Governments, area leaders, health agencies taking action on COVID-19
Tim Brody - EditorOn March 11, World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus characterised COVID-19 as a pandemic.
In so doing he shared, “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It's a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death. Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO's assessment of the threat posed by the virus. It doesn't change what WHO is doing and it doesn't change what countries should do. We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus and we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time. WHO has been in full response mode since we were notified of the first cases and we have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
Since that proclamation, a lot has happened in Canada, Ontario, Northwestern Ontario, and Sioux Lookout.
Federally, according to the Government of Canada, “At this time, the public health risk associated with COVID-19 is low for the general population in Canada but this could change rapidly. There is an increased risk of more severe outcomes for Canadians:
- aged 65 and over
- with compromised
- immune systems
- with underlying medical conditions
It is important for all travellers to:
- Self-isolate for 14 days after your return from travel outside of Canada
- some provinces and territories may have specific recommendations for certain groups such as health care workers
- Monitor your health for fever, cough or difficulty breathing
- Wash your hands often for 20 seconds and cover your mouth and nose with your arm when coughing or sneezing.
Kenora MP Eric Melillo issued the following statement on March 13, “Today, Parliament suspended due to concerns over COVID-19.
“Going forward, I will be cutting down on public events and doing as much business over the phone as possible.
“My office staff in Ottawa and in the constituency will still be available to assist constituents and communicate with the media. Until further notice, my constituency staff will be taking meetings by appointment only.
“I urge everyone to follow precautions recommended by Health Canada to stay healthy and safe.”
He shared on March 16 on Facebook, “This morning I joined regional health partners for a call with the Northwestern Health Unit regarding COVID-19.
“There are currently no known cases of community transmission in the region. Please continue to practice good hygiene, and avoid large crowds whenever possible.
“Check for regular updates from the health unit as the situation could change.
“For more information from the federal department contact: 1-833-784-4397, canada.ca/coronavirus, [email protected]”
“Provincially, on March 12, the decision was made to close all publicly funded schools in Ontario for two weeks following March break.
Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, issued the following statement in response to the impact of COVID-19 on publicly funded schools as March Break approaches:
"The health and well-being of Ontarians is our government's number one priority.
“Since we first learned of COVID-19 as an emerging public health issue, Ontario has been diligently monitoring the developing situation to protect the health and well-being of all Ontarians. We have also taken decisive action to ensure the province's health care system is positioned to be ready for any scenario.
“Given the latest developments both internationally and here at home, today we are taking further action.
“Based on advice from Dr. David Williams, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, and the experts at the COVID-19 Command Table, the Minister of Education has issued a Ministerial Order to close all publicly funded schools in Ontario for two weeks following March break, in response to the emergence in Ontario of COVID-19. This order was approved by the Lieutenant Governor in Council.
“This means that Ontario schools have been ordered to remain closed from March 14 through to April 5, 2020.
“We recognize the significant impact this decision will have on families, students, schools, as well as the broader community, but this precaution is necessary to keep people safe.
“Today's steps build on a number of actions our government has taken in recent days to respond to COVID-19, including moving forward with additional public health measures, which include enhanced access to screening, expanding lab-testing capacity, and implementing new initiatives to keep the public and frontline workers safe. We are further setting aside up to $100 million in contingency funding in the upcoming 2020 budget to address challenges related to COVID-19.”
Closer to home, Confederation College President Kathleen Lynch shared on March 14 that the college was suspending all of its classes and labs at all campuses starting Monday, March 16 for a one week period.
Online classes will begin on March 23.
Lynch shared via a media release, “The health and safety of our students, employees and entire College community remains our priority. We are also committed to supporting our students in successfully completing their academic term.”
The college also shared that, “Effective Monday, March 16, 2020, Confederation College will limit entrances for all buildings at all campuses, with a requirement for self-screening before entry and hand sanitization upon entry.”
The College also shared, “Students should understand the following terms as they relate to COVID-19:
o Self-monitor – monitor for symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath) for 14 days after exposure or travel, avoiding public spaces. If you develop symptoms, immediately self-isolate and contact your local health unit or call Telehealth
Self-isolate – stay home, limit the number of visitors in your home, avoid contact with others, keep distance, cover your coughs and sneezes, wash your hands, wear a mask over your nose and mouth. .
