Health Unit’s COVID protocols outlined
Article by Sue Dickens, Trent Hills Now editor
Trent Hills Now presented questions to the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit that had been asked by a Northumberland senior who is over 80 and lives alone.
She wrote News Now Network looking for answers and asked that her name be withheld.
The following are the questions posed by the senior with the HKPR District Health Unit’s Answers.
Why was the woman whose friend got COVID and whom she had driven to Peterborough before she tested positive, not contacted by the Haliburton, Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health unit to let her know her friend had COVID? Shouldn’t that have happened?
For privacy reasons, we cannot speak directly to any COVID-19 case. But rest assured, the HKPR District Health Unit takes its duties seriously when it comes to contacting/following up with anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and others who may have been in close contact.
As we’ve mentioned before, case and contact management is one of the most fundamental tools used by public health to trace and track diseases, be it COVID-19, tuberculosis or sexually transmitted infections. Tracing efforts are essential to investigate where an individual may have acquired an illness and preventing further spread.
Because of the significant increase in local COVID-19 cases over the past month or so, the Health Unit is having to connect with more people to ensure they isolate or quarantine (as needed). This has stretched our capacity, which is why the Health Unit has been receiving help from Public Health Ontario staff to do some COVID-19 contact management calls in this area.
As noted in the Provincial government’s Jan. 15 media release announcing additional investments to expand the COVID-19 Case and Contact Management workforce, “public health units are starting to use technology to reach cases and contacts faster so that people can get into isolation as quickly as possible and limit the spread.” This includes the use of a new secure ‘Virtual Assistant’ tool to use text messages to connect public health staff with individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been identified as close contacts. As noted in the provincial news release, this new digital tool is being adopted by a number of public health units, including Toronto, Windsor, Halton, Waterloo and York, and will soon be used across the province – including by HKPR.
Depending on the situation, someone who comes in contact with a positive COVID-19 case can be deemed ‘low-risk’ or ‘high risk’. The risk level is determined by length of exposure, whether 2-metre physical distancing was maintained, what protective measures were in place (including masking), and other factors. The level of risk is taken into account by public health to prioritize our COVID-19 case and contact management response.
How do they (the people at the health unit) ensure those in quarantine are not falling through the cracks and obey the quarantine? This seems to be a big complaint among the public, too. Who is ultimately responsible for following that person?
The health and well-being of people who are in quarantine due to COVID-19 are very much top-of-mind for us. Quarantine of high-risk contacts is key to limiting further transmission of the infection to others.
In the early days of COVID-19, we were able to do daily check-ins with people who were isolating or in quarantine. Given that COVID-19 cases have increased dramatically in recent months, public health (be it HKPR staff or Public Health Ontario) still regularly check in with COVID-19 cases and high-risk contacts but do so at the initial, midway, and endpoints of their isolation/quarantine period. The frequency of these checks can also be increased, depending on the person’s individual needs.
During our check-in calls, we review with the client their legal obligation under the Section 22 Class Order to isolate or quarantine and provide any referrals for medical support or community supports that may be necessary.
A key part of our conversation is discussing individual supports the person may need during the isolation/quarantine period. We identify social supports that may be needed, as well as community agencies that can assist (such as for arranging grocery deliveries). Each client has individualized needs, and we work with them to identify supports.
Clients are also provided with a direct phone extension to call the Health Unit if they need extra support or develop COVID-19 symptoms while they are in quarantine at home. We encourage people who are in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19 to call us anytime for help or support, especially as this can be a very trying time for them.
As a final note, the Health Unit would again encourage everyone to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19. During the pandemic, it’s never been more important to: stay home if sick, wash hands often with soap and water, wear a mask, practise physical distancing, clean and disinfect frequently, and limit your contact with others.