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Highly transmissible COVID-19 strain circulating in Grey Bruce

The Grey Bruce Health Unit reports more infectious strains of COVID-19 are circulating in the area and fuelling outbreaks in some long-term care homes. There are currently 10 active COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care and retirement homes and in-patient units in Grey-Bruce. Some of the homes are experiencing high transmission rates.

The health unit said this trend is likely due to the highly transmissible Omicron sub-variant BA.5, now the dominant strain of the virus in Ontario. BA.5 is believed to be the most dominant strain of COVID-19 circulating in Grey-Bruce. Most of the virus specimens sent for genomic sequencing from GBHU in early August were BA.5.

The World Health Organization said BA.5 is the most transmissible strain of COVID-19 so far in this pandemic. However, it does not appear to be more severe than previous strains of Omicron, with Public Health Ontario saying the risk of severe acute disease is low with a high degree of uncertainty.

The health unit media release added vaccine effectiveness against BA.5 has been waning in individuals vaccinated more than four months ago, particularly in people who have received only two doses of vaccine. The risk of reinfection is also considered high.

Public Health is reminding residents that getting up-to-date on their vaccinations as soon as possible, saying it remains the best defence against severe illness and death from the virus and is also the most effective way to curb the virus’s spread and prevent outbreaks in congregate care settings.

“Evidence shows that BA.5 is more infectious and is spreading faster than previous strains of Omicron. Vaccine offers strong personal protection from hospitalization, complications, ICU admission and death,” says GBHU Physician Consultant Dr. Rim Zayed.

“The only way to impede this spread is to increase vaccine coverage in the community – it’s the best, safest and most effective way to get a handle on COVID-19.”

Public Health is holding COVID-19 vaccine clinics throughout Grey-Bruce and partnering with GO-VAXX to provide supplementary clinics in areas with lower vaccine uptake. A full schedule of clinics is available here. More dates will be added as fall draws nearer.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is recommending that individuals aged 12 and up who are eligible for a booster dose and had a recent COVID-19 infection get their next vaccine dose three months after the onset of their symptoms or a positive test, if asymptomatic. Although a new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be available this fall, Public Health is encouraging residents to get up-to-date on their vaccines as soon as possible and not wait until the new vaccine is rolled out. This is especially important for individuals aged 60 and over and those with underlying medical conditions.

Public Health is urging people to exercise extra caution when visiting residents in long-term care and retirement homes. Along with ensuring vaccinations are up-to-date, visitors can increase protection by wearing a well-fitted mask while indoors, practicing proper hand hygiene, and using outdoor spaces or distancing when possible.

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