By Sue Tiffin
An automated voice message on the answering machine of theHaliburton Family Medical Centre tells callers that if they areexperiencing potential symptoms of COVID-19 – fever cough difficultybreathing – to avoid any unscheduled visits to the clinic. Instead ofpresenting to health-care centres and emergency rooms they shouldcontact the local health unit for an assessment by phone prior toarranging to be tested.
“If you have a fever and/or a new onset of a cough ordifficulty breathing and you have travelled internationally in the 14days before the onset of the illness or have had close contact with aconfirmed or probable case of coronavirus or close contact with aperson with acute respiratory illness who has travelled internationally in the 14 days before their symptom onset please alert clinic staffimmediately” the phone message says.
Calling ahead first helps frontline staff take precautionsprior to being exposed to anyone who might have the very contagiousillness which is still considered to be at low-risk of transmission inCanada according to public health officials.
On Monday this week Canada reported the first death related to COVID-19 in British Columbia while Ontario reported 36 confirmedcases of the virus and World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the coronavirus is closer to causing apandemic.
At press time almost 116000 cases of the virus had beenreported by more than 100 countries worldwide with most cases beingnoted in China South Korea Italy and Iran. Ontario’s first cases werereported at the end of January.
“The list of countries that are kind of the highest risk rightnow is getting fairly long and again the international travel could mean that you’re passing through that you’ve been on a flight with someoneelse that has been in a high-risk country through an airport you nameit” said Kim Robinson executive director Haliburton Highlands FamilyHealth Team and office manager at the medical centre who said thattravel along with sickness is what can lead to an initial assessment.
Symptoms of COVID-19 which may take up to 14 days to appearafter exposure and which might be mild have included fever coughdifficulty breathing and pneumonia in both lungs.
Robinson noted the information public health officials have isbeing updated frequently. “It’s changing the landscape is changingdaily with this outbreak with this virus” she said.
Should residents need further assessment the public healthunit will direct potential local cases of COVID-19 to centres that cando testing – right now that means area hospitals said Robinson whichhave access to the tests again calling ahead.
“Although the risk of becoming ill from COVID-19 continues tobe low in Ontario the local health unit and its community healthpartners are continuing to work together to ensure they are preparedshould a case develop locally” reads a joint media release on March 2from Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Pine Ridge health partners.
The media statement said that the local health unit was working with other health institutions in the region to ensure all are up todate.
“This includes sharing resources like the evolving casedefinitions testing protocols as well as infection prevention andcontrol guidance and support and updated fact sheets on COVID-19. Aswell the health unit provides support to the health-care partners toensure active screening protocols are in place and that appropriatehealth care staff have been fit tested for the proper protectiveequipment.”
“There have been a number of improvements made in the way weprepare for wide-spread illnesses since we experienced SARS” said Dr.Lynn Noseworthy medical officer of health for the HKPR District HealthUnit in the press release. “Across the province we have seenimprovements in communication about the illness and cases improvedlaboratory testing protocols and quicker test results shared with health professionals for the stringent contact follow-up and managementinvolving potential cases. The bottom line is that we are prepared forif and when we may see a case locally.”
Noseworthy noted that seasonal respiratory illnesses including influenza are still circulating in the community.
A letter sent home to families on March 5 by the TrilliumLakelands District School Board noted the board is in “close contactwith our two public health units and will continue to follow theirguidance and recommendations regarding the spread of COVID-19.”
“If we hear of a case of COVID-19 in one of our buildings wewould take immediate direction from the local health unit” SineadFegan TLDSB communications officer told the Times .
The school board said it is taking steps to be sure it is prepared for the spread of the illness.
“Currently we are making sure that all surface areas in schools are cleaned daily” read the letter home. “Hand sanitizer anddisinfectant wipes are being delivered to schools. School staff willmonitor the use of these products by students. There will be immediatereplacement of custodial staff if a custodian must be absent.”
The letter reminded the school community to prevent the spreadof COVID-19 in the same way they might prevent the spread of cold andflu through preventative measures that include hand washing cough andsneeze etiquette by staying home when sick keeping clean andencouraging healthy habits like eating well being physically active and getting enough sleep.
“It is important to reassure your children about their personal safety and health” said the letter home. “Telling children that it isOK to be concerned is comforting.”
March Break takes place next week and the board noted the risk to Canadian travellers abroad is generally low but will vary dependingon the destination recommending that parents consult the travel section on Ontario’s web site or at Canada’s travel.gc.ca . Students are currently not going on field trips due to labour actionshowever the TLDSB did cancel international school trips planned forMarch and April – none were planned from Haliburton Highlands SecondarySchool.
A Fenelon Falls Secondary School and Lindsay Collegiate andVocational Institute trip to Berlin Prague Krakow and Budapest planned to depart April 10 was announced to be cancelled on March 3.
“This cancellation comes amid travel advisories for much ofEurope and Asia and a number of actions taken by governments to try tocontain any further spread of the virus” said Larry Hope director ofeducation in a letter to parents and students regarding the decision.“We recognize that this will be disappointing however we are notprepared to risk illness for unnecessary travel. The school is currently working with the travel company and with students to find an alternatetime to reschedule the trip at a later date. If this is not possibleinformation will be provided about accessing a refund.”
For more information on COVID-19 contact the health unit at 1-866-888-4577 ext. 5020 or visit www.hkpr.on.ca . After hours people can call Telehealth Ontario for medical advicetoll-free at 1-866-797-0000. People are also encouraged to continue torely on credible sources of information about COVID-19 including dailyupdates at The Ontario Ministry of Health website ( www.ontario.ca/coronavirus ) or the Public Health Agency of Canada website ( www.canada.ca/coronavirus )