The measures implemented to combat COVID-19, including the use of masks and physical distancing, had an impact on the transmission of influenza
Public health measures put in place to protect against COVID also had a positive effect in keeping influenza at bay.
Now that many people are choosing not to wear masks or physically distance themselves, public health officials are hoping the flu will return.
“Last year, the flu season technically never started because we didn’t hit the threshold. [in the number of cases,” said Dr. John Tuinema, associate medical officer of health for Algoma.
Measures put in place to combat COVID-19, including masking and physical distancing, had an impact on influenza transmission, he said.
“This year, without those same measures in place, it is very much expected we will have a regular flu season. The extent of how severe it’s going to be remains to be seen,” he said.
Last week, Ontario’s top doctor said there is concern a ‘triple threat’ of a bad flu season, COVID-19 and the resurgence of a childhood viral illness may be putting a strain on the health system.
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said last week the government may make a recommendation on masking in certain indoor settings and even a possibility of reinstating mask mandates.
This year’s strain of influenza is especially virulent, he said.
“On a normal season we see 12,000 Canadians admitted to hospital … that may be higher with (this strain),” said Moore.
People who are particularly vulnerable to respiratory viruses should definitely be masking now, Moore said.
Tuinema said he has noticed a slight increase in the number of people in the Sault choosing to wear masks once again in public.
“There seems to be a few more masks being worn than there would have been a few months ago, but I would say we are still not quite where we would want to be as far as being able to protect ourselves and others,” he said. ”Algoma Public Health continues to strongly recommend that people mask if they are going to be in enclosed spaces, crowded places or in close contact with many people.”
People can make the choice now to wear masks in certain situations, said Tuinema, possibly preventing the need for a government mandate to be imposed.
“They [the public] they don’t need to wait for instructions on that before they start protecting themselves, they can do it today,” he said.
Unlike earlier in the pandemic, when the supply of masks was much tighter, N-95 masks can now be found for sale in many retail stores.
“It’s much easier to get a medical-grade mask, if people are also looking for that extra layer of protection,” Tuinema said.
Moore also recommended that Ontarians get a flu shot, available to people six months and older. It takes 10-14 days to take full effect.
Flu shots are currently available at local pharmacies, health care providers and through Algoma Public Health.
“The more people get vaccinated, the more we can help contain the flu and preserve our health care system,” Tuinema said.
Additional COVID-19 vaccinations are also available for people living in Algoma.
Tuinema said not as many people as APH would like choose to get a booster dose.
“It’s the same messages: immunization is the best way to protect yourself and we now have COVID vaccines that are targeted at the Omicron variant. If people haven’t gotten that yet and are eligible, they certainly should,” Tuinema said. “We certainly would like to see more people have that, not only to protect themselves, but also to protect those around them.”
— with archives from The Canadian Press