Easing restrictions and a new subvariant are to blame for a “surge” in COVID19 cases said Dr. Natalie Bocking, chief medical officer of health for the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge (HKPR) district health unit.
“When we saw a lifting of provincial measures of COVID-19, many public health professionals and community members reminded everyone the pandemic wasn’t over. If we forgot that, COVID-19 is here to remind us,” she said at an April 6 media information session.
The health unit reported 15 lab-confirmed active cases of COVID-19 within Haliburton County April 12 and 229 active cases throughout the HKPR region. Until April 11, only those in high-risk living areas or individuals deemed high-risk were eligible for testing. The majority of COVID-19 infections in Haliburton County are no longer recorded.
Local physician Dr. Nell Thomas said she’s diagnosing one to two patients a day with COVID-19, and Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) CAO Carolyn Plummer said the health care system has seen a slight increase in cases among staff.
“This latest wave of COVID-19 is certainly concerning, and we are monitoring the situation closely,” Plummer said.
She added that protective measures such as screening for symptoms and mandatory masking continue to be in place at HHHS locations until at least April 27 when the remaining rules are set to be lifted.
“The safety and wellbeing of our patients, residents, and clients, as well as our staff, physicians, and volunteers will continue to be our top priority,” she said.
Bocking said she is “fully expecting” an increase in hospital admissions as a new subvariant of COVID-19, BA.2, becomes the dominant strain.
Haliburton County has seen five hospitalizations due to COVID-19 since the beginning of 2022.
In the majority of cases since December, COVID-19 infection resulted in mild illness manageable without medical care. Bocking said despite a lack of provincial mandates, masking, vaccination, staying home when sick, avoiding or limiting social gatherings and handwashing still help prevent infection.
Health unit releasing case count by township
The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) has issued an interim order compelling the health unit to offer COVID19 statistics by lower-tier townships.
Previously, it published COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, likely cases and deaths on a county-by-county basis.
“That information is basically useless to the consumer,” said Northumberland resident Randy Fallis, who issued a request under the Freedom of Information Act for the information in April 2020.
Fallis said lower-tier infection information paints a more accurate picture of COVID19 risk.
According to an IPC report, a month after submitting his request, the health unit denied it, claiming it was not obligated to create new records.
An IPC interim order signed Feb. 18, 2022, after nearly two years of mediation, directs the health unit to re-process Fallis’ request and issue township-specific reporting data.
While the decision is not final, the IPC urged the health unit to “proactively” publish the more detailed data. The IPC’s investigation found the health unit able to produce the records “without unreasonable interference with its operations.”
Bill Eekhof, of the HKPR health unit, said the IPC ruling coincided with an ongoing review of the unit’s COVID-19 reporting methods, which began in 2022.
“As such, the Health Unit decided to incorporate the release of case counts by lower-tier municipality into the updated COVID-19 Dashboard,” he said.