On Jan, 11 the HKPR reported 80 unresolved cases of COVID-19 in Haliburton County. However chief medical officer of health, Dr. Natalie Bocking, said cases reported now represent a fraction of total active COVID-19 cases in the area.

“Many might have tested positive with a rapid test or have symptoms, and those people aren’t reflected in the dashboard,” Bocking said during a Jan. 5 media information session.

Evidence suggests the Omicron variant of COVID-19, now the dominant strain of the virus, often causes milder symptoms.

One woman from Minden tested positive after experiencing mild cold symptoms.

“I’d never dream I had it,” she said, requesting to remain anonymous due to her job in health care. After isolating for 13 days, she tested positive once more on a PCR test.

She and her partner have found walks a helpful way to “keep their sanity.”

Bocking predicted many in the County will contract the virus without the opportunity to get tested.

Those who work in high-risk settings are prioritized for rapid tests and PCR tests are limited to high-risk people.

Bocking said that the massive increase in case count poses a severe risk for hospital capacity and high-risk people.

As of Jan. 11 there were over 3,200 people in hospital with COVID-19 across Ontario, the highest number of admissions than at any point during the pandemic. In the HKPR health region, there are 10 people hospitalized and five people in an ICU due to COVID-19.

“Nobody wants to be in this situation,” Bocking said.

For Haliburton County, rising case counts could mean Haliburton Highlands Health Services, with existing staffing worries, would be over capacity if hospitalizations increase.

“We are looking to mitigate or decrease the impact on our acute care system,” Bocking said. “It doesn’t take many admissions because of COVID-19 to overwhelm a small rural hospital.”

HHHS CEO Carolyn Plummer said the service hasn’t seen a COVID-related spike in hospitalizations.

“We do rely very much on other hospital ICUs, Peterborough, Ross Memorial… they are getting busier, particularly the Peterborough Hospital and so we do watch that closely because it can have an impact on other types of patients we may have to transfer to those other ICUs for other, nonCovid-related reasons.”

Under 30s get Pfizer

All County residents under 30 will receive Pfizer doses for their third shot, based on data that shows an extremely small percentage of the age group can develop heart inflammation after receiving the Moderna shot.

“There has been a provincial shortage of the Pfizer vaccine,” Bocking said. “We’re trying to ensure we have vaccines for those individuals who can’t receive Moderna.”

In the HKPR health region as of Jan. 5, 66 per cent of those aged 70 and over have received their booster dose, along with 49 per cent of people aged 50 and older and 37.5 per cent of people aged 18 and older.

Thirty-nine per cent of 5-11-year-olds have received two doses of a vaccine, a number “much lower than we want it to be,” Bocking said.

Anyone aged 18 and older can now book a booster shot at the Minden arena through the provincial booking system.

Rapid tests incoming

Some studies, such as a recent preprint (not yet peer-reviewed) study from scientists in the Sports and Society working group in the U.S.A, show rapid antigen tests may have limited effectiveness in identifying the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

In other cases, said Dr. Bocking, a test can give a false-positive result.

However, “given the background rate of COVID-19 if someone tests positive it is extremely likely they have COVID-19,” she said.

Without rapid tests available – even the HKPR health unit doesn’t have any – Bocking urges anyone with symptoms to isolate for the recommended five-day period and assume they have COVID-19.

“We’ll hopefully have different messaging around that as we have more supply [of rapid antigen tests],” Bocking said.

The federal government announced on Jan. 5 it is distributing 140 million rapid antigen tests to the provinces on a per capita basis. There have been no rapid antigen test hand-out locations in Haliburton County to date.