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Mask mandates could still happen if strain continues on Healthcare, WPSHC Chief of Medical Staff

Officials with the West Parry Sound Health Centre say masks may not be mandated right now, but if the region stays the course it’s currently on, there may be no other choice. 

Over the last two weeks, the local health centre has seen five times the influenza cases our region saw collectively over the last three years. That from the West Parry Sound Health Centre’s Chief Nursing Officer and Director of Primary Care Katie Hogue who says influenza and RSV cases are exponentially rising in our area. 

Nevertheless, Hogue says when patients are trying to make a decision to come into the Emergency Department, it’s important that if they are sick and they need to be seen that they do come in and disregard wait times. She says that’s because the centre does triage based on how sick people are when they come in.  

According to Hogue, WPSHC’s capacity currently sits on the bridge between 85 percent all the way up to 110 percent, depending on the day. If residents are not that sick and don’t know what to do, she says there are a number of resources that folks have including contacting their primary care provider to see if there is any advice or if they can get a virtual visit with them to get that medical advice. 

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WPSHC’s Chief of Medical Staff Dr. Wil Smith says relative to some areas of Ontario, particularly in the South, the WPSHC has been fortunate in terms of wait times. He says they have not had to take any drastic measures.

“Same as we’ve always said throughout the pandemic if you really are sick do come to the emergency department. Everybody is triaged and everyone has an individual assessment as soon as they come and the people who are the sickest and really need that care urgently go to the front of the line and really don’t necessarily have to wait so long,” he says.

Dr. Smith says the situation at the health centre is not currently dire, but it is quite concerning, adding that they are keeping a very close eye on it.

“We are having an incredible surge in the RSV and influenza presentations to the emergency department and that’s like all of the other hospitals in the region. We have been fortunate compared to some of the hospitals in the region and part of that is due to perhaps good planning and part of that is probably due to luck and a lot of that is due to how well our community manages,” he says.

He says the health centre is encouraging everybody to do what they can to help spare the entire community from the burden of a lot of extra and potentially avoidable infections. “We certainly support the wearing of masks, we’ve never stopped wearing them in the health centre, we’re probably going to keep on wearing them for quite some time yet. As far as the community goes I think that Dr. Moore has made some very strong advice and good suggestions in terms of when it would be appropriate to use the masks,” He says.

Dr. Smith says the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health stopped short of making masks mandatory but he thinks it is possible if the healthcare system continues to experience increased strain, that we will reach that point where a mask mandate is necessary.

“We would love to be able to avoid that I think we’d all prefer not to see the healthcare system under even more strain, but it is certainly a possibility and at the rate things are going we may be headed there yet,” he says.

Dr. Smith says this year’s influenza is an incredibly severe strain, adding that compared to previous years where people might have gotten by with relatively mild symptoms, this year officials are starting to see a lot of people who are experiencing a much more severe collection of symptoms. 

“There is a big difference this year and that is why we are starting to have a lot of strain throughout the Healthcare System, both the severity is high and the numbers are high,” Dr. Smith says.

He says every year he encounters a lot of people who are sitting on the fence and not sure if they should get the influenza vaccine or not, but he assures them that this is the year to get it. “If you’re at all in doubt this is the best year to get it that we had in a long time,” he says.

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