/Medical officer of health offers guidance for holiday season
Dr. Natalie Bocking, medical officer of health for the Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes, Pine Ridge district health unit, speaks with reporters in a virtual press briefing held Oct. 13. /Screenshot from HKPRDHU media briefing

Medical officer of health offers guidance for holiday season

By Sue Tiffin

The following are brief reports from a Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District health unit media briefing held virtually on Dec. 2.  

Dr. Natalie Bocking, HKPR medical officer of health, said she has asked about her guidance for the upcoming holiday season as COVID-19 cases rise in the province and with the news of Omicron, a newly identified variant of concern. 

“What I want to really emphasize today is that the individual and community choices we make today regarding preventive measures we take for COVID-19 is what’s going to determine our case load in a couple of weeks from now,” said Bocking. “Right now we know that our cases are increasing. We’re seeing more outbreaks, we’re seeing more cases among elementary school children and associated activities. And if we continue with all of our same behaviours right now, we’re going to continue to see these cases go up. So we have an opportunity before our numbers continue to rise significantly to start to re-evaluate some of the day-to-day behaviours that we have.”

Bocking said this means that those feeling sick should stay home, and those feeling sick and experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested.

“I think that there’s likely virus circulating in the community that we’re not seeing because people are not being tested, and there’s certainly access and opportunity to get tested so that people are able to make informed decisions about the types of activities that they’re doing,” she said.

If people are meeting at indoor gatherings with individuals from outside their household or who are not vaccinated, Bocking said masks should be worn. Gatherings should be kept to smaller sizes.

“The more we see larger gatherings and opportunity for virus to spread, we’ll continue to see it,” she said. 

By the numbers

To date, across the region, 2,571 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 35 active cases as of Dec.1 – four of those being in Haliburton County – and 174 high-risk contacts have been recorded. Three ongoing outbreaks were reported – one among a school bus cohort in Haliburton County, one affecting seven patients at Campbellford Memorial Hospital, and one at a workplace in Brighton. The incidence rate, Bocking said, was 18 cases per 100,000.

“I want to highlight that this is actually double the incidence rate reported last week,” she said. “We’ve started to see and I think we’ll continue to see an increase in COVID-19 activity.”

The test positivity rate was 1.5 per cent, while the reproductive number – an indication of the number of other people who will become infected by those positive cases – was above one.

“Which indicates potential for a fairly increased spread among the community,” said Bocking. 

She noted that there have been 36 cases among the school population and school staff throughout the region since September, and that other than the bus cohort outbreak, there have not been school-related outbreaks.

“However, in the last week alone, we have had 12 of those 36 cases identified among school-aged or staff associated with schools. To me, this really indicates that we’re seeing increased activity in a number of different settings, and that we’re continuing to see it among younger age groups and school-aged children.”

In the last 14 days, Bocking said there have been 50 new cases: 32 per cent of those don’t have an identifiable source, 20 per cent are household contacts, and 16 per cent were considered close contacts.

Vaccination roll-out update 

Among the population in the health unit area aged 12 and over, 86.9 per cent have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 84.4 per cent have received two doses. 

“We do continue to see a very small incremental increase in those 12 and over still getting their first dose,” she said. She continued encouraging those who haven’t had a first dose to receive it.

“Vaccination continues to be the number one preventative measure that we can take right now as an individual and as a community to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help prevent the severe outcomes associated with COVID-19 that we see, especially among our older population,” she said.

To date, more than 1,000 residents aged five to 11 in the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit had already received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, with 11,000 being eligible. Bocking said there is capacity across the region for every child that’s eligible to receive their first vaccine prior to the end of the year through clinics, their primary care teams and pharmacies.