Health board hears it’s time to accept COVID as part of life

By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Welcome to the new normal in communities under the umbrella of the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.
Dr. Natalie Bocking, the medical officer of health and the unit’s CEO, said during the health board’s monthly meeting Jan. 18 that it has become apparent that COVID-19 and associated ailments have become the new normal.
While we’re not seeing waves of COVID-19 as had been experienced, Bocking said health officials are still grappling with illnesses associated with COVID-19.
“The new normal is that COVID-19 is part of the mix of respiratory viruses that are in our communities and (that) spread illness,” she said.
“Unfortunately for some people in the community, especially those of advanced age, it hits them harder in particular, and leading to hospital admissions and, unfortunately, some deaths.”
In the HKPR district, there has been 44 outbreaks of COVID-19 with 78 hospital admissions and 17 deaths so far in this 2023-24 respiratory illness season.
Influenza activity has been comprised of 111 lab-confirmed cases with seven hospital admissions.
“I would say this respiratory season has followed a more familiar path to pre-pandemic respiratory (illness) seasons,” she said. “So not quite the same as last year where it was really the first respiratory season with multiple viruses in the mix.”
Bocking said she brings updated tallies of hospital admissions and deaths to each board meeting as a means of keeping the virus’ impact at the fore.
“I think it’s important that we still acknowledge this,” she said. “I think there’s a desire from all of us to pretend that it’s behind us.”
People should switch gears from working toward a large-scale extraordinary pandemic response to COVID-19 being among respiratory illnesses. Rather, it has come time to figure out a way for us to take the virus in consideration in our daily activities into the future, she said.
Influenza numbers aren’t as high as last year’s significant infection rate, but Bocking said there has been higher than feared patient numbers this season compared to before the pandemic.
Even though health officials brace for respiratory illnesses every season and plan to deal with a certain infection rate, that’s expectation doesn’t mean the acute care system is not struggling.
“We see media reports on Emergence Department visit backlogs, waiting times,” Bocking said. “We see concerns about overloading of in-patient beds and there no being sufficient in-patient beds.”
Even a “regular level” or slightly increased level of respiratory illness is still a burden on the acute care system “as it faces multiple things such as burn-out of employees, insufficient in-patient beds and resources,” she said.
“It’s a complicated picture, but certainly there are things that we can do day-to-day.”
Those things include ensuring vaccines are up-to-date and that people are taking precautions to stunt a virus’ spread.
“That will help to prevent increased burden on the Emergency Department or hospitals,” she said.