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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Essex County Council Notes for Wednesday, February 2

by Sylene Argent

Windsor-Essex County Health Unit provides COVID-19 Update

Members of County Council received a presentation from Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Acting Medical Officer of Health, and Nicole Dupuis, CEO of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), who provided an update on COVID-19 within the region.

  “COVID still remains a challenge in the Windsor-Essex Health District. Up to this point in the pandemic…approximately 11,500 people have died of COVID in the Province and about 550 of those deaths have been in the Windsor-Essex Health District,” Nesathurai explained.

  Death, he said, is at least one measure of the burden of COVID-19 in the community, he added. About 40 percent of the patients ventilated in the ICU in the province are related to COVID-related diseases.

  “When we look at the metrics and the data, that COVID still remains a significant challenge,” Nesathurai said, adding the current level of burden of disease, is in part related to the public health measures that have been instituted, the vaccination status, and the cooperation and commitment of the people of the health district.

  The Monday prior, Nesathurai noted the Province relaxed some of its public health measures. The effect of that, he said, will be noticed shortly.

  Nesathurai added, at this point in the pandemic, “We don’t have testing capacities. And, if we do not have testing capacities, then we can’t use case counts, being the number of people who actually tested positive as a clear metric of disease, because we are restricting testing to a subset of the community.”

  As the local health unit moves forward in the pandemic, Nesathurai said other measures will have to be used, such as hospitalization, the number of people in the ICU, the number of individuals on a ventilator, as well as data from wastewater sampling.

  “So, as we move forward, this creates one more challenge for all of us, those in the public health service and the community and beyond, about what is the current level of disease in the community and what is the burden of disease,” Nesathurai said.

  “The strategy moving forward is to try to reduce the burden, or manage the burden of disease, so that individuals who are sick don’t saturate the hospital. I think the data would suggest Omicron is probably causing – on an individual level – less severe disease. But…more people are getting affected because it is more infectious, and therefore the proportion of people who present with severe disease, disease that requires hospitalization or ICU admission or ventilator support, is actually the risk we are trying to mitigate,” Nesathurai said.

  Nesathurai added there are two broad categories of people who are passing away of COVID; those who are vaccinated and have significant medical problems. “But, speaking to my colleagues, three-quarters of the deaths are still people in people [who] are unvaccinated, and the people who are unvaccinated are dying and many of them are dying in the prime of their life.”

  He urged those who are unvaccinated and eligible, to get vaccinated.

  Things the community can do includes getting the vaccination rate higher. In the immediate term, public health will monitor for the burden of disease, he said.

  One thing that needs to be considered is how to return to a level of normality, Nesathurai said. “I don’t believe, in looking at the data overall, that COVID isn’t going away. If it was going away, it would have gone away by now, it [has been] two-years.”

  Moving into some level of normalcy, Nesathurai said a suite of approaches needs to be considered. “That means that we can’t go back to the way we were before. We ultimately normalized HIV…the new level of normalcy has to include, I think, considering things, that moving forward, may be different.”

  “So, we may have to wear masks indoors indefinitely. We may require vaccination as a booster for the near future. We have to welcome the fact that antiviral drugs may be one additional treatment that we have to mitigate the burden of disease. We may have to accept that restaurant dining is not as risk-free as it was before. We may have to accept, as a culture, travel is going to be a little bit more difficult… in the near or intermediate term. We may have to accept that we will have to modulate public health measures, based on whatever variance we may be exposed to.”

  He said the hospital system and healthcare system were already running at near-capacity before COVID. He estimated at the time of the meeting, those in hospital with COVID accounted for around ten percent. “That ten percent is added to a hospital system that’s already stretched to the limit. We have to think, moving forward as part of normalization, is how do we reorganize the health service overall, so that we can manage these surges or these additional demands on the health system,” Nesathurai said.

  He said he will remain optimistic, with the right suite of policy choices, public health measures, and rational decision-making, that the community can move on.

 

Annual update for the County Wide Active Transportation System

Diana Radulescu, Active Transportation Coordinator, presented the annual update on the County Wide Active Transportation System (CWATS) to County Council.

  CWATS, she said, connects all seven Essex County municipalities with safe, active transportation. In addition to creating connections, it promotes healthy living and contributes to economic development and tourism, she said.

  CWATS was originally adopted in 2021. Its plan is based on three pillars: policies, network, and programs.

  “First, the plan incorporates language from County planning policies and provides specific design guidance for implementing the proposed 800km network. It also provides guidance for relevant town policies, when they are updated,” Radulescu said.   

  Since 2015, the County has conducted annual active transportation traffic counts, to measure network usage. Since then, the number of cyclists has doubled and more women and children are on the network than ever before, Radulescu said.

  Through CWATS, Radulescu said, area municipalities submit applications every year, to build parts of the network, based on their budget and priorities. The County has a cost-sharing formula that is applied. Applications are decided upon by the CWATS Committee.

  She noted the CWATS Budget for 2022 has been approved by County Council, and is $2.1M in general and $1.5M is reserved for core infrastructure projects.

  “Since 2012, we have built over 55 percent of the network, due to these programs,” Radulescu said.

  Currently, Radulescu said the CWATS Committee is working on tendering and building its 2022 projects, and is working on updating the CWATS Mater Plan.

  Essex Mayor Richard Meloche thanked the CWATS Committee for their efforts. He is proud to see the plan progress as it has over the years.   

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