There are now nine confirmed COVID-19 variant of concern (VOC) cases in the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge (HKPR) District Health Unit region.
In a virtual media briefing on Wednesday (February 24), acting medical officer of health, Dr. Ian Gemmill, confirmed that the number of COVID-19 VOC cases in the region has risen from three to nine within the last week.
“These cases are well controlled,” Dr. Gemmill assured. “They are in isolation, and their contacts are in quarantine.”
According to Dr. Gemmill, seven of these cases are in Northumberland County, and two are in the City of Kawartha Lakes. The sources of these cases have been tied to contacts with people outside of the health unit’s region.
The nine variant cases involve three clusters of related cases and one single case. While Dr. Gemmill said he feels confident that these cases are well controlled, he is worried about the continuing spread of coronavirus variants across Ontario.
“We are likely to see more of these VOCs in our region, so the need to take public health prevention measures continues to be important until more people are vaccinated,” Dr. Gemmill noted.
“I am hoping that the vaccine will be shown to protect against these variants. It looks like that is true at the moment, which is good.”
In terms of vaccine rollout, the health unit received around 4,500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine earlier this week. These supplies are currently stored at Ross Memorial Hospital in Lindsay and Northumberland Hills Hospital in Coburg.
Dr. Gemmill said he is hopeful that the health unit will begin vaccinating long-term care facility staff, essential caregivers, and high-priority health care workers before the end of the week.
This vaccine distribution comes following the previous immunization of the 1,700 individuals living in the area’s long-term care homes who have already received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine.
“We now have the promise of a second dose of vaccine for them,” Dr. Gemmill said. “This is really good news for those folks. I’m really hopeful that this will be the end of outbreaks in long-term care homes.”
Dr. Gemmill added that the health unit is set to receive another supply of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine in March.
While Dr. Gemmill said nothing is finalized in terms of plans for mass distribution of vaccines once the supply is available, he expects pharmacies, family doctors, and mass clinics to be involved.
There has been a drop in cases and outbreaks in the region over the last 14 days.
“I think that we are really in good shape at this point, and I really do want to stay in good shape,” he said.
However, Dr. Gemmill explained that he is concerned that the drop in cases is due to the stay-at-home order in place a few weeks ago.
“I think that there is the potential if people don’t follow the guidelines and the restrictions that are in place, that we could end up with another rise and another lockdown,” Dr. Gemmill explained. “I’m still pleading with people to keep behaving in ways that will stop this virus from spreading until we get the vaccine in place.”
As of February 24, there are 32 active cases of COVID-19 in the health unit’s region, including 12 in Kawartha Lakes and 20 in Northumberland. The sole active case in Haliburton has now been resolved.