By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Every fall and winter, it comes as surely as the chillier weather – an increase in respiratory infections.
In recent years, that has come to include COVID-19, which Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Natalie Bocking said is still with us.
“We are seeing a fair amount of other respiratory infections circulating, and also starting to see influenza infections as well,” Dr. Bocking said.
The information was shared at this week’s HKPR media scrum, where the doctor said that the increases come as no surprise.
“We anticipated this was coming. We anticipated this respiratory season – which is essentially the fall and the winter months, where we would usually be seeing these viruses – would potentially be more challenging than previous years,” she said.
Dr. Bocking reviewed the current display on the HKPR respiratory-diseases dashboard, which is updated each Tuesday.
“Compared to other areas of the province, we are at a moderate level,” she said of the number of hospital visits occasioned by respiratory-infection symptoms
“What’s important to remember is this increase overall in the number of people coming to emergency departments is one side of the equation. We have an increase in demand but, at the same time, we have health-care workers who might be getting sick or health-care worker shortages, which means there’s less staff available in the ERs.”
The incidence of influenza is on the rise, with both case numbers and test positivity increasing.
One of the latest evolutions in the COVID-19 picture is that there are mixed indicators so there’s no quick way to get a fix on the current situation. It’s now like a puzzle where you have to look at the different pieces all together.
Test positivity is increasing, for example, but that is due in part to further restrictions the province has placed on which persons can be tested to eliminate the asymptomatic.
Waste-water numbers at all three HKPR sites show a low level of viral activity, she pointed out, at a time when the numbers of those admitted to hospital is up.
“At this time, there’s not a sole indicator that gives the truth of what’s happening in terms of COVID activity,” she said.
“They are all pieces of a puzzle.”
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the recommendations.
“Number-one is stay home if you are sick and wait until it’s 24 hours since your symptoms have improved or the fever has gone away.”
Masking is not as common as it once was, she has found, but it’s just as important.
“If you are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19, we strongly recommend you wear a mask when you go into indoor public settings,” Dr. Bocking urged.
Even for those who are not at risk, she still recommends masking in any crowded indoor public places.
“As we continue to see activity increase over the next couple of weeks, we will continue to put out stronger messages,” she said.
Just now, two things are helping COVID to spread.
One is the increasing transmissibility of every variant that evolves. This holds true of the newest B.2.1 and B.2.1.1 variants that are well on their way to becoming the dominant variants.
The other is the fact that people are not keeping up to date with their vaccinations. For example, of HKPR residents over the age of 70, only 30% have received their next booster dose.
At this time, everyone in Ontario aged 12 and older can get a bivalent booster dose. And the recommendation of a six-month interval between one’s last booster dose and the new bivalent booster has been cut to three months for those at special risk because of such considerations as age and immunity challenges. While a six-month wait does give the best immune response, this is outweighed in these cases by the urgency of getting whatever benefit they can at the earliest possible time.
“Over the next several weeks,” she suggested.