In a week when Haliburton County posted a record high total of positive COVID-19 cases, the region’s chief medical officer of health has warned the implications of a fourth wave of the pandemic here in the Highlands could be severe if area residents don’t take preventative measures seriously.

On Sept. 16 the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge [HKPR] District Health Unit reported six new cases in Haliburton County, bringing the total number of unresolved cases at the time to 14 – the highest since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.

As of press time on Wednesday, Sept. 22, the number of active cases in the Highlands dropped down to six. Over the past 18 months, there has been 145 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the area.

Dr. Natalie Bocking, HKPR chief medical officer of health noted that while COVID19 cases have fluctuated in Haliburton County throughout the pandemic, last week’s statistics represented something of a peak for the region.

“The fact is that many activities are resuming this fall, especially the return to school for students, and this can lead to more potential exposures,” Bocking said. “The main circulating strain of coronavirus in the area [is the Delta strain]. Right now in Ontario, the Delta variant is the dominant strain, accounting for 90 per cent of coronavirus cases in the province,” Bocking said. “Studies have shown the Delta variant is much more contagious than the original virus, which means that a close contact with someone who has the Delta variant can lead to many more potential infections.”

With the increased prevalence of COVID19 in the area over the past week, Bocking says public health measures continue to be “as important as ever.” She recommended that area residents continue to limit close contact with others, stay home if they are sick, wear a mask while out in public, and frequently clean and disinfect their hands.

Vaccinations, of course, are important too, Bocking notes.

Over the past few weeks, HKPR has shifted its COVID-19 vaccine focus. Instead of having residents attend fixed clinic sites, such as the ones that were previously offered at A.J. LaRue Arena in Haliburton and SG Nesbitt Memorial Arena in Minden, the unit has been organizing a series of popup and mobile clinics, especially in more rural locations where access to the vaccine may have been difficult.

Over the past couple of weeks here in Haliburton the mobile GO-VAXX bus has been on location at Abbey Gardens and at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School. Bocking says HKPR will continue with this strategy throughout fall, and that more clinic dates would likely be added soon for Haliburton County.

Given the restrictions that came into place provincewide on Wednesday (Sept. 22), requiring individuals to provide proof of vaccination upon entry to certain facilities and establishments, such as restaurants, bars, gyms and cinemas, there has been a recent uptick in people getting their first shot.

In the past seven days alone, 1,123 people have received the first dose of the vaccine in the HKPR region, while a further 1,544 individuals have received their second shot. In the four weeks since Ontario Premier Doug Ford first outlined his plans to introduce what he has called a temporary vaccine passport, 4,217 people across HKPR have received their first dose.

Since the vaccine was introduced earlier this year, 135,408 people across HKPR have been fully vaccinated. That accounts for almost 80 per cent of the local population.

Despite these statistics, Bocking noted the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t a “silver bullet” remedy, pointing out that Ontario residents will have to be vigilant over the coming weeks if they hope to avoid a devastating fourth wave.

“It is unknown what the peak of the fourth wave might look like in Ontario. In recent weeks, case counts have risen, and that is likely to continue as we head into the fall and winter,” Bocking said. “The fourth wave will really be determined by a number of factors – overall vaccination coverage rates, the ability of people to limit [and] preferably even decrease the number of contacts they have, and whether or not residents continue to follow important public health measures.

“We are seeing the situation in other jurisdictions – especially in parts of the US, [and here in Canada] in Alberta and Saskatchewan – where the fourth wave of COVID-19 is leading to a surge in cases and an extreme strain on hospitals and the health care system,” Bocking added. “We don’t want to see the same thing happen in Ontario, so let’s continue to do all that we can to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

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