DAN CEARNS, The Standard

KAWARTHA LAKES: The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) is preparing for all options regarding the upcoming autumn season’s health situation.

At a meeting of the HKPR board on Thursday, September 15th, the local medical officer of health, Dr. Natalie Bocking, provided an update on COVID-19 and Influenza.

“Certainly, at the health unit, the pandemic still has an ever-present presence, and [there’s] still a lot of work and effort that we need to be putting in to address COVID-19 locally,” Dr. Bocking explained.

Following the seventh wave, Dr. Bocking noted health professionals will likely eventually “stop numbering the waves, as they are continuing and we don’t expect COVID-19 to be leaving us anytime soon.” But she also stated the HKPR region is on the “downside” of the current wave. We’ve seen the number of outbreaks come down, [and] our test positivity [rate] come down.”

Dr. Bocking debunked the theory that Omicron should be “treated like a cold.”

“The reality is, we’ve certainly seen more hospital admissions and more deaths related to Omicron variants than we would see for Influenza in any given year or in any Influenza outbreaks we’ve seen in the last decade.”

The local health unit will be taking an “integrated respiratory approach” heading into Autumn.

“We are updating our [online] dashboard to reflect more of an integrated respiratory approach. So, it will have data related to COVID-19, as well as Influenza, and emergency department visits for respiratory viruses in general,” Dr. Bocking announced.

She also stated the health unit has been preparing for three possible autumn scenarios.

“The first is, in the Autumn, we have another outbreak of Omicron. So, similar to what we’ve experienced this past summer,” Dr. Bocking said. “The second scenario really is that we see something like an Omicron wave, plus Influenza or other respiratory viruses [which] result in more long-term care home outbreaks, [and] more hospital admissions. So, this is a dual pressure.”

The last scenario Dr. Bocking stated is the possibility of seeing a new COVID-19 variant of concern, which could need a new vaccine to combat it.

“Really, the take-home messages for the public, and for you as ambassadors of public health, are that if you are sick this Fall, you stay home, regardless of whether or not you do a COVID-19 test. If you are sick and have a fever, you stay home,” Dr. Bocking stressed. “You stay home until your symptoms have been improving for 24 hours or your fever has been gone for 24 hours. If you have vomiting or diarrhea, it’s 48 hours you would be staying home. You [also] stay up to date with your vaccinations.”

She also recommended wearing a mask after you get sick in order to protect others and to stay up to date on the number of COVID-19 cases in your community through the health unit website.