While the threat of COVID-19 isn’t looming quite as large this festive season, Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS) president and CEO Carolyn Plummer said the community needs to be wary of the “winter triple-demic” that’s sweeping across much of Ontario.

Health experts are warning that increased cases of COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) over the busy holiday period could overwhelm some Ontario hospitals.

“This has been affecting our community and hospital services in our region and beyond, particularly with pediatric cases and admissions for older adults,” Plummer said.

“This is leading many hospitals to be in what we call a surge position, which means we have more admitted inpatients than we do beds.”

Plummer said HHHS has been in that predicament “a few times” in recent weeks.

“That means, unfortunately, we’ve had patients waiting in the emergency department on a stretcher, or admitted to a bed that may be in a bit of an unconventional space,” she said. “We’ve been working with staff to make sure people who are admitted to those spaces get the best quality of care that we can provide in these unusual circumstances.”

“We’re expecting it’s going to peak in January,” Plummer said, but then hopefully settle down a little bit after that.”

HHHS has advised that if you think you need to visit the emergency department (ED) over the holidays, first stop, check, go.

If an ED is temporarily closed, emergency medical services will take you to the nearest ED. If the situation is not life-threatening, you should ‘stop’ and see if self-care (for a twisted ankle, minor scrapes, or seasonal allergies), a call to a doctor (for chronic symptoms, back pain, or stomach aches), or a call to the assessment centre (if you suspect you have COVID or a respiratory illness) can address your needs. Next, ‘check’ to make sure the ED you plan to visit is open, by calling HHHS at 705-457-1392 and using extension 2555, visiting the website at hhhs. ca, or visiting HHHS’ Facebook or Twitter. If your need is urgent, you can then ‘go’ to the nearest ED.

If you are in need of serious medical attention (for chest pain, severe blood loss, head injury, shortness of breath, or if you think you are having a stroke), you should call 911.

As of Dec. 18, only essential caregivers were able to visit in the in-patient department and the lower level of Hyland Crest, as both facilities were in COVID-19 outbreaks.