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Public health unit hoping to get additional information on outside cases

August 21, 2020   ·   0 Comments

The local public health unit is requesting that the province enhance their contact tracing for individuals who visit other regions and receive a positive COVID-19 test shortly after returning home.

Chief Medical Officer of Health for the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) Dr. Charles Gardner said that information could be helpful in further identifying potential transmissions of the virus.

A group of 30 people, made up of several families, recently visited the Muskoka region and 11 tested positive upon returning to their home health units.

“An important takeaway message from this would be there’s the potential for transmission even in Muskoka; even when our rates our very low, the potential still exists,” he explained.

“People need to continue practicing the safety practices that we’re always speaking to, physical distancing of two meters from people who are not in your social circle and maintaining a social circle of no more than 10 people that you’re in physical contact with.”

Muskoka has captured 32 cases in total and only one person is currently infected and recovering.

Ontario has kept case counts under 100 per day since late July and last week, recorded just 33 cases, which is the lowest daily count since March.

“That’s certainly very good news but we do need to continue our control measures because we’re still vulnerable,” noted Dr. Gardner.

He said zero prevalence studies conducted in Ontario and Canada show roughly one per cent of their populations have immunity from the virus because they’ve already had it and recovered.

“That means 99 per cent of us, at least, are still vulnerable to infection and while there’s still some circulation here before the pandemic is ultimately over, we need to keep up the safety practices,” Dr. Gardner said.

“Businesses need to keep up their protective practices as well, so that includes screening of employees for symptoms and having follow up for investigation and testing,” he continued.

“It would be truly wonderful if through our efforts we avoided or at least minimized future waves of COVID-19.”

Dr. Gardner said if one per cent of Simcoe Muskoka’s population of roughly 400,000 have immunity then 10 times more people could have been infected with COVID-19 than the roughly 670 cases that’s been captured by SMDHU testing.

He noted that this would also mean the case fatality rate that currently sits at about 6 per cent, could be as low as 0.6 per cent, although, the health unit will continue to use the data at hand and not account for unconfirmed cases in the community.

“We will be sticking with that case definition so we are comparable to other jurisdictions, comparable with the province and comparable with other provinces, other countries,” Dr. Gardner explained.

While some individuals may find a potentially lower death rate reassuring, many are frightened by the fact that there could be many times more people infected than what’s being counted by the local health unit.

“It’s probably not a comfort at all for people to hear that we could have 10 times as many cases than what I know about based on the zero prevalence studies that have been done,” Dr. Gardner said.

“I think it’s more important that people fully appreciate the nature of the risk, that it is ongoing, that they can never know for sure who has this and who doesn’t and therefore they need to practice those precautions.”

Meanwhile, Russia recently developed and approved a COVID-19 vaccine, which President Vladimir Putin says, “works quite effectively.”

However, the vaccine’s safety has been called into question with such a short turnaround, just five months into the pandemic.

When developing a vaccine, it generally takes 2-5 years of discovery research, 2 years of pre-clinical trials, 5-10 years of clinical development and 1-2 years of regulatory review and approval. This equates to roughly 10 years or more, on average to produce a safe and effective vaccine. However, significant resources are being allocated to fast track one for COVID-19.

Dr. Gardner said it’s important to take a “wait and see approach” to the Russian vaccine and research the results.

“As urgent as it is to have a vaccine, we need to follow the steps and the phases required to ensure that it’s effective and safe and I applaud our government for taking those measured steps,” he remarked.

Last week, Canada announced a deal with two American multinational drug companies Moderna and Pfizer to purchase millions of doses of the vaccines they are developing, although neither company has reached approval.

The federal government also purchased 37 million syringes in June, approximately enough to deliver one shot to each Canadian.

By Sam Odrowski
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


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