COVID-19 Cases Rising &
Upper Respiratory Illnesses Keep Hold

RSV and the flu have already made their rounds throughout the country and all the while COVID-19 cases have been increasing, just in time for the holiday season. With family gatherings and travel anticipated; protective measures such as masking and social distancing, tests and treatments are being noted and emphasized by health officials as a way to combat the risk of experiencing another COVID-19 surge. 

With that said, it’s been confirmed that 14% of the US population is currently in an area that meets the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s criteria for a “high” COVID-19 community level, and this percentage saw a recent increase of 5% in just a week. Three notable cities included in these areas are New York City, Los Angeles County and Maricopa County (Phoenix). With such large, highly-populated regions being affected, it’s evident that now is the time to keep our guard up and equip ourselves with the right tools to stay healthy.

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Seniors seem to be impacted the most, with hospitalization rates being four times higher for them than any other age group.

Overall, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on the rise in the US since November; and going into the first week of December, the US has experienced the most COVID-related deaths in months. A total of 3,000 individuals died from the coronavirus in that week. 

In Canada, Ottawa Public Health is saying that the overall level of respiratory illness in the city remains high. Wastewater levels of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are extremely high, while COVID-19 activity is increasing and levels are also considered to be high (15.5%).

Wastewater signal is drawn from the general population, rather than those who self-select to get a rapid COVID test, and is considered a reliable predictor of COVID-19 activity. 

The city of Hamilton is noting that the most up-to-date public health data shows that COVID-19 is currently “moderate and increasing.” This Hamilton Public Health data shows that 4 out of the 7 indicators of COVID-19 transmission are increasing (as of Wednesday, December 21st, 2022). These include leading indicators such as test positivity, which was 16.6% as of December 16th, and viral signal in wastewater which is also increasing. 

It’s important to note that while navigating the Omicron variant, testing strategies changed. This means that many COVID-19 cases aren’t reflected in counts, as public health officials now only track and report outbreaks in healthcare settings.

We can see how imperative it is that we keep the health of ourselves and our loved ones at the top of our minds while navigating the holiday season, especially our senior family members, as COVID-19 and respiratory illnesses are here for the next while.

TREATMENTS & PREVENTATIVE MEASURES

Treatments can reduce the risk of being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19, while taking preventative measures such as masking and social distancing are being encouraged by public health officials. 

Wearing a high-quality N95 or KN95 mask greatly reduces the risk of you contracting a virus while out running errands, visiting with friends or in a crowded area. It puts a solid, secure barrier between you and the virus, ultimately ensuring that you don’t catch COVID-19 or any other respiratory illness, as well as passing that on to a loved one or someone who is immunocompromised. An N95 or KN95 mask provides far superior protection than a 3-ply disposable mask, as N95 and KN95 masks are made for respiratory protection, while 3-ply disposable masks are ultimately made to protect the wearer from fluid splatter (i.e., protecting a surgeon from blood splatter during an operation). Instead, N95/KN95 masks create a secure facial seal so that potentially harmful aerosols cannot flow easily in and out.

With mask mandates no longer in effect, more than half of the country no longer equips itself with one. Combine that with cold, flu and COVID-19 season, office holiday parties, family gatherings and travel, we can see that there is potential for a messy winter. A high-quality N95 and KN95 mask is the #1 tool to combat the volatile environment that is to potentially come after the holiday break.

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Philadelphia saw this coming and thought a few steps ahead. When schoolchildren return from their winter break, a mask requirement will be in effect for the following 10 days, ultimately reducing the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses that may have been contracted while visiting with family. We know that crowded areas are commonly where these surges begin, and so did the city of Philadelphia, making this temporary move a smart one.

What about the rest of the US or Canada? 

For now, the CDC recommends wearing a mask while on public transportation or while in a high-COVID-19-community-level region. They encourage people with a compromised immune system to wear one even in regions that are not considered as high risk. 

Hamilton Public Health Services is strongly encouraging wearing a well-fitted medical mask indoors, especially when in a crowded environment. Further, the Hamilton-Wentworth School Board is the only one in Ontario that has a temporary masking requirement, which went into effect last week, and we’re anticipating that more and more schools will be following similar steps.

Again, with most institutions, organizations and individuals not participating in wearing masks, it is now extremely imperative that we take the initiative and mask up whenever we can, especially when indoors or in busy environments. And not just any mask, but an N95/KN95 mask that has been tested to perform with a minimum filtration efficiency of 95%, as this is what will protect you from viruses and respiratory illnesses.

Of course, another preventative measure is testing yourself with a reliable, Health-Canada-approved, at-home rapid test kit. Ensuring that you have a few rapid tests on hand at all times is one of the best ways to avoid spreading viruses. If you’re feeling a bit under the weather and want to determine your current status, it’s so easy to conduct an at-home rapid test and you’ll receive your results in 15-30 minutes! This is a great practice to keep on top of mind, especially if you have an immunocompromised family member or young infants in your family. 

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CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Let’s keep our guards up, Canada! The more mindful we are of our daily decisions, the more we can ensure the health and safety of our communities. With mask mandates not in effect and viruses rapidly spreading, the choice is ours to make.
Mask up, test regularly and stay safe!

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RESOURCES

https://www.cnn.com/2022/12/15/health/covid-19-christmas-2022/index.html
https://www.insauga.com/hamilton-covid-19-activity-moderate-and-increasing-as-holiday-gatherings-near/
https://www.msn.com/en-ca/health/other/covid-19-levels-rise-slightly-ahead-of-holiday-break/ar-AA15uVmo