By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—While active cases of COVID-19 remain low in Haldimand and Norfolk counties, the local Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, is asking residents to keep taking the virus seriously and avoid gathering, even for the upcoming holiday.
“It’s always difficult to predict the future … but I am concerned about an increasing number of cases because we’re not far from the endemic areas…. At a provincial level, looking at the data on Friday, (October 2,) the rolling seven-day average number of daily cases is greater now than it was at any other time in the pandemic,” said Nesathurai. “Some parts of the health district are areas that may regularly commute to metropolitan Toronto and so that is one more reason that we remain vigilant and remain concerned about the spread of COVID or the resurgence of new cases.”
When asked if the increase in cases provincially could be attributed to the increase in testing, Nesathurai responded, “It’s complicated for sure. I think it’s fair to say as an epidemiological construct that the more tests that you do the more likely you are to yield positive tests. I think it’s more speculative to say that that’s the reason we’re having more cases…. Even if we can acknowledge there’s some artifactual basis to the fact we have more testing, I still think it’s a significant problem that warrants more action from the health service and public at large.”
Nesathurai is particularly concerned about the chain of transmission, in which for instance a young worker commuting to an endemic area could pass on the virus to a parent or grandparent and ultimately to congregate settings like long-term care homes where outbreaks pose significant danger to high-risk groups. Thanksgiving on October 12 and the next Friday the 13th in November are both “worrisome” for Nesathurai, particularly the possibility of people from endemic areas travelling into the community to celebrate.
“I would strongly discourage people from congregating at events like Friday the 13th… I would ask people respectfully to stay at home,” said Nesathurai. “If you can restrict your events just to members of your household that is the preferable route…. Events like Thanksgiving where people are travelling adds to the risk of the community. If you have to visit, visit in virtual format. Visit on the telephone, by Zoom or Skype.”
With cases rising particularly among those under 40, Nesathurai was asked what the health unit is doing to combat this trend. Matt Terry of Norfolk County noted the health unit and both Haldimand and Norfolk municipalities have sent out COVID-19 messaging on social media, “which typically skews somewhat younger to directly get the message into the hands of young people,” along with targeting parents and partner organizations, like school boards, who have more interaction and therefore influence over younger people.
“One (aspect) is awareness, which is for people to know what the preferred course of action is. And then there is adherence, if individuals choose to follow it. We face this challenge with smoking; virtually everyone who smokes today knows that smoking is not good for their health, but then there is the adherence part of it,” explained Nesathurai. “I would hazard to say that most young people at this point know that the congregation of large (numbers of) individuals at unstructured or unsupervised events is probably or likely to lead to COVID-19…. The next is the adherence part of it. And that’s more of a challenge.”
Nesathurai added, “I think the core message is, it’s just not about you. The conduct of one person in the context of COVID-19 could ultimately affect a large number of people, and that’s a responsibility not only for young people but for all residents.”
He also asked parents to “set good examples for their children”, such as by foregoing events and gatherings they would normally participate in like Friday the 13th or large Thanksgiving dinners with extended family and friends. Nesathurai reiterated his weekly comments on the main ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19, which includes limiting gatherings, washing hands frequently, maintaining a 2 metre distance, and wearing masks when that is not possible: “This is something where the actions of every individual in the health district makes a difference…Recognizing that the message is repetitive, it is still worthwhile to maintain vigilance to try to get COVID-19 under control.”
Premier Doug Ford echoed Nesathurai, reiterating the government’s plans and funding allocations to limit the spread of COVID-19 in a statement on Monday, October 5. He announced further support for schools in endemic areas such as Toronto and Ottawa, such as for more laptops for online learning or more teachers for smaller classrooms: “With the case numbers on the rise we all have to stay vigilant because we all have a role to play…. If we stick together, we will get through this.”
When asked if he felt the current steps by the Province are enough, Nesathurai said that is constantly being re-evaluated, and added, “I would not be surprised if there are further restrictions based on the case count and other measures.”