CORNWALL – While there have only been four people in the region to test positive for COVID-19, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit is bracing for more to test positive in the immediate future.
“What is worrying is we have hundreds of thousands of people coming back to Canada,” said Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Chief Medical Officer of Health at the EOHU. “Surely they are going to bring back infection.”
Roumeliotis said that the health unit is operating under the assumption that there are more than four positive cases in the community.
All four of the positive cases have been individuals in the Prescott-Russell region of the EOHU coverage area.
No one in the Cornwall, Akwesasne, or SDG Counties areas has tested positive as of Thursday morning, however Roumeliotis said on March 25th that there were over 250 test results pending for the region.
“We have community spread,” Roumeliotis said. “I am assuming we do.”
The health unit is continuing testing to see the magnitude of the community spread.
One of the four positive cases for COVID-19 was a health care worker at the Ottawa Hospital, and not travel related.
The most recent case involves a person who travelled to British Columbia for a conference.
The first two positive cases were related to out-of-country travel.
The EOHU opened its first testing centre on March 23rd in Hawkesbury. In the first two days of testing, over 110 people from the Prescott-Russell area were tested.
People tested at that facility did so after being recommended for testing by either Telehealth Ontario, a doctor, or by the health unit.
Winchester and Cornwall testing centres are ready to open but will not open until needed. Roumeliotis told media during the March 23rd daily briefing that both sites would open this week. He clarified his comments during the March 25th briefing.
“We are basing [the opening] based on the emergency use,” Roumeliotis said.
He said that if emergency departments are seeing a high number of COVID-19 testing referrals, that the centres in Winchester and Cornwall would open then.
“The trigger is community-wide infection,” Roumeliotis said. “[We’re] not at that point.”
Cornwall and SDG paramedics began providing in-home testing to at risk individuals this week as well.
Roumeliotis could not say how long testing centres would operate, or at what point the testing centres would convert to being assessment centres, should a more wide-spread outbreak in the region occur.
Travellers must self-isolate
“I am pleading residents returning from international travel to go straight home upon returning to Canada,” Roumeliotis said. “Self-isolating is the only measure that will help prevent the further spread of the disease and protect the community from COVID-19.”
Travellers returning to Canada must immediately go home and self-isolate.
“It is imperative for all travellers to not make any stops on their way home,” he said.
The health unit and officials from the provincial government are telling travellers to not stop at any stores, even for essentials like groceries or prescriptions. Instead, they should use a delivery service or have friends or family members do those errands and drop off at the front door.
“[Travellers who] drive through the border, or arrive at the airport, go home and stay there for 14 days,” Roumeliotis said.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu invoked the Quarantine Act on March 25th, turning the recommended 14-day self-isolation period for returning travellers into a mandatory 14-day quarantine for travellers.
People returning by plane from out of country will fly into one of four designated airports (Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, or Vancouver). From there, anyone whose flight originated from those four airports will be allowed to go directly to home for the mandatory 14-day quarantine. Travellers who have to use a domestic connecting flight – Toronto to Ottawa for example – will be quarantined for the 14-day period at a hotel near one of the four international airports by the federal government. Once the 14-day period is over, the travellers will be permitted to take a connecting flight to their final airport.
Land crossing travellers will be directed to proceed immediately to their home once crossing the US/Canada border to begin their 14-day mandatory quarantine period.
Any travellers who present symptomatic for COVID-19 will not be permitted to return to Canada.