Cottager influx during pandemic would strain health system, doctors say
By Jenn Watt
In a letter distributed through social media channels over the weekend, the Haliburton Highlands Family Health Team reached out to seasonal residents, asking them to think about the limited resources available in the county before they decide to come to the area during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We face some harsh realities recognizing that we have limited capacity to manage a health emergency. A substantial influx of visitors will further challenge our ability to source adequate beds, medical supplies, equipment and personal protective equipment to manage this pandemic,” reads the letter, which is signed by the physicians of Haliburton County.
The Haliburton hospital has only 15 beds with a small number of doctors available, the letter says, and while Minden has an emergency department, it has no in-patient beds.
“Neither location is equipped as an ICU [intensive care unit] and each has two transport ventilators that are used for transport to the closest ICU over an hour away. We anticipate that our closest ICU will be strained supporting the population within its radius,” the letter says, reminding the public that moving those with COVID-19 poses a greater risk to health-care workers.
“We collectively have a lot of work to do and look forward to when this threat is behind us and we can all rest and truly enjoy our county again,” the letter says. “Until then we ask that you recognize the limits of our local health-care system and consider remaining at your primary residence where you will receive more advanced care if you require it.”
Some mayors in cottage country have been warning seasonal residents that the health-care system in the region doesn’t have the capacity to handle an influx of patients. On Friday, Premier Doug Ford echoed those concerns.
Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielsen said the county has been encouraged by various sectors to ask the seasonal population to avoid the area, “but initially the county’s Emergency Control Group has been reluctant to tell folks who own homes that they cannot come to them. We also did not have the tools to enforce people to stay away. We have to consider that these folks pay taxes on those properties and should reasonably be able to have the same rights as permanent residents. They look to those homes as safe havens and possibly better places to self isolate given our reduced population and rural setting.”
She said information has gone out reminding cottagers that there is a limited ability to handle higher demand on services.
“In the last week I have sent out messaging (see county website) in the form of news releases and public service announcements on Canoe FM, telling cottagers that they should think about the fact that they could be putting themselves and others at risk given our facilities and health professionals’ limited ability to handle an influx of illnesses,” she said.
The county has also been urging people to practice physical distancing and avoid areas where people are gathering, last week reminding those who have returned from international travel that they must self-isolate for 14 days.
A coronavirus assessment centre is planned for the parking lot outside the Haliburton Family Medical Centre, which is to open this week.
In a weekly update from Haliburton Highlands Health Services for the week ending March 27 it is stated that supplies of personal protective equipment are running low and while they are sufficient to meet current demand, they are working with regional partners to secure more. They are also hoping to find more of this equipment from other sectors and members of the community.
On Sunday evening, Dr. Theresa Tam reiterated that those in cities should not travel to rural areas to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic. She tweeted: “Urban dwellers/cottagers should RESIST THE URGE to head to the #cottage and rural properties as these communities have less capacity to manage #COVID19. A) You need to #PlankTheCurve in the city … B) “COVID19 time is NOT #cottage time”; #StayHome in the city and DO NOT put rural communities at further risk during the #COVID19 crisis.