On Friday, the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit joined the growing list of public health agencies “sounding the alarm” about reduced capacity in response to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Natalie Bocking, Medical Officer of Health said the recent spike in cases has stretched the capacity of the health unit “to its limits”. 

Dr. Bocking said the organization has had to make some process changes to balance the work involved with new cases while continuing to offer mass immunization clinics in the communities.

In the past two weeks, the health unit has been notified of 282 confirmed cases and more than 500 high-risk contacts. 

In addition, the health unit is staffing five mass immunization clinics, investigating eight community outbreaks, responding to 200 to 300 phone calls and emails daily, working with health care partners to set up programs to immunize homebound residents, and working with primary health care providers to implement vaccination of patients.

As a result, the following changes are being made:

  • High-risk contacts: anyone who is identified as a high-risk contact of a confirmed case will be emailed a letter outlining quarantine and testing requirements. 
    • Health Unit staff will continue to work closely with individuals who are confirmed cases. 
    • Additional information for high-risk contacts is available on the Health Unit’s website at www.hkpr.on.ca.
  • Call centre: in order to address the hundreds of phone calls and emails coming into the Health Unit each day, staff have had to prioritize their response. 
    • Only urgent or emergency emails and contacts will be responded to quickly. 
    • Individuals who call or email to check on when they might be eligible to be vaccinated will not receive a response from the Health Unit. 
    • Individuals who have submitted a request for an individual code will also not receive a request from the Health Unit. 
    • All individual codes will come from the Ministry of Health.

The Health Unit is also experiencing challenges due to decreases in local vaccine delivery while seeing an increase in the number of people now eligible for vaccination. 

Dr. Bocking noted that the health unit does not book appointments without having a vaccine delivery confirmed so residents who have an appointment will not see those cancelled. 

Instead, it means the Health Unit will not be able to offer as many new appointments as first planned.

While she understands that everyone is anxious and tired of the shutdown, Dr. Bocking is pleading with people to follow the provincial Stay-at-Home order and public health recommendations to help stop the spread and reduce the number of local cases. 

This means staying home unless you need to go out for an essential reason (groceries, work, or medical appointment) and maintaining the following;

  • Stay home if ill, even if you think the symptoms are caused by allergies. 
  • Continue to keep a distance of more than six feet between yourself and others outside of household family members. 
  • Wear a mask when out in public, or you are unable to maintain a six feet distance from others when outdoors. 
  • Stay home except for essential reasons (groceries, medication, work). 
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and water. 
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue. 
    • Dispose of the tissue and wash your hands.

“In more than half of our latest cases, there is no one point of exposure so that tells us we are clearly seeing the virus circulating in our communities,” Dr. Bocking said. “We need to stay vigilant, follow the directions and do our part to stop any further spread.”