By Sue Tiffin
Two Haliburton County residents have died of COVID-19 in the past two weeks.
In a June 15 update of COVID-19 activity in the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit region, a death in Highlands East and one death in Minden Hills was reported.
One of the two deaths involved a person in their 70s, the other a person older than 80.
“Typically, these are all the details the HKPR District health unit will provide about individuals who have died of COVID-19,” said Bill Eekhof, communication officer with the HKPR district health unit. To date, two of the local COVID-19 deaths have been Dysart et al residents, two fatalities were from Highlands East and one COVID-19-related death involved a person from Minden Hills.
In total, there have been five COVID-19-related deaths in Haliburton since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, all involving residents over the age of 70.
Four deaths have occurred in 2022, since the Omicron variant wave, and the first occurred in 2021.
On April 13, it was reported a resident in their 70s died, and on May 9, the health unit reported the death of a resident 80 or older.
The health unit has moved to reporting COVID-19 information on a weekly basis, as has the province.
“This is due to decreased COVID-19 activity in the region, and less of a need to report as often,” said Eekhof. “However, if COVID-19 activity starts to increase again, the health unit will increase its frequency of reporting as well.”
The health unit notes that data regarding COVID-19 lab confirmed cases is not accurate, as PCR testing is still greatly limited, only being available to those who live or work in high-risk settings. More information regarding COVID-19 database information is available at hkpr.on.ca. The database is updated each Wednesday with information from the week prior.
The following are brief reports of items discussed at the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District health unit board of health meeting held in-person and broadcast on YouTube on June 16.
COVID-19 activity reducing throughout region: MOH
Dr. Natalie Bocking, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District health unit medical officer of health said many of the indicators are normalizing, which she said doesn’t mean they will necessarily reduce to zero.
As of June 15, the average daily new cases (lab-confirmed, past seven days) is 3.7, and as of June 15, there are two active outbreaks. Two hospital admissions have occurred in the past 14 days, and the test positivity seven-day average as of May 10 is 6.1 per cent, the lowest seen prior to Omicron. Wastewater surveillance shows a low viral signal trend in both Cobourg and Lindsay, with Bocking noting she hopes “we’ll stay at this level, at least for a couple of months.”
Since Jan. 1, considered to be the start of Omicron-related wave reporting, there have been 142 hospital admissions, 29 ICU admissions, 78 outbreaks and 47 deaths related to COVID-19.
“Certainly I don’t think we can minimize or underestimate what the impact has been on morbidity and mortality since January,” said Bocking. “It’s easy with sunny weather and low COVID activity to forget what the impact truly has been.”
Bocking said people should stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccination, stay home if sick, wear a mask in indoor crowded spaces and that those who are high-risk should consider wearing a mask for indoor spaces where unable to keep more than two metres from those outside of their household.
These same recommendations, she said, work for influenza, which hasn’t been prevalent in the region since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
School immunization program catches up
The HKPRD health unit was one of a handful of health units that, in Fall 2021, administered vaccines at school to students who were eligible and had parental consent for the Hepatitis B, Human papillomavirus infection (HPV) and meningitis vaccine.
The health unit’s immunization team visited 44 schools over 28 clinic days, seeing both Grade 7 and Grade 8 students rather than the typical Grade 7 visit, resulting in 5,352 immunizations compared to a typical year of 3,600 immunizations administered.
As health care providers and health unit resources were directed toward COVID-19 prevention and treatment efforts, many students now in high school – around 7,000 – missed those immunizations. The Ministry of Health, however, has announced an expansion program to give students more time to be fully vaccinated in a catch-up program.
Emerging issues: Monkeypox
As of June 13, 21 cases of monkeypox have been confirmed in Ontario, while over the past month unprecedented human-to-human transmission has been identified – almost 2,000 cases in 35 countries that have not experienced monkeypox endemic before.
“We have never seen what’s happening now, globally,” said Bocking.
“I think there’s often a sentiment, well, COVID’s done, the pandemic’s done, we can get back to normal life,” said Bocking. “In public health there is always a risk of emerging, re-emerging different infectious diseases, and I think this most recent activity related to monkeypox has highlighted that, and also highlighted how global travel patterns are going to continue to impact even small health units like HKPR.”
The most commonly reported symptoms include rash, oral/genital lesions, swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, chills and myalgia (muscle aches and pain).
Bocking noted there are numerous reasons why new or re-emerging viruses will likely continue to be seen, including climate change adaptation, and how the geographic pattern of how viruses and bacteria are transmitted by animals changes.
The name monkeypox might be changed going forward due to the stigma and discrimination associated with the name. In the days to come, the World Health Organization is meeting to determine whether to call the situation a public health emergency of international concern.
The local health unit is prepared to respond should a case of monkeypox be confirmed locally, and vaccine is available for either pre-exposure or post-exposure prophylaxis.
Beach water testing program starts
As of last week, the health unit has launched its beach water testing program. A total of 46 public beaches throughout the region will be regularly sampled for E.coli through to the Labour Day long weekend.
Test results showing green (open), yellow (swimming not recommended) and red (closed) for each beach will be updated weekly by late Thursday or early Friday on the health unit’s beach water testing site, and signs are posted at local beaches indicating if conditions are right for swimming or not.
E. coli and high bacteria counts in the water can increase the risk of getting eye, ear, nose or throat infections, or make people sick leading to stomach cramps and diarrhea. A skin rash called swimmer’s itch can also surface, causing itching and redness.
“There are a number of ways that beaches can become contaminated with bacteria,” reads a press release issued June 16. “Storm water runoff, combined with sewer overflows, sewage treatment plant bypasses, agricultural runoff, faulty septic systems, and large populations of waterfowl like geese all contribute to water pollution. This in turn can lead to beaches being posted as unsafe for swimming. High levels of bacteria can persist for up to 48 hours after a heavy rainfall, and bacterial counts can also be affected by high winds or wave activity.”
Visit www.hkpr.on.ca/my-community/beach-water/ for more information.