Health unit prepared for second wave

Protective gear and hand sanitizer are seen through the door of a COVID-19 assessment centre in Brockville on Friday afternoon. (RONALD ZAJAC/The Recorder and Times) jpg, BT

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The local health unit is well prepared for the phased reopening of businesses and ready to cope with a second wave of COVID-19 if it comes, according to Dr. Paula Stewart, the region’s medical officer of health.

Stewart told her board on Thursday that the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit has learned from the two months of coping with COVID-19 and it is ready to apply those lessons during a second wave of the virus.

“We are so much more prepared now than we were at the start,” Stewart told the board.

Near the start of the pandemic, the heath unit was unfortunate to have several of its Lanark County long-term-care homes hit with the virus just as the public-health system was learning to cope, she said.

The outbreak in the seniors’ homes gave the health unit the dubious distinction, for a time, of having the highest number of COVID cases per capita in Ontario. (Almonte Country Haven, for example, recorded 30 resident deaths, out of the total of 49 deaths for the entire health unit.)

Since then, the health unit has stepped up its testing and virus-control procedures in its long-term-care homes and brought the outbreak under control, she said.

A recent 11-day testing blitz of the unit’s homes detected only three new positive cases out of the 3,000-plus residents tested, said Stewart.

“This is a testament to how well long-term-care homes are prepared to deal with this,” Stewart said.

On Friday, the health unit reported two new cases of COVID-19 in the area, including those 49 deaths. After a day with no new cases, the total, based on data collected at 4 p.m. on Thursday, rose from 336 lab-confirmed cases to 338.

When the 49 deaths are subtracted from the total, 79 per cent of the remaining cases, or 229 people, have recovered, health unit officials say.

Board member Peter McKenna said the deaths in Ontario’s long-term-care homes point to a very serious structural problem with the care system.

“There’s something very seriously wrong in how we are housing our frail seniors,” McKenna told the board.

He said he hoped the health unit would become an active participant into the inquiry into the homes promised by the provincial government.

Stewart said the health unit will be “right up front” if asked to contribute to the commission’s work.

Stewart said COVID-19 locally parallels the Ontariowide trend of a gradual decline and levelling off of virus cases.

“Looking at the last three weeks in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark, there have been some days when we have had no people newly diagnosed with COVID-19, some days when one person has been diagnosed, and occasionally two people have been diagnosed,” she said in a report to the board.

“This low number of people infected means that many people are practising physical distancing and staying home when sick to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. It also reminds us that the virus is still circulating in the community.”

With the worst apparently behind us, Stewart said the region is ready to follow Ontario’s plan for reopening the economy.

“We are in a really good state to move into the next phase of opening,” she said.

Officials at Brockville’s economic development department, as well as chamber of commerce and Downtown Brockville, have put out a resource guide to help local businesses reopen according to the province’s guidelines.

“Premier Ford stressed during the announcement that businesses should only open when they are prepared to do so safely. We wanted to make it easier for our local businesses to figure out what steps they need to take and to source materials, posters, and personal protective equipment that they will need,” city economic development director Rob Nolan said in a prepared statement.

Stewart acknowledged that the opening of shops and businesses might lead to a second wave of the virus but that “the general sense is that it will be quite a bit smaller.”

When the second wave comes, Stewart said her health unit will be prepared.

“All of that learning means we are going to be much more efficient with the next phase. We’ve learned a lot.”

(With files from Ronald Zajac)

wlowrie@postmedia.com

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