My most asked question this week:
Is the Omicron infection mild?
I hope you are doing ok after the first week back to virtual learning. It’s been a struggle for many of us. You are not alone.
Let’s review the bad news, the good news, the most common questions of the day and my silver lining.
What is the bad news?
There have been almost 300 MILLION cases of COVID reported worldwide and 5.5 million deaths.
Over 2.4 million cases have been reported in Canada, with over 30,500 deaths.
Hospitalizations have been up dramatically in the last week. To make matters worse, there are serious hospital staffing shortages due to Omicron. Thousands of doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers have been infected or exposed to Omicron.
Outbreaks in Ontario have led to 20-30% staff absences in some long-term care homes. Some urgent care centers and EMS routes have had to call a ‘code orange’ and shut down due to a lack of staff.
Quebec has asked healthcare workers with mild or asymptomatic illnesses to return following staffing shortages. British Columbia is considering implementing the same strategy to ensure care can continue to be delivered.
Many healthcare providers across the country are feeling burned out.
Daily new infections are soaring, though we do not know how many cases there are due to further testing restrictions.
Attention has now shifted to paying attention to hospitalizations and deaths instead of case counts. More than 2300 patients are currently admitted in Ontario. This is double the number of admitted patients last week. Admissions have doubled in British Columbia, Quebec and other provinces as well.
Kids in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia began online school this week. It is a challenging time for many families.
The United Kingdom has a seven-day average of over 180,000 new cases. Prime Minister Johnson says he plans to ‘ride out’ the pandemic without further restrictions. Across Europe, primary health care is being postponed, as doctors and nurses cancel regular checkups due to an overburdened system amid the surge of patients.
Norwegian Cruise Line cancelled numerous trips as far out as April 2022. The MSC Grandiosa vessel, one of the largest cruise ships operating in the Mediterranean, has an outbreak of over 50 passengers who left from Genoa.
Last week another cruise ship was used as a testing centre for 2500 people in Hong Kong. This came after a two-week ban on flights from eight countries, including Canada, to decrease the spread of Omicron.
Residents in Xi’an, China (population 13 million) are under a strict lockdown due to 100 new cases a day. The ‘zero tolerance’ containment strategy in China significantly impacts the population.
What is the good news?
Over 80 million vaccines have been given in Canada, over 5.9 million to children. 87% of Canadians 5+ have received their first dose, and 81% are fully vaccinated.
Worldwide, over 9.3 BILLION vaccines have been given, representing 59% receiving their first dose, and almost 50% are fully vaccinated.
Questions of the week
Is Omicron infection ‘mild’?
The Omicron variant appears to produce less severe disease than the globally dominant Delta strain; the World Health Organization says we should not call it ‘mild.’ The impact on elderly individuals is a big unanswered question as most of the cases studied so far have been in younger people.
The Canadian COVID-19 Immunity Task Force says that Omicron may offer an “immune dividend”, providing fresh protection against future infection. Close to 9,000 donated blood samples from across Canada showed that immunity in vaccinated adults and those with COVID has been waning throughout the population.
However, we continue to see a rise in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in adults and kids worldwide. Even if Omicron causes less severe disease on average, we will see more people requiring ICU level care and more lives lost if there are enough cases.
What masks are most effective against COVID?
I am often asked which mask I recommend for kids. Consider getting rid of fabric masks. Three or four-ply surgical masks, KN95 masks or N95 masks offer more protection against the highly contagious Omicron variant.
N95 and KN95 masks are made out of material with an electrostatic charge. This pulls particles floating around near the mask. This prevents you from inhaling them.
N95 and KN95 block respiratory droplets by 99%, much more than surgical masks and FAR more than fabric masks.
Surgical masks need to be at least three-ply to prevent Omicron and should be fit to seal around the mouth and nose as best as possible
Cloth masks help prevent the exhale of particles but do not prevent the inhalation of particles. This is particularly challenging with Omicron, which is so easily transmitted. Cloth masks can filter large droplets, but KN95 can filter large droplets and the small aerosols that contain airborne COVID. KN95 and N95 filter out about 95% of airborne particles, but N95 masks have stricter pressure drop requirements and are considered the “gold standard” for masking.
While the mask you wear matters, it is essential to ensure it fits well. If you have gaps, the droplets can leak in and out.
If you cannot get KN95 or don’t fit you well, consider wearing a surgical mask with a fabric mask on top of it. Ensure no gaps near the nose, on the sides, or under the chin. The edges of the masks should touch the face.
Put on your masks, jump, talk, sing and chew, and ensure the mask(s) stay put.
What is Directive #2?
Ontario announced it would reinstate Directive 2 on January 5, 2022. This pauses all non-emergency and non-urgent surgeries, procedures, diagnostic imaging and ambulatory clinical activity to preserve critical care and human resource capacity and allow for consideration for the increasing number of hospitalized patients.
The directive states that Ontario health professionals, guided by the best available guidance and clinical judgment, are best positioned to determine what is considered an emergency and what is urgent.
My silver lining of the week
Many of you follow me on Instagram, where I share daily information about the pandemic and commiserate about the challenges of parenthood.
You may have seen that I was targeted last week by a collection of individuals related to my post about my children receiving the COVID vaccine.
While I won’t give this harassment any additional attention, I received immense support and love from many of you. I was sent hundreds of kind messages thanking me for my education and guidance. I am so appreciative of my community of like-minded parents.
We all lift each other when we are down.
Have a wonderful week, friends.
Dina is a wife, mother of 4, and adrenaline junky. She loves to share children’s health information from her professional and personal experience. More About Dr Dina.