Mandatory quarantine – the imposed separation or restriction of movement of individuals, groups or communities, for a defined period of time and in a location determined by the Public Health Authority.
Social distancing – social distancing is a tool public health officials recommend to slow the spread of a disease that is being passed from person to person. Simply put, it means that people should stay far enough away from each other so that COVID-19 – or any pathogen – cannot spread from one person to another. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S.) describes social distancing as staying away from mass gatherings and keeping a distance of 6 feet or 2 metres – about one body length – away from other people. Social distancing also means not touching other people, including handshakes.”
On March 11, Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa raised concerns related to COVID-19 at Queen’s Park.
He shared on his Facebook page, “This morning I asked the Premier about the strategy in place for First Nations with respect to COVID-19, particularly for isolated and remote communities. The government tells people to wash their hands, but that’s hard to do when there’s no clean running water.”
He urged people to, “Visit the Ontario Ministry of Health webpage for more information on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID19) in Ontario. This link also has info sheets available in Oji-Cree and Anishinaabemowin. This page is updated every day, seven days a week, at 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET.
“Contact Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or your local office of the Northwestern Health Unit if you are experiencing symptoms of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.”
Sioux Lookout Municipal Council met on March 13 to discuss the Municipality’s response to the Novel Coronavirus pandemic.
“The Municipality wishes to remind the public that this is a time for calm and thoughtfulness. Please follow the instructions and advice from authoritative sources, including Provincial and Federal Health Ministries, the Northwestern Health Unit and similar entities, with respect to measures you can take to protect yourself and your family. The Municipality will also be passing on information and messaging it receives from our health care partners via our website and social media channels. The Municipality is not a health care expert, so we will be taking our direction from the appropriate authorities,” explained Mayor Doug Lawrance.
Through a media release the Municipality of Sioux Lookout shared, “Council and Administration also made the following decisions at and following today’s Council Meeting:
o Facility closures:
Municipal Child Care (Day Care) Centres – both the Sioux Mountain and the Biidaaban Children’s Centres will be closed effective Monday, March 16th and will reopen on Monday, April 6th.
Recreation Centre & Arena – will be closed as of 10:00 p.m. today, March 13th through April 5th, at which time a decision will be made to reopen or to remain closed.
The Sioux Lookout Public Library Board advised the Municipality this afternoon that it will be closing the Library at 5:00 p.m. today, March 13th for at least three weeks, and possibly longer.
Suspension of Boards, Commissions and Committees’ Meetings – all Municipal Boards, Commissions and Committees’ Meetings will be suspended until April 30, 2020.
All Municipal out-of-town travel, for meetings, training, etc. has been suspended until further notice, with the recognition that extenuating circumstances may require otherwise.”
“Both Council and Staff will continue to monitor the situation very carefully, and will continue to make decisions that are measured, precautionary and in the community’s best interests,” Lawrance stated, adding, “Council will meet again on Tuesday afternoon to review the situation.”
“From an administrative perspective, we will continue to provide all critical services during this time, and are working hard to minimize the disruptions to our programs and services,” noted Michelle Larose, Chief Administrative Officer, adding, “we are taking all necessary and reasonable precautions with respect to cleaning and disinfection at our facilities, and are working hard to ensure our staff are also following best practices with respect to activities to mitigate the contraction or spread of the virus, even though there have been no confirmed cases in our community to date.”
On March 14, the Northwestern Health Unit shared, “Late last night, Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) was notified that a resident of Fort Frances has tested positive coronavirus (COVID-19). The affected individual is an adult who has recently returned from international travel.
“The individual was seen, assessed and tested in Winnipeg”, said Dr. Ian Gemmill, Acting Medical Officer of Health for Northwestern Health Unit. “This person now recovering back at home in Fort Frances and is in self-isolation. To protect the health of the public and to prevent community spread, NWHU immediately began to identify potential sites of exposure and has ensured that the limited number of persons who have come in close contact with the person are in self-quarantine.”
