Starting Sept. 22, in Ontario, you must prove you’re vaccinated against COVID-19 to go to restaurants, bars, gyms and other non-essential indoor places where people gather.
But you don’t have to be vaccinated to care for the sick and vulnerable in hospitals, long-term care homes and other medical centres.
That doesn’t make sense.
“We will do whatever it takes,” Premier Doug Ford vowed when he announced vaccine passports Wednesday.
But he isn’t.
That’s why the five hospitals in Windsor, Essex County, Chatham-Kent and Sarnia announced Friday that their employees will have to be vaccinated or be terminated.
That’s doing “whatever it takes.”
On Thursday, the day after Ford announced vaccine passports, the number of people seeking shots at the vaccine centre at Devonshire Mall jumped 50 per cent. Those seeking first doses skyrocketed almost 200 per cent. Across the province, vaccination appointments more than doubled.
Vaccine passports are working already.
But, as the hospitals here stated in their letter to the community, this is what we face.
As of Aug. 29, Windsor and Essex County had the highest number — by far — of active COVID-19 cases in Ontario: 119 per 100,000 population, compared to the average of 40.3. We also had the highest number — by far — of new cases: 101 per 100,000 population, compared to the average of 32.6.
The Delta variant is “an acute threat to public health,” the province’s COVID-19 science advisory table stated in its latest update Wednesday.
It’s more than twice as transmissible as the original SARS-CoV-2. If you’re infected, the risk of being hospitalized and ending up in the intensive care unit is two to three times higher.
And if you’re not vaccinated, you’re really in trouble. People who aren’t vaccinated have a six-fold higher risk of symptomatic disease, a 30-fold higher risk of being hospitalized and 48-fold higher risk of ending up in the ICU compared to those who are fully vaccinated.
Here are the numbers from a recent Public Health Ontario report. Between July 16 and Aug. 14, 83 per cent of COVID-19 cases occurred in unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people. Eighty-nine per cent of people who were hospitalized and 93 per cent of those who were admitted to an ICU were unvaccinated.
The science table’s models and all the other experts’ models are predicting a “substantial” fourth wave when workplaces and schools reopen this fall. To avoid yet another lockdown, vaccination must be “substantially above 85 (per cent) of the eligible population.”
Only 72.6 per cent of the eligible population in Windsor and Essex County is vaccinated.
At Windsor Regional Hospital, 94 per cent of staff are vaccinated. That’s good. But it still leaves 300 employees who aren’t vaccinated. That’s a lot of unvaccinated people in a building full of sick people. It’s also a lot of people in the community who can get and spread the virus.
It’s not only the numbers. It’s where the infections are happening.
“The highest number of outbreak-associated cases are reported in…mainly bars, restaurants and nightclubs as well as in education and child-care and congregate care settings,” states another Public Health Ontario report.
Yet, like health-care workers, teachers and child-care workers don’t have to be vaccinated, either. Children under age 12 aren’t eligible for the vaccine. Their safety will depend on the people around them who are eligible to be vaccinated getting their shots.
And vaccine passports for restaurants and bars won’t be required until Sept. 22.
Will they start curbing the spread in time? Or will they be too late? We’ll find out.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said Wednesday the province wants a vaccine strategy “so every link in our chain of protection is strong.”
But there are gaps.
You’ll have to be vaccinated to go to restaurants, but the people serving you don’t have to be vaccinated.
And you don’t have to be vaccinated to go to restaurant patios. What if you have to use the washroom inside?
You don’t have to be vaccinated to go to hair and nail salons, where there is very close contact between employees and customers, or non-essential retail stores.
You don’t have to be vaccinated to go to a church, another indoor place where people gather.
If you want every link in the chain to be strong — and you want everyone to know the rules and avoid confusion — then vaccination should be required for all non-essential indoor places.
And it should go without saying that every health-care worker must be vaccinated. The people they care for depend on them, and they should be leaders in a public health crisis. How do people who don’t get vaccines even end up working in a hospital?
As Ford said (despite the problems with his vaccine passports), please, the facts are clear. Vaccination is key. We either do this or we risk shutting down the economy, closing schools and overwhelming hospitals, again.
As one frustrated local business owner said this week, just get the shot.