By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—While Haldimand and Norfolk has significantly slowed new cases of COVID-19, the province has continued to see significant test numbers coming in positive each day.
Ontario saw 460 new cases on May 24, 2020 alone, the highest since May 8 although still lower than the April 24 peak of 640. Haldimand and Norfolk however, have had only seven cases since May 3, with 15 days having no cases between then and May 23.
“Our best defence right now is to ramp up testing. We’ve been laser-focused on it. We’ve built up capacity in our hospitals. We’ve established 129 assessment centres around the province,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement on May 24. “Next week, we’ll release a detailed testing strategy. We’ll be targeting various sectors and hot spots across the province.”
Ford went on to say that Ontario would be removing all restrictions to testing: “We need your help…. I’m asking the people of Ontario: if you’re worried you have COVID-19 or that you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19, even if you’re not showing symptoms, please, go get a test. You will not be turned away. You do not need an appointment. Just show up to a testing centre and they will test you…. Bring your family along with you to get tested.”
Previously, the Ministry of Health had guidelines that only those with one or more symptoms could be tested. In Haldimand and Norfolk, residents were required to have a test requisitioned by a physician, such as their family doctor, or meet set criteria to be approved through the Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit (HNHU). From there, they would have to set an appointment with a local testing centre. Ford’s announcement Sunday means HNHU will have to work with the community partners involved to change how the testing centres run.
“Every health unit had been doing things specific for their district,” said Matt Terry, Corporate Communications for Norfolk County on May 25. “Now we have to put together a plan, which the team has been working on today. We will update the community shortly.”
Terry added, “We (HNHU) often learn of things as the rest of the public do, so we have to move quickly to put things together.”
Haldimand War Memorial Hospital (HWMH) said in a statement that same day, “The hospital will be working with the Haldimand Norfolk public health department to develop plans to respond to Ontario premier Doug Ford’s request…. To ensure adequate staffing at the testing centre and the availability of swabs, the hospital requests that people who wish to be tested not drop into the centre, but continue to call the public health department for an appointment.”
The release noted that the Dunnville testing centre at 420 Lock St. W. was set up April 22 for appointments on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but due to a lack of demand it stopped offering appointments on Fridays. It was unknown as of press time how these hours would be affected by the call for increased testing.
Since reopening some outdoor recreational areas and allowing more businesses to open, the province has seen a number of residents ignoring social distancing requirements. Thousands flooded a Toronto Park on Saturday, which Ford said “we just can’t have that right now because there is still a deadly virus among us.” A number of Haldimand residents took to social media to complain of congregations in local parks and public areas as well. While many of these residents complained by-law officers were visible but not acting, Terry said these claims are a “mischaracterization”.
“Both Haldimand and Norfolk have increased the number of by-law officers to deal with this virus. As from the beginning of the pandemic, it is not our intention to fine everyone we see but to rely on education first and foremost,” said Terry, noting that they are contacted most often for mass gatherings, which is also what by-law responds most to. “It happens all the time. Where appropriate we would move to an enforcement action if needed.”
Updated statistics on the number of by-law interactions or tickets given were not available as of press time.
Haldimand Mayor and Council stated May 23, “There are many out there still being selfish. That said, the majority of people in Haldimand should be applauded for their efforts, their commitment to ensuring the safety of the community, and ultimately helping us reopen our local businesses.”
As things have begun to reopen, the use of masks has increased. HWMH announced last week that beginning May 25 all emergency patients, outpatients coming to the hospital for pre-booked urgent procedures, and essential visitors would have to wear a mask at all times. If the visitor does not have a mask, a mask would be provided.
“Since people are now routinely wearing homemade masks when out in the community, or purchasing masks now available at local retail outlets, it makes sense to also ask them to wear masks when coming to the hospital,” said interim president and CEO Sharon Moore, adding that this new protocol is also being put in place in other regional hospitals.
The Government of Canada notes that the best thing to do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer with a minimum 60% alcohol base when that is not available. Additionally, staying home, maintaining at least two metre distance from others, and avoiding touching your face are important steps. Masks are needed most when caring for someone with COVID-19 or when you are coughing or sneezing. However, when it is not possible to consistently maintain distance, such as in stores or on public transportation, a non-medical mask or face covering is recommended. Masks do not replace the need for other precautions, but are instead an additional measure.
Tips for using a mask
- Before putting on your mask, wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.
- Make sure your mask covers your mouth and nose with no gaps between the mask and your face. A properly fitted mask should not require frequent adjustment.
- Do not touch the mask while you wear it. If you do, clean your hands properly. Do not touch the front of the mask when removing it and always wash your hands after.
- Replace the mask as soon as it is damp or dirty and do not re-use single-use masks.
- Do not share masks with others.
- Do not put masks on anyone unable to remove them without assistance or those with trouble breathing.
- Homemade masks should be at least two layers of tightly woven fabric (i.e. cotton or linen).