Local health agencies are continuing to prepare for any cases of the internationally-spreading Coronavirus, although the risk of contracting it remains low in Ontario.

Area health agencies, including the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) and Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS), are working together to share information, keep up to date and have protocols in place should the respiratory virus, technically known as COVID-19, develop locally. In a March 2 press release, agencies said the health unit is ensuring active screening protocols and proper protective equipment are in place.

“There have been a number of improvements made in the way we prepare for wide-spread illnesses since we experienced SARS (another respiratory virus which broke out in 2002),” HKPR District Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Lynn Noseworthy said. “The bottom line is that we are prepared for if, and when, we may see a case locally.”

However, the Public Health Agency of Canada has said the risk remains low for Canadians as of March 6. As of March 6, 49 cases have been confirmed across the country, including 26 in Ontario, according to the Government of Canada.

Other seasonal respiratory illnesses are also circulating, Noseworthy said. However, health agencies said in a press release that most people who get the virus only experience mild symptoms.

“The risk of serious illness appears to rise with age and the presence of other complicating factors. People who have died from the virus in other countries have tended to be older and have had multiple health issues that weakened their immune systems and put them at greater risk,” the press release said.

But jurisdictions are taking extra precautions. Ontario announced an enhanced response structure March 2 to “review, strengthen and implement provincial and regional plans and ensure their responsiveness to the specifics of COVID-19.”

Local health agencies offer the usual tips to avoid the spread of sickness and remain healthy, including washing hands frequently and thoroughly, covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, getting your flu shot and staying home if you or a family member are ill.

If you develop symptoms such as a cough or fever and have visited an affected area in the last 14 days or had close contact with someone under investigation or confirmed with COVID-19, call your local health care provider. For more information on COVID-19, call the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577, ext. 5020, or visit www.hkpr.on.ca.

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