Public health unit confirms first case of COVID-19 in region

GUELPH – Despite confirmation of the first positive case of COVID-19 in the area, it’s still time to keep calm, practice good hygiene, and be good global citizens, says the Medical Officer of Health at Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH).

“There’s no need to panic,” said Dr. Nicola Mercer in a phone interview on March 16. “Most people who become ill have mild symptoms and recover at home. They don’t need to be tested and they don’t need to see a doctor.”

On March 16, public health announced that a man in his 40s tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from Atlanta, Georgia. He was tested at Headwaters Health Care Centre in Orangeville, where all appropriate infection control precautions were followed.

He is now in self-isolation at home and is being followed by WDGPH.

“This does not change our protocols around containment of the COVID-19 virus in our area,” Mercer said. “We are following up with any contacts of the individual and ensuring the public is aware and protected from the spread of this virus.”

It has been a week of rapid changes on the COVID-19 front, with schools and daycare centres closed beyond March Break, recreation and community facilities closed at least until April, and international flights grounded for the foreseeable future.

Long-term care and retirement communities have stopped volunteer programs and visiting is cancelled at most facilities, except for palliative cases.

These measures were taken to contain the virus and keep it from spreading broadly in the community. If that happens, the healthcare system will be overwhelmed, Mercer said, and healthcare workers particularly will be at risk.

On the good news front, doctors are now able to treat patients via phone, email or video call and that will help protect medical staff from getting sick and sick patients from spreading germs in waiting rooms.

“It is important to know that 80 per cent of people with this virus will have mild to moderate symptoms. Anyone who is concerned should phone their health care provider, call Telehealth or visit an assessment centre,” Mercer said.

The closest assessment centre right now is beside Guelph General Hospital at 65 Delhi Street in Guelph. It is open from 8am to 8pm seven days a week.

Groves, Palmerston and Mount Forest hospitals have identified locations to house assessment centres, but they will not open until the Ministry of Health deems it necessary.

Planning a function?

The Ministry of Health has recommended capping gatherings at 50 people and Mercer said that’s the advice they offer when event organizers call.

“Do an assessment and risk evaluation,” she said. “If the event is outdoors and spread out, it might be okay to go ahead. If it’s indoors and you have a lot of seniors attending, probably not.”

The same for weddings, funerals and larger family functions, she said.

“You just have to consider the people who will be put at risk,” she said.

The best science indicates that COVID-19 is spread by droplets: when a sick person coughs or sneezes and the droplets land on a hard surface that is then touched by someone else.

So the best ways to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, are to:

– wash your hands often with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand rub;

– stay home if you’re sick;

– cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve;

– clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily (use a disinfectant and follow manufacturer’s instructions); and

– call ahead if visiting your health care provider for infectious symptoms so they can plan to protect others from spread.

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