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Media Release: Board of Health Update – June 2022

Hastings and Prince Edward Counties/June 2, 2022

The Hastings Prince Edward Board of Health (BOH) met yesterday. The meeting was conducted in person at the office in Belleville.

COVID-19 numbers trending in the right direction; residents urged to remain vigilant

While the pandemic is not over and the virus continues to circulate, Dr. Ethan Toumishey, Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) Medical Officer of Health and CEO, said COVID-19 rates in Hastings and Prince Edward Counties are headed in the right direction.

“Since the last board meeting there has been an encouraging decline in the number of high-risk cases in the community – from 357 to 39. This positive trend is largely due to the ongoing efforts of residents who have continued to follow public health recommendations and have gotten vaccinated,” said Dr. Toumishey. “I want to thank residents for continuing to be cautious and making responsible choices such as staying home when sick and getting all recommended vaccines. These steps will continue to protect those who are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19.”

Collaboration between community partners and public health brings cardiology services back to Bancroft

Dr. Toumishey informed the board that starting on June 23 cardiology services will once again be offered in Bancroft. The Kawartha Cardiology team will provide services from our Bancroft public health office one day per month to start and have the capacity to see 20-30 clients each day.  A big thank you to the Bancroft Family Health Team, Dr. Parambir Singh Keila and Dr. Alexander Ferreira, for their work to make this happen.

Monkeypox update

Dr. Toumishey reported that while there are no confirmed cases of monkeypox in the region, the emergence of monkeypox underscores the importance of ongoing surveillance of communicable disease, part of the behind the scenes work that public health continues to undertake to keep the community safe.

He told the board that while hearing about a new virus when still within the COVID-19 pandemic is worrisome, evidence shows that monkeypox is not as transmissible or as severe as COVID-19.

Basic public health measures that everyone should be practicing at all times, will work to prevent the spread of monkeypox. These includes measures like:

  • staying home when sick or you have skin sores,
  • practicing respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes and wearing a face mask,
  • practicing good hand hygiene, and
  • practicing safer sex.

In addition, avoid close physical contact, including sexual contact, with an individual who is suspected or confirmed to have monkeypox.

You can learn more about monkeypox at https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/monkeypox.html

Harm Reduction Program update

Stephanie McFaul, Manager of Clinical Services and Epidemiologist Yvonne DeWit provided an update on the Harm Reduction Program activities, noting that the pandemic further contributed to the growing opioid overdose epidemic.

From 2019 to 2021 there was an 80% increase in the number of overdose deaths in Hastings and Prince Edward Counties. In 2020 there were 28 deaths and in 2021 the preliminary data shows 29 deaths. Of the 28 deaths in 2020, 20 (71%) were male and over half (54%) were individuals between the ages of 25 and 44.

Throughout the pandemic provision of harm reduction and overdose prevention services remained a priority for HPEPH and staff adapted to the evolving needs of clients to provide easy access to essential harm reduction/overdose prevention services. HPEPH, in conjunction with community partners, distributed 2,063 naloxone kits in 2020 and 1,665 in 2021, as well as other safer drug use supplies which support single use equipment and reduce the risk of blood-borne infections.

McFaul noted that community partnerships were essential in meeting the basic needs of some of the region’s most vulnerable populations, and HPEPH continues to work with local and regional community and health care partners to plan, implement and evaluate activities and partnerships to support harm reduction efforts.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug use and would like support, visit the HPEPH Getting Help page. To protect yourself and others, be aware of the signs of an overdose and pick up a free naloxone kit. Naloxone is available at many local locations, including many pharmacies. For a list of locations where naloxone is available, visit hpepublichealth.ca/safer-drug-use.

Smoking and vaping update

Roberto Almeida, Manager of Healthy Environments, provided an update on vaping and smoking. He told the board that vaping amongst youth has increased significantly since the passage of the federal Tobacco Vaping Products Act in 2018. According to the latest national nicotine use survey, individuals 15 to 19 who have vaped in the last 30 days has surpassed smoking by a wide margin (13% vs 3%).

This is a very concerning trend that can be best addressed through stricter legislation building on the province’s July 2020 amendments that, amongst other things, substantially limited vape juice flavours in corner stores and gas stations (but not in specialty vape shops).

In response to this issue, the HPEPH BOH is sending a letter to the provincial and federal Ministers of Health requesting:

  • that Ontario increase the minimum purchase age for vaping and tobacco products to 21 years of age (currently 19) under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017,
  • that Ontario limit the types of flavoured vaping products in specialty vape shops, corner stores and gas stations to tobacco flavour only (currently tobacco, mint and menthol are permitted at corner stores and a wide variety of exotic flavours are allowed in specialty vape shops),
  • that Ontario and the federal government work together to introduce dedicated sales taxes for vapour products, much like tobacco taxes.
    • Currently only the HST applies to vapour product sales in Ontario. Application of provincial tobacco taxes and federal excise taxes has successfully deterred youth tobacco use. Similar measures are likely to have the same effect with youth vaping.   
    • To date, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have already implemented a vapour products tax.

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Media contacts

Maureen Hyland, Communications Specialist
mhyland@hpeph.ca

Emily Tubbs, Communications Specialist
etubbs@hpeph.ca

About Hastings Prince Edward Public Health
Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) is a public health agency that serves the counties of Hastings and Prince Edward from four local offices. HPEPH is situated and provides services on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Huron-Wendat and Haudenosaunee people. We monitor the health of our local population, deliver programs and services within our communities, and help develop healthy public policies. We provide information and support in many areas to help improve the health and well-being of our residents. Together with our communities, we help people become as healthy as they can be. For more information, please visit hpePublicHealth.ca. You can also find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

We invite community partners and residents to share this Media Release with their respective networks.

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COVID-19 VACCINES IN HPEPH

All individuals ≥ 5 yrs of age are eligible to receive a fall COVID-19 booster dose 6 mo after previous COVID-19 vaccine. Bivalent booster doses are available to individuals aged 12 and over.

Appointments can be booked through the provincial vaccine booking site, or by calling 1-833-943-3900 from 8 am to 8 pm, 7 days a week.  

COVID-19 PROTOCOLS

For the most up to date information on current provincial guidelines and advice in case of exposure, visit Ontario.ca/page/public-health-measures-and-advice.

The Ministry of Health has launched a new toll-free line as an additional resource to help answer questions from the public regarding evolving COVID-19 testing and isolation guidance. The line can be reached at 1-888-777-0730, and is available from 8 am to 6 pm, 7 days a week.