The health unit and at least one family doctor are telling the community to be vigilant in the wake of COVID-19’s seventh wave, dominated by the BA.5 variant.

On July 6, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health confirmed the province is in a seventh wave of COVID-19, driven by the more infectious Omicron BA.5 subvariant.

While other parts of Ontario are starting to see a surge in cases, Dr. Natalie Bocking, medical officer of health with the HKPR district health unit, said on July 12 they’d had only preliminary indicators of the seventh wave, including a slight uptick in test positivity and a small increase in the number of outbreaks among highest risk settings.

However, she added, “We do expect the situation to change within the next week or so in Haliburton County, Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes.”

Dr. Bocking said evidence suggests that while the BA.5 subvariant is becoming the dominant strain in Ontario and is more easily spread, it is not more severe than the previous Omicron subvariants. She added this summer wave is expected to be smaller than the previous Omicron waves seen in January and in the spring.

The medical officer of health added that, “We also know that booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine help protect against severe illness and reduce the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. As COVID-19 cases increase again, staying up-to-date on our vaccination is still the best defence against the virus.”

She said there are thousands of residents in the region who have not yet received a third or booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

She advised people to continue to use public health tools, such as wearing proper-fitting, high-quality masks

“At this time, it’s strongly recommended you wear a mask inside public places, especially if the space is crowded and if you are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19. You may also want to wear a mask outdoors if you are in crowded locations or venues,” she said.

She further advised people to: stay home if sick, even with mild symptoms; wash hands often with soap and water; sneeze and cough into a sleeve or arm; stay two metres from people you don’t live with; assess your risk before visiting others; open a window or door inside to increase ventilation or gather outside when visiting.

“COVID-19 is still present in our communities, and the arrival of the BA.5 subvariant is a good reminder of that. Let’s follow prevention measures like masking and staying up-to-date on our vaccines to help reduce our risk, while also being sure to enjoy the summer.”

Dr. Nell Thomas said data gathering and public health measures are slow to take off with the seventh wave as noted by the Science Table which said, “Cases cannot be estimated accurately because testing capacity in Ontario is insufficient to deal with the number of infections caused by Omicron, and the testing strategy has changed.”

She thinks the wave began as early as June 19. In addition to being perhaps the mostly highly contagious to date, she added it has come at a time when health care workplaces are depleted of staff.

“The healthcare system is exhausted and depleted. We are facing an unprecedented loss of health care workers from the front lines. This is not unique to Haliburton County, nor to Ontario.

“The hope was this coronavirus would evolve itself into a weakened version, fading into the background of cold viruses. It has proved itself to be doing quite the opposite, in fact revving up its mutations. Wishing it away is proving to be a poor strategy for humans,” Dr. Thomas said.