth doses will be expanded.

Anyone who is worried should consider still wearing a mask in crowded spaces or places, Bal said. 

Fall does come with an increased risk, but public health measures and vaccines can decrease that risk, she added.

“I think that planning is happening everywhere in health across all levels just to make sure we are thinking about that.”

Justine Fraser

About the Author: Justine Fraser

Justine joined CambridgeToday in March of 2022 as a social issues reporter. She enjoys living in the city (and walking her giant white dog!). A camera is never far from her hand.
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