By Sue Tiffin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The following are brief reports from the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge district health unit press conference with Dr. Ian Gemmill, acting medical officer of health, held on Feb. 24.
Thousands of vaccines came to the region last week, with more expected this week – enough to vaccinate long-term care staff and essential caregivers, and to start vaccinating high-priority frontline workers facing potential exposure to COVID-19 on a daily basis.
“We’re not yet, to use the words of the leaders in Toronto, swimming in vaccine, but we’re doing better in the vaccine department, the trickle is starting to turn into a bit of a flow,” said Gemmill.
To date, 1,700 residents of long-term care homes in the region, and some staff when vaccines were left over, who wanted a vaccine have received their first shot of the Moderna vaccine, with second doses coming soon. The vaccines need to be given 28 days after the first shot, as per clinical trials.
“I’m really hopeful that this will be the end of outbreaks in long-term care homes,” said Gemmill.
About 4,500 Pfizer vaccines were delivered last week for long-term care workers, essential caregivers connected to long-term care homes, and healthcare workers. Gemmill said the eventual arrival of fridge-stable vaccines, rather than those that require even lower temperatures, will help vaccinate members of the general population, starting with essential workers and those over the age of 80.
New information is coming to the vaccine advisory committee from the province regularly, said Gemmill, and planning is underway to prepare for the roll-out of mass immunization of the general population.
On Friday, Feb. 26, the Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team, Haliburton Family Medical Centre, Haliburton County Paramedic Service, the County of Haliburton and Haliburton Highlands Health Services distributed a press release announcing they are working collaboratively with the public health unit to prepare for a community vaccination hub in Haliburton County. No firm timelines or clinic information is available at this time. Information regarding when, where and how to book appointments for vaccination will be available in the coming weeks via newspapers, local radio stations, social media and health care partner websites. There is not currently a wait list process.
1,029 cases total, 12 identified as variants of concern
The 1,000th case of confirmed COVID-19 since the pandemic began was reported in the region last week.
“It’s not what’s happened in the past, but what’s happening recently that’s the most important,” said Gemmill, discussing the region’s epidemiological reports.
He said there had been quite a marked decline in the running average of cases over the past few weeks, and that outbreaks were down as well.
“I think we are really in good shape at this point in time, and I really do want to stay in good shape,” said Gemmill, noting he was moderately concerned that the low numbers were related to the stay-at-home orders, which were lifted by the provincial government on Feb. 16.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen with the end of this order, and that’s what I’m a little bit worried about,” he said. “I think there is the potential, if people don’t follow the guidelines and restrictions that are in place, that we could end up with another rise, which means another lockdown possibly, and then back to where we were. I don’t want that to happen.”
Over the past few weeks, Gemmill has been reiterating concern that the reopening of the province would lead to people feeling relaxed about public health recommendations that are still in place, including physically distancing and mask-wearing, and has stressed that people should still stay home as much as possible.
“This is not rocket science,” said Gemmill. “I see people saying, ‘oh good, the numbers are going down, we’re out of this.’ Well, we won’t be out of it, we won’t be out of it as long as 98 per cent of the population is still susceptible to this.”
He reminded the public to “keep the faith,” and “keep behaving in ways” that will help keep the virus under control. Regarding the public’s interest in identifying where variants of concern are located, Gemmill said it was important for people to focus on public health measures regardless of which form of the virus were spreading, and that wearing a mask is not a fail-safe option.
“Masks are helpful, but the best way to keep yourself from getting exposed to this virus, is to stay in your household,” said Gemmill. “If nobody comes in and nobody leaves, you’re not going to be exposed to this virus. If you have to go out, which we all do, to get groceries and other things, the masks are helpful. [Social distancing, masks, hand-washing are] all helpful in reducing that risk, but it doesn’t eliminate the risk.”
As of Monday, there had been 1,031 cases reported in the region, 14 of those being identified as the more transmissible NB501Y variant of concern.