COVID-19 questions answered during CKL town hall
By Sue Tiffin
A virtual town hall hosted in City of Kawartha Lakes on June 11 brought information from city and health officials straight to residents via the internet and cable television.
“We are constantly sharing our updates from the municipality on our regular mediums, such as the website, social media and local newspapers, however this was another opportunity to provide important information from all community partners front and centre,” said Ashley Locke, communications, advertising and marketing officer, corporate services, for Kawartha Lakes.
The one-hour town hall was broadcast via YouTube and Cogeco and included, virtually, panelists from City of Kawartha Lakes; Kawartha Lakes Paramedic Service; Ross Memorial Hospital; Community Care, City of Kawartha Lakes; Kawartha Lakes Family Health Team and Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, medical officer of health for the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.
Panelists spoke to the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and answered questions submitted by residents prior to the meeting. Repeat broadcasts of the meeting will run on cable this month in HKPR regions.
Statement from Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, Medical Officer of Health, HKPR
When I first agreed to participate in this virtual town hall a few weeks ago, I thought I would speak about the health unit’s COVID-19 response and the public health messaging we have been sharing – assume other people have COVID-19 and conduct yourself accordingly – so maintain physical distancing, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, cough or sneeze into a tissue (or your elbow if you don’t have a tissue), wear a face mask or covering when you go out and cannot maintain six feet/two metres distance from other people, and stay home if you are ill. Those are all still very important messages, but so much has changed in just a couple of weeks.
We now have an expanded testing strategy from the province that enables anyone with or without symptoms to be tested.
The premier has announced a regional approach to the reopening of services, and starting tomorrow [June 12], businesses within our area are being permitted to open under Stage 2 of the province’s recovery plan.
And with the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, we are witnessing demonstrations around the world as people speak out against anti-Black racism.
If there is one thing that can be said about 2020 it’s that it is a year of change.
It all began late last December when we started hearing about a new virus that had appeared in Wuhan, Hubei province China. By the end of January, we saw the first case of the novel coronavirus in Canada and on March 14 we saw our first case of COVID-19 in the City of Kawartha Lakes. It’s amazing how quickly things escalated, and the world changed for all of us.
In January, the health unit reviewed its pandemic plan and began ramping up its response to prepare for the potential arrival of this new virus. Since then, we have been meeting regularly with the Ministry of Health, and Public Health Ontario to learn all we could about this new virus – what it is, how it is transmitted, the symptoms it causes, how to test for it, and public health measures to prevent infection. This information continues to evolve.
The health unit set up a call centre to respond to the hundreds of phone calls coming in daily from health care providers, community agencies, municipal governments, school boards and members of the public.
We continue to receive phone calls and provide many resources on our website for the public, have sent information packages to community groups, businesses and organizations to assist throughout the pandemic, and are now providing resources to support businesses and organization in the reopening of the province.
We put most of our public health programs and services on hold and moved our staff into the response work until the majority of our 135 staff were working solely on our pandemic response.
Many of our staff now work on case and contact management, a lengthy process, which involves contacting each confirmed case and reviewing everywhere they went, and every person they were in contact with during their infectious period (48 hours before their symptoms began).
We have worked closely with our health care partners, preparing for cases, and helping to set up assessment centres for testing. We have worked with our municipal partners, organizations that oversee congregate settings like shelters and retirement homes, and farmers who are bringing migrant workers into the province to work.
The City of Kawartha Lakes is one of three upper tier municipalities served by the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit, and unfortunately, it is the area within our jurisdiction where we have seen most of our cases. As of today, there are a total of 156 cases in CKL and 32 deaths – 28 of which are related to the outbreak at Pinecrest Nursing Home.
We are now entering the second phase of the province’s re-opening. Our health unit is one of the areas permitted to move into Stage 2. While I know we are all happy to see the return of hair salons, outdoor dine-in services at restaurants, and an increase in the number of people we can now see, I urge you all to remember the public health measures that helped us prevent the spread of the virus. We all need to be diligent in continuing to practice physical distancing, wash our hands thoroughly, wear a mask or face covering when we are out and cannot maintain that six feet/two metres of separation from other people, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and stay home if we are ill. We are entering a “new normal” but it is still far from the normal we knew in the past. We need to continue to work to protect ourselves and others from the virus. Without a vaccine, these public health measures are the only things keeping us healthy and helping to stop the spread of the virus.
I frequently get asked about wearing masks. Initially it appeared there was no reason for people to wear a mask when out in public and that only those caring for others should wear a medical mask. As I said previously, we are constantly learning new things about the virus and evolving our messages about how to protect ourselves from this virus. We came to learn that many people who have the virus are asymptomatic and could be spreading the virus without realizing it. That is why the messaging changed and we now recommend people wear masks when they are out and cannot guarantee a six-foot distance from others – when we wear a mask it is to protect others from any virus we may be spreading unknowingly. As we see many more retail businesses and workplaces open in the province, it’s important that they follow provincial guidelines to implement safety measures to protect their workers, clients and the public, which may include the use of barriers, physical distancing, hand sanitizers and the use of masks.
