For the first time in Grey-Bruce, there’s evidence COVID-19 is spreading in the community, as health officials have been expecting it would.
Sunday’s daily situation report from the Grey Bruce Health Unit announced that a presumptive positive case, which was first announced Saturday, now provides “evidence of community transmission.”
This case, pending confirmation of test results, is that of a woman in her 70s in Grey-Bruce. She is self-isolating at home.
It wasn’t until Sunday that travel-related infection was ruled out, Dr. Ian Arra, the medical officer of health in Grey-Bruce, said in an interview Sunday night.
Until this case, all local COVID-19 infections had been travel related.
“It is not a shock,” Arra said of evidence the virus is circulating in the community. “It was a matter of time, of how much social distancing we implemented,” which has been ongoing for two weeks now. He expects hospital protocols would be triggered by this community transmission case, including possibly that more hospital staff would begin to wear protective masks.
The health unit also announced in a corrected report Sunday that there were two new confirmed COVID-19 cases, bringing the total Grey-Bruce cases to 10: a man in his 40s with a travel history who tested positive in the past 24 hours, and, Arra said Sunday night, a woman in her 20s who caught the bug after close contact with a confirmed case from another health unit jurisdiction. She’s self-isolating at home.
The health unit report said one person has recovered. There are still no cases reported in long-term care, 12 negative test results received in the past 24 hours (as Sunday’s report), and 305 negative test results to date for COVID-19.
On Saturday, Arra said it was likely the pandemic-causing bug was circulating in the Grey-Bruce community, despite not having test results to prove it. “We do not have any evidence of community transmission but that does not really rule it out,” he said.
The Ontario government issued a new order Saturday night, limiting organized public gatherings to five people – the previous emergency order banned public events of more than 50 people.
Excluded are private households and childcare centres supporting health-care workers and first responders, up to 50 people per centre. Funerals may involve up to 10 people.
It was on March 24 that Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, announced that overall in Canada, as many COVID-19 cases were travel-related as involved community spread.
Arra noted community transmission is now established elsewhere in Ontario and the country, as opposed to the initial cases of infections from travel or direct contact with an infected traveller.
Two early COVID-19 deaths in a Barrie hospital indicate the disease had been spreading in that community for weeks prior, Arra said.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said one death, on March 21, involved a man who was being treated for COVID-19, who was in close contact with another man with COVID-19, who died March 11.
Working back from the point of death to the period of symptoms and incubation, transmission for those cases happened in mid-February, Arra said.
“So if there is transmission in Simcoe Muskoka mid-February, odds are there is local transmission here,” he said Saturday. “In all cases, whether there is right now or not, I have no doubt in my mind there will be local transmission,” Arra said.
“This bug, COVID-19, is behaving in a way in its spread similar to the annual flu – in the spread, I’m not talking about mortality — mortality is probably a step up from the flu,” he said.
Most who get infected experience mild symptoms and recover within two weeks. But a portion of people, including seniors, will be hit harder and so efforts to limit the spread are intended to avoid overwhelming hospitals, whose officials say they’re planning for the worst and hoping for the best.
As of 6 p.m. Sunday, Ontario had 1,326 confirmed positive cases, 21 deaths, eight people have recovered and 7,203 cases are under investigation, the
Arra said people recognize you can’t contain the annual flu either but you can reduce community spread by following the health directives and orders.
These include staying two metres from people outside of your immediate family, hand-washing and avoiding touching your face, remaining home unless it’s necessary to leave, self-isolating for those who are sick, and following all orders from public health and the provincial and federal governments.
Ontario declared a state of emergency on March 17 and has issued orders to close non-essential workplaces, recreational programs, libraries, publicly funded schools, private schools, daycares, provincial parks, churches and other faith settings, as well as bars and restaurants, except those that may only offer takeout or delivery. Essential services, such as grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, public transit, manufacturing facilities, and supply chain companies remain open and operational.
“If we are going to stop the spread of COVID-19 now and keep our communities safe, we need to take extraordinary measures to ensure physical distancing,” Premier Doug Ford is quoted saying in the release Saturday night.
“I strongly encourage everyone to do the responsible thing and stay home unless absolutely necessary. I can assure everyone that we will do everything in our power to stop this virus in its tracks.”