Hamilton City Council met as the Board of Health on Monday.
During the meeting, they received an update from Hamilton’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, regarding the latest COVID statistics and updated forecasting predicting case counts and outcomes until June 2022.
Two public delegations requesting to speak to the now-revoked provincial vaccination mandates were withdrawn.
Dr. Richardson provided a separate update on staffing challenges facing Hamilton Public Health due to a shortage of human resources in the health sector across Ontario and beyond.
COVID Stats and Forecasting
Dr. Richardson says the number of COVID cases in the community and COVID hospitalization is rising in Hamilton.
“We do think this is due to changes in protective behaviours with the drop in the mandates for things like masking and capacity limits and those sorts of things,” she stated. “Also because of the increasing prevalence of BA.2, which is about 1.3 to 1.5 times more transmissible than the Omicron sub-variant BA.1.”
“Test positivity, hospitalizations, wastewater indicators all do continue to rise,” Dr. Richardson stated while displaying updated statistical slides to City Council.
“Our Intensive Care Unit admissions though can they’re a lagging indicator, and so far have remained low and stable,” she continued. “We’re hopeful that this is indicative of some of the protection that is there from the third dose of vaccine that is there as well as some treatment.”
Dr. Richardson says her staff are working to encourage more people to be “up to date” with their vaccinations. “You’ll see that change in our language from the booster language to being up to date,” saying “we’re really trying to make it clear that really the point is that we need to stay up to date with our vaccines as more vaccine [doses] are considered.”
Hamilton Public Health is now forecasting the sixth wave of COVID, which we are now in, surge “may be prolonged into the summer.”
The City’s hospitalization rate remains below the peaks of previous COVID waves and is forecast to remain lower than previous waves, however, the daily admission rate is increasing and is expected to keep increasing slightly in the coming weeks.
Hamilton’s daily new hospitalization rate increased to 2.7 per day last week from 1.7 per day the week prior.
Dr. Richardson is encouraging people to wear masks, reduce their contacts, and engage in other COVID preventative measures “in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission to themselves and to their loved ones.”
Public Health Staffing Shortages
Hamilton’s public health division had 395.73 full-time equivalent staff before the COVID pandemic.
At peak staffing during the pandemic, January 2022, there were 910.79 FTE working for public health.
Nearly half of public health pre-COVID staff were diverted to pandemic response, with most of the “base” public health programs suspended during the pandemic.
Presently, there are 683.31 FTEs working for public health [the peak included seconded staff from other city divisions and the library].
Dr. Richardson says Public Health will need 566.70 FTE “going forward” to resume “base” public health programs while adding staff for permanent COVID management, and some staff to address backlogs in various services including children’s vaccinations, dental screenings, mental health supports, and population health services.
The 556.70 staff will increase if regular COVID vaccination delivery is required into the future.
Across Ontario, there are shortages of qualified health professionals, especially in nursing.
Dr. Richardson originally forecast to spend $20,882,772 to address public health backlogs in 2022.
Public Health “continues to experience challenges with recruitment” and now forecasts it will only be able to deliver around half of its recovery projects budget.
The new spending forecast is $9,000,924.
Production Details v. 1.0.0 First published: April 3, 2022 Last edited: April 4, 2022 Author: Joey Coleman Edit Record v. 1.0.0 original version, pre-meeting preview v. 2.0.0 changes to summarize the meeting