By Sue Tiffin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The following are brief reports from a Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit press conference with acting medical officer of health Dr. Ian Gemmill, held virtually March 3.
While Dr. Gemmill noted that “this is changing every hour,” as of March 2, the public health unit had received 12,000 doses of vaccine so far to administer to residents throughout the region, which he expected to be done by this week.
All long-term care residents have received their second dose of vaccine, he said, and long-term care staff, essential caregivers and highest-risk healthcare workers were receiving their first dose last week and this week. The allocation of vaccine is set by the province, generally based on the population of area and disease incidence.
“We have a lower population, only 180,000 in this area, and we’ve been pretty darn good lately about keeping the incidences [of COVID-19] down, and so those two things are against us in terms of getting lots and lots of vaccine here, but as I’ve said before, we have been promised that situation will be changing over the next few weeks,” he said. He noted that priority schedules and distribution of vaccine is being led by the province, while the health unit is responsible for distribution of vaccines once they arrive in the area, and that the health unit and partners are “working on concrete plans” about where clinics will be located but that they “haven’t quite finished that yet.”
“It’s coming soon, just be patient,” he said. “We all want to get this vaccine as quickly as possible.”
Gemmill said that he recognizes parents want their children immunized to help avoid them becoming sick and to help prevent community spread but that children’s vaccine trials are still taking place. He also said though he has heard “hopeful things” from colleagues who have seen decreased outbreaks in long-term care homes after vaccination, he wasn’t yet prepared to speak to how much the public can relax gathering restrictions and mask-wearing after getting their shots until more information about how the vaccination is working is known.
“I think we just need to wait until we get guidance about how well and how protected people are,” he said.
Online booking system not yet up and running
An online booking system for general population vaccine appointments created by the province has not yet been rolled out, but is expected to be available March 15.
It will be the system used in the HKPR district, and Gemmill said that alongside the online system, there will be an option to phone-in appointments as well.
He asked the public to be patient, as information about the booking system will be shared widely as soon as it becomes available. There is not currently a local waitlist.
Local cases decreasing
Gemmill said the past two weeks of epidemiological reports had shown a decrease in case counts with about 52 cases in the past two weeks rather than 114 cases when he reported this number the week prior.
“Most recently, that’s what I’m most interested in, is what’s happened in the last little while,” he said.
While Gemmill said he would know more shortly on why numbers have decreased and if they would continue with that pattern, he said there had been a recent low streak that he was pleased about.
“Why are they getting better? I think it’s anybody’s guess at this point in time,” he said. “It may still be some of the holdover of the [stay-at-home] restrictions that we had. It may be that we’re coming to the end of the winter and the wave is naturally beginning to decline … Could it be because we’ve now had fewer outbreaks in long-term care homes, thank goodness, with the administration of now a second dose to many of the residents …”
Until the vaccine can be more widely distributed, Gemmill reminded residents, as he has done regularly, to continue to follow public health guidelines of remaining apart from others, wearing masks and staying home.
Haliburton County has seen no new cases for almost a full month. The area’s first death was reported last week from a case that had been confirmed in February.