With COVID-19 cases projected to spike dramatically across the province, health officials say Haliburton County can still mitigate the impact within the area.

Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table provided an update Nov. 12 that the province could reach more than 6,000 new cases per day by mid-December. That has yet to be felt in Haliburton, which has reported five new cases since Nov. 4.

Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR) medical officer of health, Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, said the district is seeing more cases. But she added the local trajectory of the virus is still in our hands.

The projection “is a worrisome finding, but also a call to action,” Noseworthy said. “People have the power to bend the curve – just as we did last spring – by following important public health measures that control the spread of COVID-19.”

Minden’s Dr. Nell Thomas echoed the sentiment. She said higher case numbers are avoidable if people are responsible, such as by limiting close contact to only people within their social bubble.

“It is not inevitable,” Thomas said, adding countries such as New Zealand have successfully contained the virus. “It is simply a reflection of human behaviour.”

However, the medical world has criticized the public policy measures in place for virus control as insufficient. Thomas said frontline healthcare workers and emergency responders are hurting and being treated as fodder.

“How long is that going to happen? Because pretty soon, we won’t have enough of them.”

Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team Dr. Norm Bottum said an increase amount of cottagers staying in the area over the winter months will also add more pressure to acute care and ER.

“We want to remind everyone if they have an issue of a minor nature or need medication renewal they should contact their primary care provider, regardless of where their practitioner is in the province,” Bottum said. “Our ER continues to be busy and given COVID protocols will be significantly pushed to keep up with the usual winter demand if it is significantly busier than usual.”

Some cases excluded

As more cottagers opt for extended stays in Haliburton, the exact number of COVID cases within the community is uncertain. Cases are tracked via primary address, meaning a case assessed here for someone from elsewhere but staying in Haliburton, would not be included in the local count.

Thomas said that is a significant problem for accuracy.

“When people say the numbers are low, we say, ‘no, not really’,” she said. “Those numbers aren’t shared with our community and it’s falsely reassuring.”

Noseworthy said there is an effective contact-tracing system in place and health units are in daily contact with individuals who test positive and their close contacts.

“The bottom line is that regardless of where a person lives or is tested for COVID-19 in Ontario, the provincial case and contact management system is very methodical, comprehensive and thorough.”

Holiday caution needed

The holiday season is approaching, but doctors advised health precautions need to be maintained.

Noseworthy said it would likely be prudent to celebrate with immediate household only. For those farther away, she said people could connect virtually or over the phone.

“I would strongly recommend local residents avoid any non-essential travel outside of our region – especially to areas with high COVID-19 case counts,” she said. “All of us need to redouble our efforts to follow important public health guidelines.”

Thomas said it is a manageable thing to do. She further said people can take solace that COVID-19 is something they can help control.

“Do not be complacent, do not be overwhelmed, do not feel hopeless,” Thomas said. “Be empowered.”

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