Until everyone has been vaccinated, the new local medical officer of health, Dr. Natalie Bocking, is urging people to remain vigilant and continue to follow public health recommendations to help stop the increased spread of the COVID-19 virus in the area.
During the past seven days, staff from the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit have conducted investigations on more than 94 new confirmed COVID cases. The bulk of these new cases are in Northumberland County, but additional cases have been confirmed in Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County.
“We know the majority of cases in Ontario are variants of concern and this is also the case in our area,” says Bocking. “As we have been hearing, these variants spread more quickly and easily than the original COVID virus and we are seeing that happen as well.”
With older adults living in long-term care homes and retirement homes now vaccinated, many of the latest cases tend to be those younger in age. Of the 94 new cases seen in the past seven days, more than 26 per cent of the new cases were among youth aged 14 to 18 years of age. This finding has prompted the health unit to work with two of its local school boards to suspend in-person learning at two secondary schools in Cobourg.
“When it comes to COVID-19, younger people still tend to experience milder symptoms and recover fully,” says Bocking. “Our concern is that some family members that they bring this virus home to – their siblings, parents and grandparents – will not fare as well and become quite ill. We have worked with the school boards in areas where we are seeing active transmission to try and stop any further exposure or spread that could potentially occur either through the schools or in our communities.”
The health unit is continuing its mass vaccination clinics in Northumberland County, Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County. As well, the province has expanded the program to have local pharmacies and primary health care providers vaccinate local residents.
These are all steps in the right direction, according to a media release, but until more vaccine is delivered locally to increase the number of people who can be vaccinated, Bocking is urging people to continue to follow the public health recommendations, such as staying home if ill, wearing a mask, social distancing, and staying home except for essential reasons.
Today marks the first official day on the job for Bocking, who has been sitting in on meetings during the past few weeks, meeting with her staff, and learning more about the area and the health unit’s pandemic response. Now that she is officially assuming the role, Bocking says she is eager to meet more of the community partners who work with the health unit.
“I am looking forward to building relationships with our partners, our stakeholders and our board so that we can work together and continue to make a difference in the communities that we serve,” says Bocking. “Community partners are vital to the work that we do. This is a team effort. A lot of the problems that public health is tackling are huge and it would be impossible without our community partners.”
Bocking is a Public Health and Preventive Medicine Specialist and was certified by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in 2015 following the completion of her specialty training at the University of Toronto. Bocking’s academic training also includes a Medical Doctorate from McMaster University and Master’s in International Public Health from the University of Sydney, Australia.
Bocking spent four years working as a public health physician with Thunder Bay District Health Unit and Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority. In her role, she supported the development of a community based First Nations governed public health system for 31 rural and remote First Nations. This included overseeing tuberculosis and hepatitis C programming, population health assessment, and maternal and child health support.
In addition to her work in public health, Bocking has worked as a locum family physician in northwestern Ontario. She has published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and presented at provincial and national conferences.
“I went into public health because I thought that some of the issues or health problems I was seeing in family medicine really could have been addressed so much more effectively at a population level and that was really where public health fit for me,” she says.
Bocking is assuming her new role after former medical officer of health Dr. Lynn Noseworthy retired in December. Dr. Ian Gemmill had been serving as acting medical officer of health in the interim period before Bocking assumed the role.
Born in London, Ontario, Bocking, her husband and two children moved to Kawartha Lakes in 2019 to her husband’s family farm, which he now operates.