HKPR medical officer of health Dr. Natalie Bocking “strongly encourages” Haliburton County residents to reconsider large holiday gatherings as the health unit detected a “highly likely” case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in Northumberland County Dec. 15.
Bocking predicted cases involving the Omicron variant in the region will rise: as of Dec. 16 there were 69 cases of COVID-19 in the region. The health unit reported a case rate of 40 per 100,000 residents on Dec. 16, more than four times the infection rate of early November.
“We are seeing a steady increase now associated with both a higher number of outbreaks as well as a higher number of cases total,” said Bocking at a Dec. 15 media conference.
“As we look at the next couple weeks, we are highly encouraging everyone to be cautious in their interactions.”
Due to increasing cases across the province, with 2,421 new cases reported Dec. 16, Bocking recommends pairing down Holiday gathering size.
“These need to be small gatherings, either within your household or with one other household,” she said.
While the Omicron variant is still being tested, it’s found to be more transmissible than the Delta Variant and predicted to be the dominant COVID-19 strain in the coming weeks.
Booster shots are likely more important than ever in defending vulnerable populations from the virus, said Dr. Bocking.
Because of the rapidly increasing case counts and the growing prevalence of Omicron, there is “heightened urgency and awareness with getting a booster dose,” Dr. Bocking said.
The health unit has added 4,000 additional appointments at vaccination clinics this week, and is working to expand staff capacity as cases rise.
Unlike the spring’s vaccine roll-out, Bocking said health services across the region are experiencing labour shortages, making it increasingly difficult to staff clinics. That’s why all those seeking third shots must pre-register via the province’s online booking system.
Province expands booster eligibility
Everyone 18 years old and up will be eligible for a COVID-19 booster shot as of Dec. 21, Premier Doug Ford announced during a Dec. 15 press conference. It must be three months after a second dose.
“The best defense is a lightning-fast offense,” Ford said. “It’s all hands-on deck, and it starts with booster shots.”
Highlands residents can book a shot through the provincial booking system.
“Today’s announcement underlines our government’s ongoing priority to keep Ontarians safe while protecting our health care systems and communities from COVID-19 and its variants,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones in a Dec. 15 press release. “We are expanding our efforts to include workplace and mobile vaccine clinics with the support of our health care and corporate partners as well as public health units, to ensure that first, second and booster doses are easily and conveniently accessible across the province to all Ontarians.”
The province is also rolling out holiday testing sites at malls, stores and holiday markets around the province.