The health unit is readying itself for respiratory season, medical officer of health, Dr. Natalie Bocking, told a Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge (HKPR) board of health meeting Sept. 21.
She said the fall is an “incredibly” busy time for the health unit, and the media is now focusing on the fall respiratory season. She added the community wants to know what to expect and what the recommendations are.
“We’re preparing folks for what’s considered to be another atypical respiratory season,” Dr. Bocking said.
She said that means they are anticipating flu season to hit early, COVID-19, and other respiratory viruses to be somewhat higher than pre-pandemic levels.
As for readiness, Dr. Bocking said it’s about the health unit, long-term care homes, public education, vaccination, testing and treatment.
“We had a fairly intense influenza season last year, that happened earlier and peaked earlier, that had a number of implications for our health sector partners, emergency departments, hospitals as well as patients from the health unit,” Dr. Bocking said.
She added they take their cue from the southern hemisphere, which has already experienced a fall and winter 2023.
Australia and New Zealand saw “not quite as high” cases of influenza compared to last year, fewer deaths, but quite high hospital admissions, particularly among children up to the age of nine. She said the most at-risk are people 65 years old and older, and the very young.
As for COVID-19 locally, she said they’d had a long stretch of fewer hospital admissions. She is anticipating that will increase. She added the virus continues to mutate and evolve, with a couple of different variants that have mutated together. However, she said there are no new variants that have set them back. She said the variants remain contagious but do not cause more severe illness.
She suggested people keep an eye on things through reputable sources, such as the local health unit, Kingston public health unit and Public Health Ontario.
Dr. Bocking said in the past couple of weeks, they have been doing tabletop exercises with health sector partners, including in Haliburton County. They’re working with LTC homes. “Preparation for worse case scenarios should they arrive.”
They’re ramping up public education, reminding people to stay home if sick, and wear masks.
The health unit is also encouraging people to get both a flu and COVID vaccine (which can be given at the same time) and LTC and those over 65, an RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) shot.
Dr. Bocking said people in LTC homes and hospitals will be immunized first, followed by at-risk groups, and then the general public, likely in late October. Vaccines will be available in pharmacies. The health unit will have vaccine clinics and primary care professionals will also give jabs.
As for testing and treatment, the region’s top doc said PCR test kits are still available and there is a test locater on the provincial website. Rapid antigen tests are still available.
She also encouraged people to go to their new website at hkpr.on.ca.