By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
With the volume of COVID-19 cases and respiratory-focused illnesses on the decline locally, Northumberland Hills Hospital announces that its Cough, Cold and COVID-19 Assessment Centre is preparing to wind down its services as of March 31.
The announcement noted the symbolism of this closure – which is not lost on the large team of NHH staff and physicians and Ontario Health Team Northumberland partners who came together three years ago this month to open the service. The centre’s closure will mark a turning oint in the local response to the pandemic, as well as an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the collaborative spirit between NHH and its community partners to sustain and adapt the service for more than three years.
Its doors opened March 14, 2020, less than 24 hours after the first COVID-positive case was confirmed in Northumberland County and only three days after the World Health Organization declared COVID a global pandemic. At the time, it operated out of space within the hospital – a cordoned-off area in the Ambulatory Care Clinic – to offer COVID-19 assessment and testing until the service was moved to a trailer set up outside the hospital’s Emergency Department.
With support from Northumberland Paramedics and the Municipality of Port Hope, a satellite location was temporarily added at the Port Hope Community Hub in the village of Canton, which wound down in June 2021.
When COVID-19 treatment options became available, this service was added as well – first through a partnership between the NHH and the COVID-19 team at Lakeridge Health – before the Centre assumed the ability to administer treatment independently with support from the NHH pharmacy and primary-care physicians.
In December 2022, the Centre was consolidated to the NHH location but the scope of concern was expanded and rebranded as the Cough, Cold and COVID Assessment Centre. On the urging of local care providers and the NHH Emergency Department, it provided testing, assessment and treatment options for both COVID-19 and for respiratory-focused illnesses, preserving system capacity for the Emergency Department and primary-care providers alike.
Taking into account service at the Centre as well as at the Canton satellite site, plus the outreach testing deployed by the team in collaboration with OHT-N partners and the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit to area retirement homes and other congregate settings, it is estimated that more than 55,000 visits have been logged.
NHH President and Chief Executive Officer Susan Walsh noted the immense impact on the health-care landscape.
“Our teams were called on to reimagine how we could deliver safe, efficient care while sustaining and protecting our existing resources for the community’s most vulnerable populations,” Walsh stated.
“The Cough, Cold and COVID Assessment Centre is a very powerful example of the strength and value of community partnerships and teamwork. During a time of uncertainty, we were able to join together and create a one-stop shop to support individuals experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and respiratory-focused illnesses who were in need of fast, effective care.
“There were many hands involved in this work – please join us in thanking every member o the Assessment Centre team, including the critical teams such as the Pharmacy, Laboratory, Health Records, IT and Environmental Services staff who supported the Centre’s operations, the area primary-care partners who devoted countless hours and all of the many partners involved who stepped up during very difficult circumstances to serve their community for over three years through the many challenges presented by this pandemic.”
Though COVID numbers have dropped, the virus remains in circulation. Therefore, steps to minimize risk – including vaccination and masking when appropriate – continue to be recommended.
At this time, members of the general public with mild COVID symptoms generally do not require PCR testing to confirm a diagnosis. Rapid antigen test (RAT) kits are available for personal use at no cost through select grocery stores and pharmacies (see https://www.ontario.ca/rapid-test-locator).
After March 31, individuals seeking testing, assessment and treatment options for COVID or respiratory-focused illnesses will have several options, including their primary-care providers, the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit and participating local pharmacies (see https://www.hkpr.on.ca/covid-19/).
Ontario has set out certain testing eligibility requirements to access testing at local pharmacies (see https://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/publichealth/coronavirus/docs/COVID-19_provincial_testing_guidance.pdf). Travel testing is not included. It is recommended to call the pharmacy in advance to arrange the test, as service times may vary.
Pharmacists can now prescribe Paxlovid anti-viral treatment to eligible individuals in person or by phone at no cost. Eligible individuals should contact their local pharmacy to confirm if they prescribe Paxlovid and how to get a prescription. Treatment must begin within five days of symptom onset. A positive RAT is sufficient to access Paxlovid (a positive PCR test is no longer required).
For more information regarding COVID-19 (including PCR and Rapid Antigen testing guidelines), vaccine clinics and eligibility, visit the health unit website (https://www.hkpr.on.ca/covid-19/).