The NWHU stated it wanted to assure area residents, “that COVID-19 is not circulating in the region and that the positive case contracted the illness outside of Canada.”
“To date there is no evidence of community spread of COVID-19 in our area, or in most of Canada.”
Gemmill noted that there are preventive measures that the public can take to protect themselves from getting sick. “The virus can enter the body only through the nose, eyes, and mouth, so the best prevention methods continue to be washing hands often and not touching one’s face,” Dr. Gemmill advises.
NWHU is working with the ministry of Health and with federal, provincial, and local health providers to monitor the situation and protect the community.
The Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre (SLMHC) shared on March 15, “As our organization continues to monitor COVID-19 developments on a global, national, regional and local level, we encourage the public to continue practicing good handwashing, respiratory etiquette and social distancing. Information related to these practices is available online at the Northwestern Health Unit's website.
“While the situation involving COVID-19 is serious, we understand that people are feeling nervous and afraid at times based on the many reports and rumours circulating constantly. We encourage everyone to remain calm, stay well-informed through the Public Health Ontario website, and to be considerate of the needs of others.
“We recognize that the information related to COVID-19 continues to evolve rapidly and our top priority is the health and safety of our patients, their families, our staff and physicians and the communities we serve. We continue to be on heightened awareness and have implemented not only our hospital pandemic plan but also directives from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Long Term Care as they relate to the hospital setting and the William B. George Extended Care facility.
“We understand that the restrictions related to screening and visitors are difficult for many people; however they have been put in place for the safety of everyone including our most vulnerable populations. Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.
“At this time, Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre (SLMHC) has not received any reports of patients with COVID-19 in the hospital or at the Extended Care facility.”
SLMHC further shared, “We remind the public of the following important information:
Patient Safety and SLMHC Screening
Effective Wednesday, March 11, 2020, mandatory screening for symptoms of COVID-19 at the William B. George Extended Care Facility was implemented upon the direction of the Ministry of Long Term Care. This is a precautionary measure taken at all long-term care homes across the province to limit the spread of the infection amongst a particularly vulnerable population.
Effective Saturday, March 14, 2020, the same measures have been implemented at the hospital site. Enhanced measures, at both the hospital and extended care sites include:
- Screening for COVID-19 symptoms at all entrances.
- Any individual including staff and physicians coming into the hospital or extended care facility will be greeted by screeners. Screening includes asking about symptoms (cough, difficulty breathing) and having your temperature taken. Anyone screening positive will not be permitted to enter unless seeking medical care. Information on self-monitoring and self-isolation will be available to those who are symptomatic.
- Prioritizing patient safety
- During screening, everyone will be asked to wash their hands before leaving the screening area.
- Internal policies
- Travel restrictions, meetings/social gatherings and training suspended internally, screening and best practices in place.
- Visitor restriction
Elective ServicesAll elective services have been suspended until further notice. This includes elective surgeries and appointments in areas including the rehabilitation department and diabetes program, and may extend to other areas. Our staff will contact anyone who is affected by this and whose appointment will need to be rescheduled or postponed.
Prevention = ProtectionOur advice to everyone is to practice everyday actions to prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses, including:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Practice proper respiratory etiquette – see link below
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Wash your hands first before touching your face.
- Avoid contact with people who are ill. Practice social distancing- maintain a distance of six-feet between yourself and individuals who may be infected.
Seek medical care if required. Disclose symptoms and any recent travel history.
Next Steps“SLMHC continues to work closely with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Long-Term Care, Public Health Ontario, Ontario Health North and all of our partners in health in planning and encouraging infection prevention and control strategies.
“While this situation is very serious on a global level, we encourage the public to stay well-informed. Please know that our staff is aware of the necessary measures to respond to concerns and that SLMHC is meeting with all partners in health on a regular basis in an effort to remain consistent with ongoing plans.
“If you have a medical emergency, as always, call 911 or come to the Emergency Department
“Please note that the status of COVID-19 is changing daily across Canada and the world.
“For the most up to date and reputable information on COVID-19, as well as information on best practices for self-monitoring and self-isolation, please visit www.phac-aspc.gc.ca or www.publichealthontario.ca.”
