The Covid19 pandemic caused the deaths of over 700 residents of Simcoe-Muskoka according to a report by the Medical Officer of Heath.
The Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner made a report to Muskoka District Council on Monday. Gardner described the state of the health unit’s work and the state of health within Muskoka.
Gardner stated that the pandemic was a massive challenge for the health unit.
“We’ve responded to the most severe pandemic of the century, COVID-19. The province lost over 16,000 people, we lost over 700 people. We responded to over 1,000 facility outbreaks, including long-term care facility and other congregate setting and hospital outbreaks through that period of time,” Gardner said.
Gardner stated that there were more deaths in Muskoka during the Omicron wave in 2022 than in the two previous years combined. He stated that only recently has the region returned to a lower rate of transmission as measured by the health unit’s rating system.
“Although we’re in a much better place now than we were, we are certainly continuing to have a major health issue,” Gardner said.
According to Gardner, over 1.5 million doses of Coronavirus vaccines were provided at the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit, which vaccinated over 80% of the region’s population. According to the Chief Medical Officer of Health, these vaccine efforts perhaps prevented 95% of the mortality which could have occurred.
“While we lost over 700 people here we would have had many, many more deaths without all those efforts,” Gardner said.
According to Gardner, the staff at the health unit are just now attempting to return to normal programs and responsibilities after the disruptions caused by the pandemic. This includes a renewed emphasis on immunization of young students which according to Gardner “fell off” during the pandemic.
“It will take us time to catch up. It’ll take us through the year and into next year, possibly beyond to fully catch up,” Gardner said.
Gardner also highlighted the increasing severity of the opioid crisis which became even worse during the pandemic. He stated that this would get increasing attention from health services moving forward.
Bracebridge Mayor Rick Maloney opened a discussion about the impact of smoke from wildfires on residents and what the health unit’s role was in the issue.
Gardner stated that the health unit connects with Environment Canada, local municipalities, school boards to act as an additional alert service for residents about air quality. This includes advising about current air quality, risks of poor air quality, ways to protect yourself from poor air quality and potentially providing masks for residents.
Chair Jeff Lehman asked Gardner about the health unit’s efforts addressing social determinants in health and asked what challenges the health unit has seen in recent months.
Gardner stated that food insecurity has caused increased concerns about malnutrition in the population as poor residents are struggling to meet their nutritional needs. Another issue is housing costs which also result in increased health risks for residents who are housing insecure.
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