By Mike Baker
New COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of people allowed at social gatherings and tightening regulations on bars and restaurants are being implemented across Haliburton County this week.
It was revealed on Friday, Dec. 4 that the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge [HKPR] District Health Unit would be moving into the ‘Yellow-Protect’ level of Ontario’s COVID-19 response framework. Officially transitioning at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 7, the move comes as a result of increased coronavirus activity in our area, according to Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, medical officer of health with HKPR District Health Unit.
“We are seeing more COVID-19 activity in our region, so the move into ‘Yellow’ is not a surprise,” Dr. Noseworthy stated. “The new measures in the ‘Yellow’ level are not much different than what we currently have in place, but will enhance our ability to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”
The local health unit will stay in the ‘Yellow’ level for a minimum of 28 days.
As of Monday, Dec. 7, there are 35 unresolved cases of COVID-19 within our local health region, although none of those individuals reside in Haliburton [28 in Northumberland County, and seven in the City of Kawartha Lakes]. There hasn’t been a case of COVID-19 reported in Haliburton County since Nov. 27. According to the local health unit, that case is no longer considered active.
Since the pandemic began back in March, there have been 349 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the HKPR District Health Unit, with 27 of those stemming from Haliburton County. The local area was one of only two health units in southern Ontario to remain in the ‘Green-Prevent’ category, along with Renfrew County and District Health Unit, prior to Monday’s shift.
The ‘Yellow-Protect’ level is the second lowest in Ontario’s five-level COVID-19 response framework. Others include ‘Green-Prevent’, ‘Orange-Restrict’, ‘Red-Control’, and ‘Grey-Lockdown’. These public health measures can be adjusted, tightened, or loosened based on local COVID-19 trends and case counts. The colour code for each health region is reviewed weekly by the Ontario Ministry of Health.
Under the new zone, limits to the number of people allowed at organized public events, social gatherings and religious services, rites and ceremonies remain in place. For events such as parties, family dinners or wedding receptions held at home, there is a limit of 10 people allowed indoors and 25 people allowed outdoors. Limits for public events and gatherings in staffed businesses and facilities are capped at 50 people for indoor events and 100 people for outdoor events.
The restaurant industry is taking the hardest hit with the move, with new rules stating all eateries and bars must be closed by midnight, while alcohol can no longer be sold or served after 11 p.m. There is also a new limit on the number of people that can be seated at one table while dining in, capped at six. As well, contact information must be collected from all patrons who dine in at a restaurant. Previous rules stated only one person from a party had to provide their contact information.
Gyms and fitness clubs are also impacted by the move, with new rules mandating spacing between patrons inside the facility should be extended to three metres, up from two metres, in areas with weights or exercise equipment.
Any business found to be in violation of the new regulations run the risk of receiving a hefty fine. There have been reports of businesses in heavily-impacted areas such as Toronto and Peel Region being fined as much as $10,000 for breaking various COVID-19 protection measures.
Entrepreneurs in Haliburton County have, largely, played ball when it comes to adapting their business practices in the wake of new rules and regulations in recent months, according to Dr. Noseworthy.
“Local businesses and organizations have done an excellent job following the public health measures designed to protect our residents,” she said. “It’s important we continue to work together with our business community to ensure a smooth transition to the new restrictions coming into effect under the ‘Yellow’ level.”
Local residents should continue to follow recommended public health measures, such as staying home when ill, wearing a mask while in public, maintaining physical distancing, washing hands thoroughly and frequently, and avoiding all non-essential travel, especially to high-risk areas.
In a recent letter directed to area residents, Carolyn Plummer, President and CEO of Haliburton Highlands Health Services, said it was especially important to follow these practices with the busy holiday season now upon us.
“Just as I ask my staff to remain cautious about their infection control and prevention measures, I am also respectfully asking this of our community,” Plummer said. “With the prevalence of the virus across the province rising, lockdowns in other regions, and the holiday season upon us, this [move to the ‘Yellow’ zone] is no surprise.”
“I know there will be brighter, and warmer days ahead for us all, and I remain deeply grateful for everything our community continues to do to protect the health and safety of our staff, patients, residents, families, friends and neighbours,” Plummer concluded.