by Kirk Winter

The third wave of COVID-19 “has stretched the capacity of the health unit to its limits,” new HKPR medical officer of health, Dr. Natalie Bocking, told a board meeting April 15.

Bocking said the health unit is having to prioritize tracking of new cases and immunization, while juggling other public health roles.

“We are doing a bit of a dance right now as we continue to work through new cases while also rolling out our vaccination clinics as we know that, in the long run, the vaccinations will play a major role in changing the trajectory of the pandemic,” Bocking said.

In the 14 days as of the meeting, the health unit had been notified of 282 confirmed cases and more than 500 high-risk contacts. In addition, it is staffing six mass immunization clinics in Lindsay, Cobourg, Trent Hills, Fenelon Falls, Minden and Haliburton. It was further 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.

A high-risk contact is anyone who has come in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19. These individuals will be emailed a letter outlining quarantine and testing requirements. Health unit staff will continue to work closely with individuals who are confirmed cases.

Bocking also addressed the growing public frustration with perceived poor response times from the health unit’s 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,” she said.

On vaccines, Bocking added the health unit is “experiencing challenges” due to a decrease in vaccine deliveries and an increase in who is now eligible.

“Our goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible, but with expanded eligibility provincially and no additional vaccine to provide locally, we are challenged to offer more clinics for our residents,” she said.

“HKPRDHU does not book appointments without having a vaccine delivery confirmed. 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.”

Bocking reported about the enforcement of isolation and quarantine orders.

She said 44 warning letters and two tickets had been issued by the health unit between Jan. 1 and April 9, 2021 to cases and contacts of COVID-19.

“Cases and contacts are obligated to participate in contact phone calls with the health unit so their progress can be monitored and ensure they are maintaining isolation or quarantine … cases are required to isolate and contacts who are required to quarantine and who do not do so can be charged with fines up to $5,000 a day,” she said.

The medical officer of health added that in more than half of the latest cases, there is no one point of exposure so that tells the health unit “we are clearly seeing the virus circulating in our communities. We need to stay vigilant, follow the directions and do our part to stop any further spread.”

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