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Simcoe Muskoka sees zero COVID-19 deaths since May

July 23, 2020   ·   0 Comments

As certain parts of the United States reach new highs for COVID-19, Canada has largely been successful in flattening the curve and reducing rates of infection.

In Simcoe Muskoka, there have been zero deaths since May and new hospitalizations have almost come to a halt, with only one so far in July and just five in June – a sharp decline compared to 15 in May, 18 in April and 22 in March.

Case counts overall are also declining, as nearly 90 per cent of Simcoe Muskoka’s 637 cases have recovered, and, in New Tecumseth, 76 out of its 81 cases were recovered as of press time.

“We’ve managed to flatten the curve and get the numbers way down, what’s remained is some cases occurring in the work environment as we open those work environments up, they tend to be younger people,” noted Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) Chief Medical Officer Dr. Charles Gardner.

“There’s also a certain number of cases that are just from the community but they’ve tended to be younger people socializing.”

Dr. Gardner said there has been a shift demographically in who’s catching COVID-19.

“We’ve seen a shift to younger cases, so there’s been quite a substantial jump in the amount of cases that are children or young adults,” he noted.

“We know that severity of disease is correlated with age as well as pre-existing medical conditions and that too is correlated with age, so we’ve shifted demographically from something that was effecting a very large number of seniors, particularly in senior homes and long-term care facilities, retirement homes, and is now infecting work environments and people in the community.”

Zero people under 44 have died from COVID-19 in Simcoe Muskoka to date and zero individuals under 17 have been hospitalized.

Meanwhile, mandatory mask use has seen some pushback from the public since it was mandated by the SMDHU earlier this month. There’s been lots of discussion online through social media by people who both support and oppose the measure.

“Certainly, this is new, this is a change and probably feels very abrupt to people,” Dr. Gardner said. “I have been advising for three months that people use masks in indoor public places where they cannot physically distance from others, but to require it is going to feel very abrupt to people.”

Mandatory mask use has led to controversy and opposing viewpoints, however Dr. Gardner stressed that the purpose is to avoid transmission as the economy restarts under Stage 3.

“I am well aware that when you make a change like this there are going to be people who will be opposed to it,” he said.

“We do have good quality scientific evidence linked on our [health unit’s] website that I would encourage people to look at.”

Dr. Gardner said he’s received email communications where people express concerns over N-95 masks because they have less breathability and when worn for a long time could cause an increase of carbon dioxide in the body.

However, the type of masks the public can use are less restrictive, as cloth facial coverings have relatively good breathability for individuals with solid respiratory health.

One of the key areas of concern from the health unit’s perspective is individuals touching their mask, contaminating their hands, and then touching their eyes or mouth which could cause an infection.

As well, individuals with sensitive skin may suffer from irritation or the worsening of skin conditions when wearing a mask for a long time.

Currently, there’s no law enforcement, bylaw officers, or health unit staff enforcing the mask mandate due to a lack of resources. Individuals can be exempt for medical or religious reasons and kids get a pass as well.

The directive is using more of a good faith approach rather than being punitive.

Dr. Gardner notes if there’s 80 per cent or more compliance with mask use, it will make a difference in rates of infection.

He said mandatory mask use will likely remain in effect until the end of the pandemic, when a safe and effective vaccine is widely distributed and herd immunity is achieved.

This could be anywhere from a year to a year and a half or more, Dr. Gardner noted.

By Sam Odrowski 
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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