The President and CEO of Haliburton Highland Health Services (HHHS) is reminding area residents to take the necessary steps to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the number of hospitalizations.

In an open letter to the community, Carolyn Plummer says its more important than ever that everyone does their part with the Omicron variant surge. “I can’t stress enough the importance of taking all precautions possible to keep yourself, your family, and our community safe. We know the importance of wearing masks in public spaces, physical and social distancing, reducing contact with people outside your household, and diligent hand washing.”

She is also emphasizing the importance of vaccinations and particularly booster doses. “Data continues to show that vaccinations help protect against severe illness and the need to be hospitalized or admitted into ICU wards. This is one of the best ways to protect yourself.”

Plummer is also advising to follow public health protocols when it comes to testing and isolating by visiting the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit website at www.hkpr.on.ca.

The HHHS also wants to make it very clear that emergency departments in Haliburton and Minden cannot and do not have capacity to perform PCR confirmation of positive rapid tests or for return-to-work testing. Eligible community members should call the Haliburton County COVID-19 Community Assessment Centre for a non-urgent appointment at 705-457-1212, extension 6.

“It is also important to note that because testing capacity is limited, reported case counts for COVID-19 are underestimating the true number of cases in our community. We were already seeing a significant spike in cases before PCR testing criteria was limited and given how easily the Omicron variant is transmitted between people, taking precautions is more important than ever,” says Plummer.

Like many healthcare organizations across Ontario, staffing remains a significant challenge at HHHS sites. Major urban hospitals have seen demand for services outpace available staffing and another hospital in this region, Campbellford Memorial, had to close their Emergency Department overnight on Christmas Eve as a result of insufficient staffing.

“As the spread of the virus increases in our community, more and more of our staff are having to isolate, which is further increasing the pressure on our staffing issues,” says Plummer. “Eight per cent of our staff have had to isolate as a result of public health and Ministry of Health guidance. HHHS continues to do all it can to ensure there are sufficient staffing numbers to maintain our programs and services. We also continue to do all we can to support the health and wellbeing of our incredible staff team,” adds Plummer.

All HHHS sites are temporarily ceasing public access to business offices and the foundation office. “If you have a bill to pay or a donation you wish to make, we ask that you please contact the offices by phone,” says Plummer.