Screenshot of Dr. Ian Gemmill

Details on contact tracing of covid cases discussed

Article by Valerie MacDonald News Now Network

Journalist Valerie MacDonald covered the first virtual weekly update for the media of Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health (HKPR) Unit’s acting Medical Officer of Health (MOH), Dr. Ian Gemmill on the pandemic crisis affecting the region he oversees. 

In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 vaccines should be delivered to the local health unit.

Phase 1 of the inoculations will be underway in this area by early February, depending on the availability of the vaccine to fight COVID-19, says the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health (HKPR) Unit’s acting Medical Officer of Health (MOH), Dr. Ian Gemmill.

By early spring (through to) summer, Phase 2 should be underway, with the same caveat, the MOH said during a virtual media conference held January 13 – the last day before Ontario’s stay at home order goes into effect.

Phase 1 is for health care workers and Long Term Care residents and workers, plus resident caregivers, the MOH said. Phase 2 starts with those in the general population who are the oldest residents, high-risk residents, frontline essential workers, first responders, teachers and other education staff and the food processing industry as well as individuals with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers in this health unit’s jurisdiction (see below for details).

“This (schedule) is totally determined by the availability of the vaccine,” he reiterated several times.

How inoculations will be administered to the general population in the tri-county health unit area covering Northumberland, the City of Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton is “still to be determined,” he continued. But planning is well underway for Phase 1 in order  “to be ready” when the vaccine is here.  Some of those decisions revolve around which long-term care (LTC) homes in this region receive the vaccines first.

When asked about giving vaccines to LTC homes where there is an outbreak underway, the MOH said he supports doing that unless there is a provincial directive not to.

At this time, health care workers and LTC homes workers and residents in provincial pandemic hotbeds like Toronto and the GTA are being vaccinated, along with workers in hospitals.)

Dr. Gemmill said he anticipates that when the vaccines arrive they will be distributed to this health unit from other health units.

He predicted that by this time next year we would be back to “some kind of normalcy” where people can see their friends and family again.

Regarding the controversy regards identifying locations where cases are active

Within a few weeks, in response to an Information and Privacy request, a decision will be made about how much geographic detail is released when reporting positive cases in this health unit, the MOH said At this time, for confidentiality and privacy, the positive COVID-19 cases are only identified as being from somewhere within Northumberland, the City of Kawartha Lakes or Haliburton.

Dr. Gemmill said he hopes the Provincial Government sets province-wide standards about this because different health units are doing different things. Some are doing the same as HKRP and others not, he said. In small municipalities, the identity of people testing positive could be revealed. In some cases a “stigma” is attached to this, the MOH said, about the reason for only reporting the county where they live.

Regardless, the coming decision on identifying where positive cases are being reported, Dr. Gemmill said people should act like they could be potentially exposed anywhere “all day, every day”, as if the COVID-19 virus is around them.  This means being masked, staying six feet apart, hand washing, not touching your face, etc.

The incubation period of the virus is 5 to 7 days, he said.

Asked about contact case tracing and follow up on any positive cases being reported, the MOH said the health unit personnel are doing impressive work and “well over 90%” of identified contacts are being asked to quarantine for 14 days. But it “doesn’t always work perfectly” because it relies on the positive-testing person remembering their contacts and activities during the infectious period, and honestly sharing that information. A person testing positive is asked to stay in their homes self-isolating for 10 days.

Where people can not be reached, a letter to quarantine is being delivered to their home address.  When seasonal residents test positive, their case is recorded and handled through their principal residence even though they may be using the health system at their seasonal cottage or home, he said.

High-risk gatherings that can lead to contact tracing, in his personal experience, are weddings, hockey events and social gatherings. People must avoid these, he stressed.

At this time, under the stay at home order issued January 12 and taking effect January 14, outdoor gatherings are limited to five people. People are instructed stay inside and only go outside to obtain groceries, attend medical appointments and exercise. To this list, the MOH said he adds “family emergencies.”

Asked about wearing face shields in addition to masks as advised by the head of the Ontario Hospital Association, Gemmill said it is not advised for the general population but for medical personnel’s protection because of the potential higher exposure. 

As of Wednesday’s media conference, there were 17 new cases reported in the HKPR region with 81 of those in Northumberland, 83 in the City of Kawartha Lakes and significantly fewer, 13, in Haliburton County where the concentration of people is less than the other areas, the MOH noted.

Comparing this region with Ontario’s hot spots, there have been few deaths and those that have occurred have affected chronically ill people. He said this was “sadly a fact of life.”

At this time, testing has found the groups most at risk are aged 30 to 39, followed by those 50 to 59, then 20 to 29 and finally, 60 to 69.

While two-thirds of Ontarians are following health guidelines “we need everybody to do this,” he said.

“This is a winter virus” just like influenza, said Dr. Gemmill. “We’re in a race with this virus” to get the vaccine into more arms before the virus is contracted.

He also advised against travel outside your community he stressed.

At this time 40% of LTC homes in Ontario have active outbreaks which mean at least one positive case is present at the residence.

“We all have to work together to stop this virus from winning,” the MOH said.

To view his talk, go to

Editor’s Note: According to MPP David Piccini’s statement, (and the provincial government) Phase 2 will be similar to Phase One with reference to who is receiving the vaccine but applicable to a greater catchment area, once the people eligible as per Phase one in the hotspot areas of the province have been inoculated. Phase 3 for the government is when the general population will be eligible to receive the vaccine.Dr. Gemmill suggests that will happen in the spring here but the provincial government shows a plan indicating it could be as late as August 2021.


According to the government’s website ( Phase 2 which we are in the middle of means mass deliveries of vaccines to specific high risk groups (see list below).

From March to July 2021, depending on the availability of vaccines

Who will be vaccinated

Approximately 8.5 million people from the following groups will receive vaccines:

The task force will use the ethical framework and the best available data to identify other priority populations within this phase, based on available vaccine supply.

Expected doses

The provincial government is expecting to receive the following number of doses from the federal government:


Over the coming months, more sites are being added to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.

Vaccines will be available at:

Phase 3 will happen August 2021 and beyond, depending on the availability of vaccines

Who will be vaccinated

Remaining Ontarians in the general population who wish to be vaccinated will receive the vaccine.

The ethical framework, data and available vaccine supply will help to prioritize groups in this phase.

Vaccines will not be mandatory, but you are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated.


Editor’s Note: January 14, 2021, this article has been reposted with slight modifications for reasons of clarity 

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