On March 13, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler released the following statement, “With the spread of COVID-19, NAN communities are facing serious threats to the health and safety of their members. NAN territory is home to more than one-third of the remote communities in this country. As such, we face unique and difficult challenges in protection from and containment of the virus. With so many unknowns and the rapid spread of information, there is understandable worry among us. In this challenging time, I encourage everyone to remain calm but vigilant in protecting themselves.
“With the reality that COVID-19 is spreading, difficult decisions must be made. NAN has instituted an organization-wide travel restriction. We have called for the cancellation of important community events such as the Little NHL and Northern Bands tournaments. These decisions do not come easy. Some of these decisions may be unpopular. I want to stress that all decisions are carefully made with the consideration of the health and welfare of NAN members as the top priority. In the upcoming days, we will continue to act with the well-being of our Nations as our guide. We acknowledge the courage and leadership from communities and organizations that have taken steps to minimize risks.
“Moving forward, I call upon First Nation leadership, community partners, and all levels of government to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19. We need a coordinated effort with clear lines of communication to ensure accurate information is being shared and resources are going where they are desperately needed. We must continue the work together as we move towards a common goal of ensuring that NAN communities remain safe and supported through this time.”
Eabametoong First Nation is calling on the Governments of Canada and Ontario to address the COVID-19 global pandemic emergency response for remote and isolated First Nations.
“At this point in time, Eabametoong First Nation has not been satisfied that Canada and Ontario are going to respond to this public health emergency and global pandemic about to arrive in our remote and isolated First Nations. It would be irresponsible for us to wait until the first patient arrives at the nursing station,” stated Eabametoong First Nation Chief Harvey Yesno.
As measures continue to be undertaken by all levels of government, school boards, and organizations, the Government of Ontario asked people on March 14 to “practice normal grocery buying habits”.
“Today, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, issued the following statement related to grocery buying habits and COVID-19 in Ontario:
"The health and well-being of the people of Ontario is our government's number one priority. Ontarians can be confident that our food supply is robust and that our distribution system will continue to operate and remain responsive to the needs of Ontarians. Rest assured, we have plenty of food that will continue to reach grocery stores on a regular basis.
“Our food supply chain is one of the strongest in the world and our government remains committed to ensuring Ontarians can access healthy and nutritious Ontario-produced foods.
“Please practice normal grocery buying habits and rest assured that our grocery production and supply chain will continue to provide Ontarians with the food we enjoy each and every day."
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, symptoms of COVID-19 have included:
- difficulty breathing
- pneumonia in
- both lungs
It was further shared, “Those who are infected with COVID-19 may have little to no symptoms. You may not know you have symptoms of COVID-19 because they are similar to a cold or flu.
“Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to COVID-19. This is the longest known infectious period for this disease. We are currently investigating if the virus can be transmitted to others if someone is not showing symptoms. While experts believe that it is possible, it is considered to be rare.”
The Northwestern Health Unit shared about what people can do to prevent COVID-19:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
- Stay home when you are ill.
- Sneeze and cough into your sleeve
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Be Prepared!The Public Health Agency of Canada is asking, “If you feel sick during travel to Canada or upon arrival, inform the flight attendant, cruise staff or a Canadian border services officer. They will decide whether you need further medical assessment by a quarantine officer.
“If you are ill and must visit a health care professional, call ahead or tell them when you arrive that you have a respiratory illness. You may be asked to wear a mask while waiting for or receiving treatment to prevent the spread of the illness.
“If you have travelled abroad and you develop fever, cough or difficulty breathing in the next 14 days:
isolate yourself within the home as quickly as possible and
call your health care provider or public health authority
Tell them your symptoms and travel history. Let them know whether you have had direct contact with animals or a sick person, especially if they have had symptoms.”
To learn more about COVID19, the NWHU is recommending people visit:
- Public Health Agency of Canada
- Ontario Ministry
- of Health
- World Health
People can also visit SLMHC’s website: http://www.slmhc.on.ca/, the Municipality of Sioux Lookout’s website: www.siouxlookout.ca, and NAN’s website: www.nan.on.ca, to stay up to date on their latest news and developments.