A New Season of COVID

Are we entering a fifth pandemic wave? Based on a 50% increase in province-wide numbers over the past two weeks, it looks that way. But Toronto hasn't experienced that high a spike and some increase was expected as we spend more time indoors and regulations are relaxed.

Even with rising numbers, this winter is expected to be much better than the last. Not only is our vaccination rate edging closer to 90 percent – a factor we know will greatly reduce hospitalization and death among that part of the population – but we have a better understanding of how the virus is spread and how to avoid it.

Infection most often happens through droplets and aerosols, which can hang in the air in crowded indoor space. We can't escape spending more time indoors with its greater risk but we can increase indoor ventilation to dilute any virus that might be present, and we can steer clear of crowded indoor spaces that the virus thrives in. When avoiding exposure isn't possible, we can wear well-fitting masks with three layers.

In the very near future, Toronto Public Health will begin vaccinating children 5-11 who tend not to get seriously ill from COVID but can certainly spread it to others, and we're offering third doses to high-risk groups. See below.

And we can speak up if we think ideology or political considerations might soon send us back into danger.

The current increase in restaurant and event capacity to 100%, with full vaccination and masking requirements, is a reasonable calculated risk which provides some stability to hard-hit businesses.

The same is not true of Premier Ford's highly questionable plan to eliminate vaccine requirements in January and masking in March. I'm hard-pressed to think of anything more likely to undermine the progress we've made, both in terms of personal safety or economic recovery. We need only to look at places like Texas or Alberta to see how that type of government policy plays out.

To be fair, the Province this week postponed the move towards 100% capacity for places like nightclubs and wedding receptions with dancing, and the Premier has said he'll pause the elimination of vaccination and masking requirements if he sees "concerning trends."

But to announce such an imminent move shows a willful blindness to the unfortunate reality that COVID will be a part of our lives for many years. Even if high percentages are vaccinated and we are lucky enough to be spared variants more dangerous than Delta, it may be years, not months, before it will be safe for vaccinated people to be unnecessarily exposed to unvaccinated adults not wearing masks.

Booster Doses:

Several studies have established that immunity to COVID infection declines - from approximately 90% two weeks after full vaccination to around 70% six months later. It is worth noting, however, that protection against hospitalization and death appears to remain very high over time.

A third "booster" shot provides added protection, and the Province recently increased the number of people who can now receive the extra dose.

The shots are intended for those who received a second vaccine at least six months ago, although some doctors appear to have discretion to provide them a bit earlier. It is expected that those under 70 will become eligible in coming months.

Eligible groups now are: anyone born in 1951 or earlier; front-line health care workers; staff of long-term care homes and retirement homes; essential caregivers of residents of nursing homes and retirement homes; anyone who got two doses of AstraZeneca (or a single dose of Jansen in the U.S.), First Nation, Inuit and Metis adults and their non-Indigenous household members.

Boosters were already available for residents of nursing and retirement homes and those with certain medical conditions, such as transplant recipients and patients being treated for blood cancers.

Toronto Public Health is encouraging residents to get boosters as soon as they are eligible and is providing them by appointment at city-run clinics, including the highly-popular one at Mitchell Field which may have a longer waiting list than some locations. To book an appointment click here.

Vaccines for Ages 5-11:

COVID vaccination for those 5-11 will likely be available before the end of this month. The City is getting ready for the rollout, which will include distribution through the City's five vaccination sites plus hospital and community-based clinics, more than 450 pharmacies and through some pediatric and family physicians.

The City has also announced 30 school-based clinics in neighbourhoods where children are considered at greater risk of contracting the virus; none of these are located in Willowdale.

I'm expecting that many parents may have questions about children's vaccinations and am therefore hosting a virtual town hall on Monday, December 6 at 7:30 PM in partnership with Willowdale TCDSB Trustee Maria Rizzo. Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto's Associate Medical Officer of Health, will provide information and answer questions.

You can register for this virtual town hall here.

This week's song is about changing seasons and waiting for others to change with them. It's from a group I'd never heard of until I stumbled upon this video and couldn't stop watching it.

- John