By Sue Tiffin
The following are brief reports from a Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit press conference with medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking, held virtually on June 1 .
The health unit is now seeing about 10 to 20 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 a day, a decrease from anywhere from 60 to more than 100 new cases a day at the peak of the Omicron or Omicron variant waves. Bocking noted the region is at the “tail end” of the sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of the time of the media briefing last week, Bocking said there were three outbreaks in high-risk settings. Locally, test positivity – though PCR testing remains limited to those in high-risk settings only – was down to about 7.7 per cent, at its peak being 23 per cent and currently in the province being recorded between eight to nine per cent.
“Certainly not down to zero, but a level we haven’t seen since the introduction of the Omicron variant,” Bocking said.
There had been three hospital admissions in the past 14 days.
Wastewater surveillance was indicating a decrease in COVID activity, with sewersheds in Lindsay and Cobourg being monitored. Lindsay’s viral signal showed a decrease to pre-Omicron levels, the lowest it’s been for some time, while Cobourg had experienced a slight bump back up recently but was hopefully on the way down, said Bocking.
“I anticipate really because Omicron is so contagious, it’s not going to disappear completely,” said Bocking. “We’re going to see likely an ongoing trickle of cases. We might see little bumps in our wastewater surveillance data, but hopefully now we’re in a period of time where we’re not seeing a significant increase or another surge or wave … our hope and outlook is that we wouldn’t see it until the fall, unless a new variant were to emerge.”
Bocking said during the Omicron variant wave since the beginning of January, 77 outbreaks in the highest risk settings, 140 hospital admissions, 27 ICU admissions and 45 deaths were recorded. Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, 108 deaths related to COVID-19 have occurred in the region.
As the incidence of COVID-19 has decreased, so too will the health unit’s dashboard updates, with those updates now occurring once weekly, on Wednesdays, unless or until another increase in activity occurs.
Staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccination
The schedule for vaccinations has gotten more complicated, said Bocking, and for the public to know who is eligible for which dose. See www.hkpr.on.ca for more information.
She said those 60 and older are currently eligible for a second booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Throughout the region she said there’s been “good uptake,” among those 90 and older, with 90.7 per cent of people having received their first booster dose and 42.8 per cent having received their second booster dose.
Among the entire population, 28 per cent have received a second booster dose.
“So certainly a large number of people that are still eligible for their second booster dose,” Bocking said.
She reminded individuals at highest risk that vaccines provide “very good protection” against severe illness, hospitalization and death.
“It’s not 100 per cent, but it’s highly effective and one of the best tools we have at preventing severe illness,” Bocking said.
For those with stem cell implants, solid organ recipients and people undergoing therapy for cancer, it’s especially important to be up-to-date with receiving vaccinations.
Bocking said for people who have had COVID-19, it’s still recommended to be vaccinated, as there’s some natural immunity after the infection but that doesn’t seem to be as durable or strong as vaccination.
“There are some studies that are indicating if you receive vaccination after being infected with COVID, it further boosts your immune response, and therefore it increases your protection against severe illness with COVID-19,” she said.
The current recommendation is that if you’ve had COVID, you should wait approximately five months or so before you get your next dose of vaccine when it’s due, but depending on what your risk is for more severe illness it might make sense for you to receive it sooner than five months, said Bocking, recommending that people contact their primary care provider to discuss best practices.
COVID-19 vaccine is available at participating pharmacies, through some primary care providers, and at health unit led clinics.
A GO-VAXX bus will be at the S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena at 55 Parkside Street in Minden on June 20 and 28 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on July 12 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Walk-ins available (no appointment needed).
A GO-VAXX bus will be on site at the Haliburton Welcome/Tourism Information Centre at 7 York Street in Haliburton on June 14 and 30 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Walk-ins available (no appointment needed).
In Gooderham, a GO-VAXX bus will be on site on June 23 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Walk-ins available (no appointment needed).
Additional appointments might be available through covid-19.ontario.ca/book-vaccine.
Vaccines for the youngest community members
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved vaccine for those under the age of five. Data is currently being reviewed by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization for Canada. Bocking said she expects to see the results of that review and official Health Canada approval or recommendations for the use of vaccine in that age group in the next couple of months, likely over the summer.
Health unit messaging
Bocking said the message regarding COVID-19 safety remains the same, including that people wear masks where they can’t keep a distance from others in large crowded events.
“This is not just to do with protecting oneself, but also protecting those other community members that are at higher risk of illness,” Bocking said. “Again, masks are easy and effective and in those highest risk scenarios, we do still have COVID-19 infection in the community.”
Otherwise, she said, now is the time to look forward to the summer months ahead, spend time outside, reconnect with family members that haven’t been seen, “before we look to the fall where I would anticipate we would see an increase in activity again.”