KENORA — Lake of the Woods District Hospital seems ready for the overlap of flu season and holiday season, says infection prevention and control practitioner Janet Paulson.
That’s in good part because “we learned a lot from the pandemic,” she says, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020 and experts still don’t consider to be over (though the World Health Organization said in May that it’s no longer a public health emergency).
Holiday mingling and visits to loved ones in the hospital present respiratory viruses with extra opportunity to spread, but Paulson sees reason for optimism.
“We might see more people coming in to visit their loved ones,” she says. “We’re trying to target it from a prevention standpoint.
“And the thing I’m really happy about is, in talking to the Northwestern Health Unit, they say our influenza and COVID vaccine rates are incredible for Kenora specifically. They said they can’t even meet the demand for the clinics.
“And we actually have opened up our vaccine clinics to our staff’s family members so that they could get timely vaccinations as well.”
Vaccination is one key to limiting the spread and impact of respiratory viruses, Paulson says.
“Influenza vaccination is proven to prevent transmission from person to person,” she says.
“COVID vaccination is not quite the same. The MRNA vaccines prevent the individual who’s been vaccinated from getting very sick. You could still get sick, but you just have mild symptoms.”
Some hospitals are requiring visitors to cover their noses and mouths with masks, but not Kenora’s hospital – though the policy measure remains an option.
“It’s something we’ve been discussing,” says Paulson. “But we need to see where the transmission is occurring. Is it occurring from staff to staff, staff to patients, visitors to patients? Like, where’s the threshold?"
Hospital leaders meet regularly to discuss infection prevention and control, including the mask mandate option.
The fact that few people are masking up in the larger community outside the hospital would make a mask mandate in the hospital somewhat “difficult to enforce,” she said.
“We’ve been very vocal about encouraging patients to mask in outpatient clinics, specifically the emergency department,” she adds.
A mask mandate is “not off the table,” she says.
“There’s not a problem with supply, like there was early on in the pandemic,” she remarks. “That’s not an issue at all. But I think we need patient buy-in, we need staff buy-in and we need public buy-in.
“Specifically, I don’t have a stance on it. I think it’s a great prevention tool when used properly.”
As of Wednesday, the hospital’s Unit 2E (Med Surg) COVID-19 outbreak, which the hospital declared about two weeks earlier, is still ongoing. Visitor restrictions remain in place for Unit 2E, hospital spokesperson Charlene Kissick said Wednesday.