Local COVID Assessment Centre shuttered

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After three years of operation in Haliburton, the community’s COVID-19 Assessment Centre closed its doors March 31.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the site has been the primary testing location for County residents. First located in the parking lot at the Haliburton Highlands Health Centre (HHHC) on Gelert Road, and relocated indoors last March, the facility has treated 7,692 people since opening March 31, 2020.

Lauren Hunter, communications lead at Haliburton Highlands Health Services (HHHS), said the closure comes following a decreased demand for services at assessment centre sites provincewide. She said the facility in Haliburton was no longer being funded by the provincial government.

Day-to-day operations at the assessment centre were managed by the Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team and Haliburton Family Medical Centre (HFMC). The Haliburton County Paramedic Service was also instrumental in providing staff coverage at the site from 2020 to 2022. HHHS provided support in way of supplies, laundry, lab services, the acquisition and maintenance of the trailer, managing financial reporting, supporting communications, setting up appointments and screening.

Hunter noted HFMC will continue to offer COVID-19 assessments, testing and treatments for eligible patients.

Anyone in the community who wishes to access a COVID-19 test, assessment, or treatment can contact their local pharmacy or primary care provider, Hunter noted. Information is also available at ontario. ca/health811. A list of assessment centres still being maintained by the province can be found at ontario.ca/assessment-centre-locations.

In her report to the HHHS board March 21, hospital president and CEO Carolyn Plummer said, “the COVID-19 virus continues to circulate” locally. A COVID19 outbreak was reported at the in-patient department in Haliburton March 20, and declared over March 27. There were five confirmed patient cases and two staff cases associated with the outbreak.

Thus far in 2023, as reported by Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, there have been 86 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the County – 55 in Dysart, 21 in Minden Hills, six in Highlands East and four in Algonquin Highlands. This accounts for around 10 per cent of all positive cases since March 2020. There have been ten deaths directly related to COVID since the global pandemic was declared March 11, 2020.

Dr. Nell Thomas of the Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team told The Highlander the actual number of COVID-19 cases locally this year is likely much higher.

“We in the doctors’ office prescribe Paxlovid for COVID-positive patients every day, and these are not registered with the COVID Assessment Centre numbers,” Thomas said. “There are also many, many patients who do not seek medical help, but who have COVID, [after having] a positive swab test at home.”

HHHS has updated its COVID-related visiting guidelines, which came into effect April 3. All facilities, including long-term care, will shift from ‘active’ to ‘passive’ screening for COVID-19 and respiratory symptoms.

This means visitors to the emergency and in-patient departments, and both Hyland Crest and Highland Wood will be asked to self-screen before entering. Rapid tests at long-term care sites are no longer required, though will be made available to anyone who wants to take one.

Masking will remain in place across all HHHS facilities.