Dr. Natalie Bocking /Photo supplied

Uncertainty remains about COVID-19, says region’s top doctor

By James Matthews (Local Initiative Journalism)
The seventh wave of COVID-19 hasn’t ended and, as such, people need to remain vigilant to stifle the spread of the virus and its various strains.
That vigilance is all the more important given the fact students are back in schools and there seems to be the possibility of an earlier than anticipated influenza season.
Dr. Natalie Bocking, the medical officer of health at the Haliburton, Kawartha, PineRidge District Health Unit, said during an information session Oct. 5 that an earlier than normal flu season is expected this fall.
“We’re certainly seeing a slight uptick in respiratory illnesses overall,” she said. “We have started the respiratory illness season. We know that every fall, with kids back to school, with a lot cooler weather, we start to see circulation of other respiratory viruses.”
Globally, broader public health measures to safeguard against the virus have largely ended, despite a lot of uncertainty related to COVID-19.
“We don’t know for sure how it’s going to evolve next, how it’s going mutate, what it’s going to mean,” Bocking said.

Hospital admissions this time of the year for respiratory illness continues at a slight increase, she said. It’s reassuring that the jump in admissions hasn’t reached a dramatic level, though.
Not yet, anyway. The slight increase in hospitalizations is something Bocking expects to continue throughout the fall and winter.
“We know that influenza season’s started earlier than historically in the southern hemisphere,” she said. “We look at countries such as Australia and we see that influenza started much earlier for them.
“We’re anticipating that we might see an earlier than usual influenza season.”
There’s been a slight uptick in some COVID-19 indicators. An increase provincially in wastewater activity and patient testing.

Locally, there’s also been a slight uptick in test positivity rates and wastewater indicators.
“We didn’t come down to baseline,” she said. “We continued at a higher level than perhaps what we previously thought was normal and we’re starting to see the very beginning of a slight uptick.”
An increase in test positivity and number of new outbreaks precedes a rise in hospital admissions. And the number of individuals admitted to hospital with COVID-19 has steadied over the last few weeks.
There’s been six new admissions in the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District, she said.
Globally, Omicron has further mutated to many sub-variants.
“We’re waiting to see what will happen here in Canada as those variants become more dominant in Canada,” she said.
Omicron will continue to dominate and to mutate into sub-variants that will become new drivers of infection.
“This is the new course of COVID-19,” she said. “At least our current course.”
Ontario has dropped mask mandates throughout the province and introduced what has been described as too-lax measures against the virus’ spread. Federally, the mandatory testing at the border, 14-day quarantine, and other isolation requirements ended Oct. 1.
“There’s still very important actions we can take as individuals and as communities to try to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and protect individuals most at risk for severe illness,” Bocking said.
Stay up to date with COVID-19 and influenza vaccines. Stay home until at least 24 hours without a fever. And wear a mask for at least 10 days afterwards. Those measures will prevent the spread of COVID-19, influenza, and other respiratory ailments, she said.

The worldwide lockdown for two years interrupted the spread of influenza, she said.
“We saw what the impact is on influenza and other respiratory viruses when we had broader public health measures,” she said. “We didn’t see influenza. We saw very little other respiratory virus activity.”
Most of all, vaccines and boosters are effective measures against the coronavirus.
“We’re all looking forward to seeing COVID-19 to continue to calm down and moving forward with living with COVID,” Bocking said.
“But we also know that living with COVID means ongoing responsibility for us as individuals and collectively to do our part to prevent transmission, especially to those most vulnerable.”