Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie hospitals contend with new COVID-19 challenges

Health care leaders are grappling with some new challenges in northeastern Ontario.

A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at the Timmins and District Hospital and a health care worker at the Sault Area hospital has tested positive for the virus.

The declaration in Timmins  was made after one patient tested positive for the virus. Staff at the hospital noticed a change in the patient’s symptoms and moved them to an isolated location.

“This is something that teams are working on around the clock at this point in time,” said Dr. Lianne Catton, medical officer of health for the Porcupine Health Unit.

“I recognize the term outbreak is something that is very anxiety provoking and concerning, and we agree. And usually it is related to a particular number of cases or a burden of disease. However with COVID-19, the outbreak term is used to implement important processes and procedures when even one potential case has been identified.”

Catton said they are investigating to see if there’s any potential transmission within the facility.

More investigating in the Sault

Over in Sault Ste. Marie, the hospital says a health care worker in the facility has tested positive for COVID-19, which they announced over the weekend.

“My understand is they’re doing well … as far as I’m aware, there hasn’t been any escalation in terms of symptoms,” said Dr. Lucas Castellani, infectious diseases and internal medicine physician at the Sault Area Hospital.

He said they are currently looking to see if there were any high-risk exposures in the institution itself, whether it be health care workers or patients.

“Care is taken to to look for the transmission chain, both in the hospital and with the help of local public health in the community to ensure that we have at least some understanding of how this came about,” Castellani continued.

“The tricky part here in these types of circumstances is you may not get all the answers you want and need.”

At this point they don’t have the exact numbers of people who could be affected. He said the health care worker affected was wearing personal protective equipment at the hospital.

“The question the public may have is, ‘is there any risk if someone needs to go to the hospital during a time like this?’ I would say that, like anything, there is a risk going into the community,” Castellani said.

“There is known community spread now in most of the country. And so you have to do the right things. You have to make sure you’re wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment, you’re washing your hands, you’re not touching your face. You’re only going out if you need to. And the same holds if you come into the hospital. So if you have symptoms that [require you] to be at the hospital, by all means you should come to the hospital and be checked out.”

Castellani acknowledged that it’s a very intense and anxious time, especially for frontline health care workers.

“For the community and everyone out there …  stay at home if you can, avoid too much contact with other individuals if you can,” he said.

“Wear a mask if you think that’s a reasonable way in the community to protect yourself and to protect others, because that’s what we’re really trying to do here. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, all those sort of things about physical distancing are very important right now.”

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