I have been pleased to also see the use of masks and physical distancing in the media coverage of recent demonstrations against anti-Black racism. We all have duty to speak out against racism and it’s encouraging to me to see people do it safely.
There is no room for racism in our world and public health has been working for many years to put an end to racism. We know that visible minorities are often at a disadvantage when it comes to health. They are often living closer to others in crowded neighbourhoods, do not have access to higher education so they do not get good paying jobs. Because of that, they do not have enough money for healthy foods, and may not have access to the health care services we often take for granted. Data from around the world have shown that those living in poverty, visible minorities and older adults have been the hardest hit by this virus and we need to find a way to end all racism, address poverty, and protect our older adults so that we can ensure the health and well-being of all people.
CKL virtual town hall questions submitted by Kawartha Lakes residents
With the province reopening some areas, including our health unit area, won’t people from the GTA, which is not reopened, flock to the Kawarthas? How can everyone stay safe if so?
Dr. Noseworthy: A few months ago when everything was closing down in the province, we started seeing a number of people travelling to their personal cottages. The message at that time from the province was that people were asked to take all of their supplies with them so they didn’t need to make any additional stops along the way to minimize the people they came in contact with. They were also asked to follow the public health measures – stay home if they were ill, maintain physical distancing from others, and wear a mask if they could not maintain that six foot distance.
Now the province has introduced the second phase of the provincial re-opening, and cottage rentals and resorts are once again able to operate and welcome guests. There have been a number of safety protocols recommended for all businesses to follow under the re-opening, and cottage rentals and resorts are no different. Even though the restrictions are relaxing in many parts of the province, people are still asked to follow the public health recommendations. People are not being asked to self-isolate, but if they are ill they should be staying home. If they are going out into the communities where the cottage is located, they should be maintaining physical distancing and wearing a mask when they are out and cannot guarantee they can stay six feet apart from others. They should continue to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly and use alcohol-based hand rub when they visit any retail stores or establishments wherever they travel.
Communities in cottage country have always prepared for summer visitors and it is no different this year. I think the assessment centres that are in place are centrally located and easy for people to visit if they are travelling to the area. Retail and grocery stores have the safety protocols in place and any shoppers, whether they be local residents or cottagers, are asked to follow the safety measures in place at each establishment.
Why doesn’t the health unit provide more details about the location of active cases, breaking it down by community within the district – Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon, etc?
Noseworthy: The health unit posts updated information about the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in each county on our website daily. We include the number of high-risk contacts, the number of probable cases, the number of people who have been hospitalized, the number of cases that have been resolved and the number of deaths. We also provide a detailed epidemiological report that includes information on the gender of our cases, and the age range.
We do not provide information broken down by lower tier municipality or community. This is done because the health unit has the legal responsibility to protect personal health information it has collected under various pieces of legislation such as the Health Protection and Promotion Act. Although it may seem that our geographic area has a large enough population to make it impossible to identify an individual, we essentially cover three counties comprised of small towns and it could be very easy to identify someone who tests positive.
A test result is a snapshot in time. If a person tests positive, that tells us that they had contact with an infected person probably about two weeks prior. It would have taken the person 10 to 11 days to show symptoms of an infection, more time to get the test and then time for the health unit to receive the test results back. In the meantime, before the person showed symptoms or if they ever developed symptoms, they would be out in the community. This is why I keep reminding people to treat everyone they encounter as if they have the virus – maintain physical distancing, wear a mask if you are out and cannot guarantee a distance of six feet, wash your hands frequently, stay home if you are ill. These are the measures that will help keep us all healthy – more so than knowing whether someone in your town tested positive.
We have learned over time that some people can have COVID-19 and not have any symptoms, or any of the typical symptoms. This means that people could encounter an asymptomatic person at any time or in any place. Knowing where a positive case lives will not protect someone from getting ill. We need people to recognize that COVID-19 is in the community and they are at risk of getting the virus so it’s important to follow all of the public health precautions to protect themselves and stop the spread.
If a person has been in contact with a confirmed case, they will be called by the health unit. Every confirmed case is contacted by our staff so that details can be obtained about every place that individual visited or person they were in contact with during their infectious period. Every one of the identified individuals (a contact) is then contacted and told to self-isolate and watch for symptoms. If the contacts develop symptoms, arrangements are made for them to be tested for COVID-19. This case and contact management is very thorough and can take hours to complete. Health unit staff are in contact with cases and contacts daily to ensure they remain in self-isolation for the required period of time.
As well, the health unit recently issued the Section 22 Class Order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act that allows the health unit to seek fines for people who do not self-isolate after they (a) have been confirmed to have the virus, (b) have signs and symptoms of COVID-19 (have been tested and are awaiting results), c) otherwise have reasonable grounds to believe they have symptoms of COVID-19, or (d) have been a close contact of a person mentioned in (a), (b) or (c). Health unit staff are in contact with these individuals daily to ensure they remain in self-isolation for the required period of time.
In closing, my message to you all is that we need to continue to be diligent about protecting ourselves and others against this devastating virus. We need to continue to be considerate, kind, caring and support all people, whatever their age, gender, or race, to stay healthy. That to me is a “new normal” worth achieving.