COVID recovery plans require flexibility in the face of many unknown factors

By Katrina Boguski
The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit met virtually on Sept. 16.

During the meeting the board heard from Dr. Natalie Bocking and other staff members about various plans to transition into the fall. At various points, people were reminded about the need to be both realistic and flexible given the number of unknown factors that could still impact health care in the region.
The recovery team includes, Dr. Bocking, Lorna McCleary, Lisa van der Vinne, Lynne Franke, Ange Andrews, Chandra Tremblay and Joni Del Rosario
In a PowerPoint presentation to the board, the team stated that the goal is “… to effectively recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, into a COVID-19 endemic state, prioritizing engagement strategies for a collaborative and evidence-based approach.”
With this goal in mind, the presentation stated “[T]he lens that we will be prioritizing throughout the recovery plan is health equity, inclusivity and allyship and mental health.
Bocking notes that a number of services will be “off line.” This situation is the result of the ongoing need to prepare for an anticipated surge of COVID -19 cases related to the fourth wave of the pandemic.
The rate of COVID infection over the summer was described as a “slow burn.” The board was told that we can continue to anticipate and expect a much higher increase in COVID. Bocking noted that if a surge in COVID does not happen, some programs may come back, however at the present many resources continue to be directed toward the pandemic.
It was announced that there is an updated social media strategy aimed at addressing who the target audiences are. It was noted that there is need to reach all audiences across all ages.

Fixed site vaccination clinic are now closed with 239 clinics having been conducted. Going forward, there will be mobile and school based clinics to help those who have not yet been fully vaccinated.
The presentation from the recovery team indicated that across the health sector everyone is stretched. People are being asked to do COVID activities as well as catch up activities that have been put on hold and both of these responsibilities are in addition to their regular work.
It was noted that “pandemic fatigue” is being felt by healthcare workers and the end is not yet in sight.
When the numbers go down, there is still a backlog of work to be done. It was noted that there is never an opportunity for “the brain and the body to recover”. The board was reminded of the need to be mindful of how pandemic fatigue is impacting many workers.
There was also the reminder that COVID will become a part of routine business going forward and plans need to be made to prepare for that reality.
Despite the challenges, board members had high praise for the continuous leadership demonstrated by Bocking and the recovery team.
After fielding a question asked by a board member which was related to a comment made by a virus denier, Doctor Bocking reminded those listening that there is still a lot of misinformation about even basic science when it comes to the virus.

During the presentation, it was explained that different areas will go at different speeds. Establishing a “new normal” will not be a linear process, and things will open up at varying rates depending on the needs and the resources available.
The recovery team noted that they hope to get some new people to help during the fall, but this goal will be dependent on the fourth wave. The immediate plans for the fall are predictions based on what the team wants to see, as well as a risk management assessment. All of these plans are dependent on variables such as case numbers and staffing availability.
At this point there is still uncertainty about when plans to vaccinate five to 11-year-olds will come into effect. It was noted that vaccinations for this age group could be in January or as early as November, but the precise dates are unknown.
The plan for a third round of vaccines to serve as a “booster shot” is also unknown and funding for various projects related to recovering is unknown. The presenters also noted that Because of how quickly things change, there is an ongoing need for coordination. It was also stated that people often underestimate the workload associated with the coordination aspect of the recovery plan.

Chair Doug Elmslie asked about the plan for flu shots and was told that although the timing may change, it will be close to business as usual. It was further explained that the flu shot program is one of those essential programs that is required to carry on as planned.
The finance report was presented by Director of Corporate Services Angela Vickery and was received as information.
The written report stated “The Health Unit has received notification that the Ministry of Health has approved the funding allocation for 2021 in the amount of $15,554,500. The approved base funding for mandatory programs is $12,898,900 and an additional $2,655,600 in one-time funding.”
It also said, “One-time funding includes: $773,300 in mitigation funding, $520,000 for COVID-19 Extraordinary costs, $502,300 for COVID-19 Vaccine Program, $40,000 for the Needle Exchange Program, $20,000 for the Public Health Inspector Practicum program and $800,000 for the School Focused Nurses Initiative. Additional funding for the School Focused Nurses Initiative was approved for the term April 1, 2022, to July 31, 2022, in the amount of $264,000, for a total of $1,064,000 for this initiative.”
The report added, “Although, notification is pending, the Ministry announced at an Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in August that it will be approving mitigation funding for 2022 as well. There will be other in-year opportunities to request additional one-time funding for extraordinary COVID-19 expenditures and COVID-19 Vaccine program expenditures.”
The public portion of the meeting went until approximately 11 a.m. at which point the board went into a closed session.