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COVID-19 risk level raised to high amid recent increase in hospitalizations and nearly 40 deaths

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For the first time in a year, the COVID-19 community risk level has been raised from moderate to high as officials report an increase in hospitalizations and deaths in recent weeks related to the virus.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) says 39 people have died since September "in which COVID-19 is either the underlying or contributing cause of death," with all but one of them being individuals 65 years of age and older.

Health officials are encouraging residents to get this season's COVID-19 vaccine to help protect themselves and those around them.

Individuals six months and older who are not up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccines can receive the updated XBB formulation free at participating pharmacies, some health care providers and health unit clinics.

The health unit also recommends rolling up your sleeves to receive the influenza vaccine, available to anyone five years or older at participating pharmacies. Children six months to two years old may receive the flu shot from a doctor, nurse or health unit clinic by appointment.

Meanwhile, SMDHU says it's best to stay home when sick or with any symptoms of respiratory illness, clean hands and disinfect surfaces frequently, and mask when in public settings.

The health unit also suggests anyone 60 or older, or those at a higher risk of severe illness, to self-test for COVID-19 with a rapid antigen test and seek medical care if ill.

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