Make sure shoppers don’t bring home COVID: Science Table

The province reported 563 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, the highest daily case count in about a month

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Just in time for the holiday shopping season, the Ontario Science Advisory Table is warning about the possibility of COVID-19 transmission in large retail settings.

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“Without public health measures, the risk of explosive outbreaks remains large despite vaccination,” the science table cautions in a report released Thursday.

The province reported 563 new cases of COVID-19 Friday, the highest daily case count in about a month.

The advisers say high rates of vaccination and even vaccine passports, while highly effective in protecting against transmission, are not foolproof in indoor retail settings.

The report recommends ongoing public health measures, such as masks, capacity limits and contract tracing and testing, as well as enhanced ventilation and filtration in indoor spaces.

Activities such as singing, shouting, exercising and eating — which involve taking off masks — need to be carefully considered, the report says.

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“Multiple layers of protection reduce transmission risks and protect vulnerable individuals and groups,” the report says.

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In a setting with a vaccine certificate, with the assumption that 100% of occupants are fully vaccinated, one infected individual could be expected to pass the delta variant onto an average of 1.4 people, doubling the case rates in less than 11 days, without additional precautions, the report says.

Most regular retail settings are not required to check for vaccination.

Even where there are vaccine mandates, exemptions due to age or health reasons are possible.

“There are approximately four million Ontarians who are not yet vaccinated or who are ineligible (children aged 11 years or younger,)” the report says.

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For example, Ontario reported 913 school-related COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks — 816 in students, 92 in staff and five in individuals who were not identified.

To help thwart the virus, which can be spread through respiratory aerosols and droplets, the science table recommends retail settings optimize their HVAC systems, increase ventilation where people might be eating or exercising indoors and use digital carbon dioxide sensors to identify poor air quality.

The advisers say two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine reduces the risk of becoming infected by 85% and the chance of serious illness by 97%.

However, Ontario announced this week that residents who received two doses of AstraZeneca or a single dose of the Janssen vaccine would be eligible to receive a booster shot of an mRNA vaccine — Pfizer or Moderna — to improve their resistance to COVID-19.

aartuso@postmedia.com

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