For two weeks, we’ve watched the global spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and wondered when it would be detected here. Wonder no longer. On Friday, Wellington-Dufferin-Gulph Public Health announced that they’ve detected the first local case of Omicron locally. Meanwhile, Queen’s Park announced Friday that they’re departing from original post-new year’s plans to wind down vaccine certification.
First, the local case of Omicron. According to WDG Public Health they received lab confirmation on Thursday of a case of Omicron found in a Guelph male between the ages of 10 and 20. More concerning is that this person was considered fully vaccinated (having received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks prior to infection), although Public Health is noting that they have mild symptoms.
“This is a reminder that we must remain vigilant,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer in a statement. “I know it has been a long pandemic, but we must continue to act in ways that protect ourselves, those we love and our communities from this virus.”
A press release from public health said that they’re investigating the case and reaching out to high-risk contracts that this person might have had. Public Health emphasizes that members of the public don’t need to worry, and if you have been exposed to the person with Omicron then they will be reach out to you.
Having said that, COVID-19 generally remains a concern in Guelph and the surrounding communities. There were 44 new cases of the virus in Wellington, Dufferin, and Guelph on Friday, bringing the current number of active cases up to 172, and 101 of them are in Guelph alone. The 7-day moving rate of confirmed cases is now 50 per 100,000 and the test positivity rate is 3.7 per cent.
“This is a time to act with caution,” Mercer added. “We know that the combined protection of the public health measures available to us – masking, physical distancing, limiting gathering sizes and getting first, second and booster doses of a COVID-19 vaccine – will continue to protect us against the virus.”
Caution was the order of the day because a few hours after WDG Public Health announced the local case of Omicron, the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario told the media that Omicron has been detected in 10 per cent of the virus samples investigated by Public Health Ontario.
“It’s anticipated that we’ll have a significant rise in the coming weeks, and in the next month, and that it may become a dominant strain very soon,” Dr. Kieran Moore said.
That was a bit if a surprising revelation, but it was only part of the reason that Moore and Minister of Health Christine Elliott held a media availability in Queen’s Park on Friday. The main reason was to announce plans on how the Province is going to deal with the increasing COVID case count and the emergence of the Omicron variant.
First, the Government of Ontario will not be lifting the mandatory proof of vaccination that was previously announced to start on January 17. On December 20, young people age 12-17 will have to start showing proof of vaccination to take part in organized sports and to enter recreation facilities. Further, as of January 4, if you need to show proof of vaccine, you will have to show the Province’s approved QR code from the Verify Ontario app.
“We understand that not everyone has access to, or is comfortable with, technology. That is why people can save the electronic version of their QR code to their phone or print a paper copy,” explained Elliott. “Businesses must accept both electronic and paper versions. If individuals need help printing, they can visit their local library or call the provincial vaccine contact centre to have their vaccine certificate mailed to them. They can also visit a Service Ontario centre to receive a printed copy.”
As previously announced, people 50 and over in Ontario will be able to start getting booster shots of a COVID-19 vaccine starting Monday, but every Ontario adult 18 and over will be able to get a booster starting on January 4 so long as it’s been six months since receiving their last vaccine dose.
In terms of testing, the Province also announced Friday that they’ll be doing two million rapid tests starting next week as part of an “enhanced winter testing strategy.” These pop-up testing sites will be placed in high-risk settings like malls and other retail shops, holiday markets and transit hubs. And since people will be gathering for at home for the holidays, Moore had a message about that too.
“Please keep your social contacts to a minimum, your gatherings should be small, and you should limit the number of gatherings you attend,” Moore said. “If you are planning on hosting holiday events, it is an advisable to ensure everyone in attendance is fully-vaccinated, especially if seniors or immunocompromised people are attending, and wear a mask if there were vulnerable people in attendance. Even if you’re fully vaccinated.”
It was this time last year that Ontario, the rest of Canada, started seeing a big spike in new cases at the beginning of the second wave of the pandemic that resulted in the second province-wide lockdown that started in Boxing Day. On Friday, there were 1,453 new cases in Ontario, which is the highest one-day increase in news cases in the last six months.
“We all have a responsibility to protect each other. We do not want this holiday season to be come a super spreading event,” Moore added.