Over the past few weeks, we have seen the early return of seasonal respiratory illnesses such as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), influenza and colds, along with the continued COVID-19 pandemic. As you may have heard, we are also seeing an alarming number of hospitalizations, and local hospitals are at 100 per cent capacity. Pediatric ICUs in the area are also overwhelmed, especially with young children under 5 years old with severe cases of RSV and the flu. Keeping our community, including our most vulnerable, safe and healthy is our top priority, and with the severity and number of cases we are seeing, a community approach is key.
To keep yourself, your loved ones, and our community healthy, I would like to remind you of the ways that you can help prevent the spread of respiratory illness, protect our most vulnerable and alleviate the burden on our health care system.
Wearing a mask while you are out in public is a simple way to add a layer of protection, especially if you live with young children, the elderly or anyone otherwise at a higher risk for severe infection from respiratory illnesses. I am echoing the province’s strong recommendation that you make masking in public a habit once more. Not only in crowded public settings, but in any social situation, wearing your mask can help limit the spread. You should also wear a mask any time you have respiratory symptoms, even at home, to help protect those you live with.
More ways to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses
Beyond masking, there are other ways you can help keep yourself and those around you healthy. These include washing your hands frequently and correctly or using hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available, disinfecting surfaces often, and screening yourself daily, especially before attending work, child care or school. Getting your flu shot and staying up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations can also reduce the severity of illness, and both are available to everyone in Ontario 6 months and older. Additionally, keeping children, and babies especially, away from crowds, will also help minimize the risk of infection.
Lastly and most importantly, if you are feeling sick, please stay home. What may be minor symptoms for you, could be severe illness or require hospitalization for someone more vulnerable.
Treatments for severe illness
Treatments for severe illness from COVID-19 (Paxlovid) or the flu (Tamiflu) are available if you are at risk of severe illness. Please do not hesitate to seek treatment if you are eligible.
Supporting these practices in the community
For businesses, agencies, and organizations in our community, I look to you as leaders in promoting these practices through the following actions. While masking is not mandated, posting signage that strongly recommends mask use in your facilities, and asking your staff to be role models of proper mask use, can encourage others to wear their masks. You may also wish to provide masks for those who may not have one. I also recommend providing hand sanitizer throughout your premises, in accessible locations, to encourage your visitors, clients, staff, students and volunteers to use proper hand hygiene.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to thank you for all the work you have done and continue to do, to keep yourself and those around you safe. This cold and flu season has proven to be one of our most challenging yet, and I appreciate your efforts in making these preventative measures part of your day to day lives and in continuing to take care of one another. The more people who employ these small measures, the quicker and more efficiently we can curb the spread, decrease overcrowding in our hospitals, and protect our most vulnerable.
Thank you, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, MD, CM, MPH, FRCP(C), CCPE
Medical Officer of Health Eastern Ontario Health Unit