By James Matthews
There’s no immediate end in sight to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the number of positive tests are on the decline in the area covered by the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.
Dr. Natalie Bocking, the unit’s medical officer of health, painted a picture of the state of COVID-19 during a board of health meeting on Sept. 15.
“The pandemic has an ever-present presence,” she said. “There’s still a lot of work and effort that we need to be putting in to address COVID-19 locally.
“We don’t expect COVID-19 to be leaving us any time soon.”
She believes the day will come when numbers will no longer be attributed to successive waves of the virus. Currently, the seventh wave is on its downside, she said. Test positivity is becoming fewer.
There has been more hospitalizations during the seventh wave than during the previous one. So far, the health authority has tallied 217 admissions because of the Omicron variant since December 2021. Of those, 39 have needed intensive care and there’s been 61 deaths.
“It has taken longer than some of the previous waves to come down to a level that we’re more comfortable with,” Bocking said.
The number of active outbreaks is currently down to five. At the peak, there had been as many as 15 outbreaks in long-term care homes at a single time. The total number of outbreaks thus far in the current wave is pegged to be 117.
“As much as we see COVID-19 becoming less of a presence in our overall minds, it’s still impacting those most vulnerable in our communities,” she said.
The good immunization throughout the region is such that there have been fewer serious hospitalizations or deaths from the pandemic’s earlier waves.
“But we still do see some because these are some of our most vulnerable members of the community,” Bocking said of long-term care facility residents.
Provincially, there’s no indication of a return to earlier measures to stifle the virus’ spread. Basically, people are interacting unfettered.
“We’re back to a semblance of normality in our day-to-day functions,” Bocking said. “And, as such, we fully expect there to be full circulation of all of the other respiratory viruses that we have not seen much of in the last two years.”
That means somebody with symptoms could have COVID-19 or the latest strain of influenza.
Public health authorities are bracing for three key scenarios as part of preparing for the fall season.
The first entails another Omicron wave similar to the past summer.
The second scenario is the arrival of another Omicron wave in addition to an influenza outbreak or some other respiratory ailment. More hospital admission are anticipated in such a scenario.
“So this is like a dual pressure, especially on hospitals’ primary care,” she said. “I think that is the most likely scenario we’ll likely see in the fall.”
The third scenario is the emergence of a new variant of the virus. This might be more severe and require a new vaccine.
“That really is taking us back … to a similar emergency response that we saw at the beginning of the Omicron variant,” Bocking said.
To promote vaccine access, the health group will offer 33 clinics through September and October and 29 GoVaxx Bus clinics over those two months.
COVID’s impact on oral health programs
Rachel Moon Kelly, manager of the unit’s healthy schools department, said the pandemic has had an enormous impact on oral health programming for school children.
As many as 5,000 children are screened every year in schools. Except for the two years of the pandemic. Moon Kelly said she and her staff anticipate higher needs because of the two-year gap in screening and the fact dentists were also closed during that time.
“Recovery is not as simple as flipping a switch and going back to programming,” she said. “It’s been two years since all of us have done this work.”
Policies and procedures have to be reviewed and changed where necessary. For instance, there are new infection control measures required because of the coronavirus.
Programming and delivery needs to be assessed.
“There’s no shortage of things for the oral health (department) to do,” she said.
Province takes comments about hot tub regulations
A number of cottage country small resort operators were forced to close their hot tubs because of non-compliance with a regulation within provincial health codes. Smaller tourism operators felt the regulations better suited hot tubs at larger hotels with heavily-used communal pools and hot tubs.
There’s typically less traffic to and from hot tubs at the smaller resorts where there’s one tub per rented cabin.
“It was quite a little uproar in our area,” said Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts.
“It looks like there could be possibly some changes to this Ontario regulation. Which would be great. I don’t know if it does affect other areas.
“But I’ve never seen some action in the province happen quite as quickly when it comes to hot tubs. Hopefully there will be some change to that regulation.”
Bocking said the hot tub closures was a challenging issue for health board staff.
“This isn’t the first time the health unit (was) caught between provincial regulation that’s written by policy makers at the provincial level and the rule of the health unit in enforcing regulations,” Bocking said.