Physical distancing, closures should stop community spread of COVID-19: Thunder Bay medical officer of health

COVID-19 is spreading through community contact in Thunder Bay and the region, but the measures put in place as a response to the pandemic should help in the coming weeks and months, the medical officer of health at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit (TBDHU) said.

The TBDHU said that as of Thursday afternoon, there were 60 positive COVID-19 cases in its service area, with 39 of those having been resolved.

Initially, travel was the main risk factor for the region, Dr. Janet DeMille said in video updating the TBDHU’s response to the pandemic, which was posted on social media this week.

However, that has changed, with the virus now spreading through contact with infected people in the community.

“This is not surprising,” DeMille said. “We saw early indications of this in April, and early April.”

“What we are not seeing in our numbers is a significant rise, or surge, in the number of community cases,” she said. “A surge in community cases is what causes the significant issues. We often hear about, in the news, such as those that have happened in Italy, or more recently in New York City. When there is a significant rise or surge in the number of cases this can significantly impact our community, and our health care system.”

DeMille said data shows Ontario has reached its peak for COVID-19 cases. However, she added that it will take some time to get over the peak, and for the number of cases to start dropping.

“We should start to see things get better, at least from a community spread perspective, and provincially, over the next few weeks and months,” she said. “The public health measures that have been put in place to enforce strong physical distancing, such as the closures of schools and restaurants and non-essential businesses, as well as the measures we are all taking as individuals and families, are all contributing to this.”

Vulnerable people are still being disproportionately impacted by the virus, DeMille said, using the example of outbreaks in long-term care homes.

“There are also outbreaks happening among individuals in other types of settings, such as homeless shelters,” she said. “We need to be mindful of these things and be prepared for this.”

DeMille said there were challenges in terms of testing in the Thunder Bay area. Those included a shortage of testing supplies, and the time required to get results back.

“I would have liked to have seen more testing done in our populations earlier,” she said. “However, work at the provincial, regional, and local levels have addressed a number of the challenges.”

“This has benefited us, in that capacity has improved here,” DeMille said. “We are able to test a broader range of people.”

The threshold for testing has been lowered, and now people with one COVID-19 symptom are eligible, she said.

The TBDHU will offer drive-through testing at its Balmoral Street location this weekend.

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