When asked about the protest in Ottawa, Dr. Natalie Bocking said, “I think it will always be there. I think we’ve learned with previous vaccine-preventable diseases that there will always be individuals that don’t support the science or that have alternative understanding.” FILE

New Medical Officer of Health urges public to ‘stay vigilant’

By Sue Tiffin

Dr. Natalie Bocking officially assumed the role of medical officer of health for the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit on April 6, replacing Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, who retired in December 2020 and Dr. Ian Gemmill, who had served as acting medical officer of health from then until Bocking’s start.

That same day, a press release from the health unit was issued stating: “Until everyone has been vaccinated, the local medical officer of health is urging people to remain vigilant and continue to follow public health recommendations to help stop the increased spread of the COVID-19 virus in the area.”

According to the press release, local health unit staff had conducted investigations on more than 94 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past seven days – the bulk of those cases in Northumberland County. Haliburton County’s cases jumped from 0 on March 31 to eight on April 3, with one variant of concern identified last week. Of the 94 COVID-19 cases confirmed in that time, more than 26 per cent were among youth aged 14 to 18 years of age, prompting the health unit and two local school boards to suspend in-person learning at two secondary schools in Cobourg.

“When it comes to COVID-19, younger people still tend to experience milder symptoms and recover fully,” says Dr. Bocking. “Our concern is that some family members that they bring this virus home to – their siblings, parents and grandparents – will not fare as well and become quite ill. We have worked with the school boards in areas where we are seeing active transmission to try and stop any further exposure or spread that could potentially occur either through the schools or in our communities.”

As of this week, two mass vaccination clinics are open in Haliburton County, with one at the S.G. Nesbitt arena opening last week until July before moving to the community centre, and one at the A.J. LaRue arena opening this week until June before moving to an as-yet-undetermined location.

“These are all steps in the right direction but until more vaccine is delivered locally to increase the number of people who can be vaccinated, Dr. Bocking is urging people to continue to follow the public health recommendations,” reads the press release, noting the continued importance of handwashing; staying home if ill; keeping a distance of more than six feet between yourself and others outside of household members; staying home except for essential reasons (groceries, medication, work); wearing a mask in public and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue.

Health unit getting assistance with case and contact management
Due to a surge in local cases, as of April 9, the health unit is getting extra support with COVID-19 case follow-up.

Approximately 40 per cent of eligible cases of COVID-19 are being assigned for follow-up to the Ontario Ministry of Health’s provincial work force. According to an April 9 press release from the health unit, the PWF is “a centralized case and contact management team that was created within the Ministry of Health to help with pandemic response. Its staff include trained contact tracers and case managers, who are already assisting many other public health units across Ontario, including those in Windsor-Essex, Ottawa, Hamilton, Halton, Toronto, Waterloo, Peel and York.”

The health unit press release notes that residents will not notice a difference in case and contact management – which includes contact tracing investigation – efforts.

“Anyone who needs to be contacted in connection with COVID-19 will continue to be followed up by qualified public health professionals, who can offer them the advice and guidance they need to stay safe and prevent further spread,” said Dr. Bocking “We’re extremely grateful for this extra provincial support. It comes at a critical juncture, when our staff are already extremely busy responding to a surge in local COVID-19 cases, providing COVID-19 vaccinations at mass immunization clinics across our region, and carrying out other pandemic response work.”

Two variants of concern identified in Haliburton County
Two local cases of COVID-19 has been identified as a variant of concern, while in total, 44 cases in City of Kawartha Lakes and 102 cases in Northumberland County have screened positive as variants of concern.

“We know the majority of cases in Ontario are variants of concern and this is also the case in our area,” said Bocking in an April 6 press release. “As we have been hearing, these variants spread more quickly and easily than the original COVID virus and we are seeing that happen as well.”

Variants of concern previously identified in Haliburton County were removed from the local count and transferred to another health unit region where the individual who tested positive lives full-time.