Local COVID cases remain low as new cases continue to increase provincially

By Kaitlyn Clark

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—Premier Doug Ford announced Ontario is investing $52.5 million to recruit, retain, and support over 3,700 additional frontline health care workers and caregivers to handle COVID-19, stating, “We know we’re in the second wave and we know that it will be worse than the first wave, but what we don’t know yet is how bad the second wave will be.”

With new daily cases jumping from the 400s in previous days to 700 on September 28, 2020 ahead of his announcement, Ford urged residents to take precautions to help slow the respiratory illness: “The reality is it’s up to each of us. Our collective actions will determine if we face a wave or a tsunami,” he said.

As of September 26, a tightened version of Stage 3 reopening came into effect. This included restrictions on restaurants and bars from selling alcohol after 11 p.m. and requiring they close by 12 a.m. except for takeout and delivery, along with the closing of all strip clubs. As of press time, the Ontario government had yet to fully revert to an earlier stage of the reopening plan, although it remains in consideration. Health Minister Christine Elliott said, “We don’t want to turn back a stage unless we absolutely have to, but if we have to we will, because the most important thing is the health and wellbeing of the people of Ontario.”

Ontario has made other steps and investments, including providing $1 billion towards expanding COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, along with setting up dozens of new testing locations in Ontario pharmacies. These new locations are focused primarily in the Greater Toronto Area, which has seen the bulk of new cases.

Locally, Haldimand had only seen five new cases in the two weeks prior to Ford’s September 28 announcement. The Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit’s (HNHU) updated statistics showed only five cases remained active in the region at that time as well, with 491 total cases minus 449 recoveries, 32 COVID-related deaths, and five non-related deaths. The HNHU showed this equated to 91% having recovered and 7% having died from COVID-19, with the remaining 2% being made up of active cases and those who died from other causes.

Local Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, said on the potential of entering a ‘second wave’ provincially, “Do I think we’re having an increasing number of cases? Yes. We can characterize it as a second wave if we want; that’s really a metaphorical term not an epidemiological construct, but clearly we’re having more cases.”

“We’re constantly monitoring the number of cases that are present in the health district and we’re trying to use our resources to help with containment when there are cases,” continued Nesathurai, noting that fortunately the majority of COVID-19 cases are mild and individuals will recover on their own. “One thing I am concerned about is that if we see an increasing number of cases, will that exhaust our resources for contact tracing itself?”

HNHU undergoes contact tracing when a resident tests positive with COVID-19 to track where they have been in the prior two weeks, who may be at higher risk of having contracted the virus because of that contact, and testing/isolating individuals where appropriate.

“As we move into the fall, one of the most important things we can ask members of the community to do is get their flu shot,” said Nesathurai, echoing the Province’s push to have residents get their flu shot this year. “The flu shot doesn’t prevent someone from getting COVID-19, but it does reduce the number of people with symptoms…. The flu in itself does kill people. It does cause a lot of people to get sick, so to the extent that we can minimize the number of people getting sick from the flu and having symptoms, that’s worth it from a compassionate point of view, and it also reduces the burden on the health care system. If we reduce the number of people that present with respiratory symptoms, then we reduce the demand for testing as well and that will ultimately make it more efficient for us to manage.”

Nesathurai noted flu shots should be available locally shortly. Along with getting flu shots, he reiterated previous directions for limiting the spread of COVID-19, such as limiting human-to-human interactions, social distancing, wearing a mask when social distancing isn’t possible, washing your hands frequently, and staying home when sick.

“Another large part of what we do (at HNHU) is actually having a dialogue and communication. To that extent we try to get the message out … because decisions and behaviours will help modulate the spread of COVID-19,” concluded Nesathurai.

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