The next test
By Jenn Watt
Published May 19, 2020
Leash up your shaggy dog and don those golf cleats – Ontario’s stage one is here – if you’re ready for it. The provincial government has begun the phased-in reopening of the economy, starting with some badly needed services including scheduled surgeries, veterinary appointments, and scientific research. Businesses crucial to the local economy are also now allowed to resume, such as construction, car dealerships, marinas, golf courses, dog groomers, the list goes on.
It’s news that’s come as some of us were beginning to prune up from too much time floating in our own inner worlds. (Just me?)
The important part of this announcement, however, is less exciting. Businesses have been given the go-ahead, if they are confident they can do so under specific safety guidelines. And the residents are being told that they still must observe COVID-19 precautions as per usual.
The province hasn’t lifted the state of emergency. Gatherings of five or less is still the rule. We must continue to observe physical distancing, regular (frantic?) handwashing, and mask-wearing in places where we can’t avoid getting close to others.
One of the reasons for this is that Ontario does not have widespread testing of the population. Up until May 14, the province’s testing regime had targeted the high-risk sectors including health care, long-term care, first responders and corrections for universal testing. On Thursday, the health minister announced that all of those with symptoms of COVID-19 could be tested as well.
This will help paint a clearer picture of the spread of the virus in the province, but what we need now is testing of representative samples of people, capturing information on populations less likely to be tested and those who are asymptomatic or who have very mild symptoms.
Casting a wider net would allow public health officials to better map out where the virus is taking hold and where to focus attention to keep it under control.
And while we have done very well in Haliburton County – all seven confirmed cases have long since been resolved – we know that the virus can still return through travel. Local residents visiting other regions can easily come in contact with someone who has the virus and bring it back. Similarly, people from other towns and cities can unknowingly bring it here.
Bottom line is, as Ontario reopens, we need more testing and continued personal vigilance. The province’s health minister has acknowledged the need for community surveillance and it will be essential in monitoring the virus as people begin to venture farther and more frequently into the public realm. In the meantime, we have to continue as usual. Assume you have the virus. Assume everyone else does too. Keep your distance, wash your hands, disinfect shared surfaces, and limit travel. And enjoy the few services we now have available once again.