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Office Christmas parties discouraged as local case counts rise

Region's medical officer of health says limiting the size of holiday gatherings is essential to prevent a spike in cases

The region's chief medical officer of health is recommending taking the workplace Christmas party off the calendar this year as daily COVID case counts continue to climb across Waterloo region and the rest of the province.

Dr. Hsiu Li Wang's recommendation for workplaces to cancel or scale back the size of holiday gatherings came Tuesday morning during a regional council briefing on the current COVID situation where regional councillor Jim Erb asked for the timely guidance.

"We don’t want to be scrooge on this," Erb said, but he's heard about a few local organizations who've taken the responsible approach by cancelling holiday workplace gatherings and he hoped the region could reinforce that idea in advice given to the public.

"I can see this as one of the reasons the numbers might spike around Christmas time," he said.

Wang agreed it's a message that should be conveyed more broadly.

"I know it’s not the messaging people were hoping to hear but in the face of rising case rates and unknowns about the Omicron variant, the best way to protect ourselves is really to minimize the size of those gatherings,” Wang said.

The region reported 32 new cases of the disease Tuesday while the province added another 998 new cases to the tally.

Wang said she expects widespread presence of the virus to grow as the winter months approach and says it will inevitably lead to more outbreaks and school closures. 

The region still has 148,000 residents who are not fully immunized and remain vulnerable to COVID and its variants, she said.

That number includes the 118,000 residents five years and older who are not fully vaccinated and almost 92,000 eligible residents 12 and over who have not received a first dose.

Wang said 25 per cent of the 5-11 year old age group has received a first dose while 32,000 children under the age of five remain ineligible for the vaccine.

She said she expects the Omicrom variant will make an appearance any day now in Waterloo region but said regardless of that threat it won't set us back to ground zero because of the region's high vaccination rate and measures in place to prevent the spread.

She urged anyone eligible for the booster shot to get it as soon as possible.

The provincial rollout for third-dose booster shots for anyone over the age of 50 starts Dec. 13.

In updating the impact on the local health care system, Wang said it remains moderate but warned hospital and ICU admissions are lagging indicators of local severity.

Unvaccinated individuals are at much greater risk of severe outcomes and are accounting for most of the COVID burden in hospitals, she said.

That strain on hospitals remains high because of the backlog from delayed medical procedures.

“Let’s keep building our wall of defense to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our community,” she said.