Precautions continue in Sioux Lookout as first positive case of COVID-19 confirmed in the community
Tim Brody - Editor
The Northwestern Health Unit confirmed Sioux Lookout’s first positive case of COVID-19 on April 2.
Dr. Ian Gemmill, Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit, conducted a briefing with area media that afternoon, providing a synopsis of the case, a rational of the health unit’s procedures, and also spoke about health unit operations at this time.
According to Dr. Gemmill the positive case is a man who lives in Sioux Lookout. The man had not travelled out of the country.
Dr. Gemmill further shared with reporters, “This person became ill on the 19th of March and has only been in that community during the period of time in which infectiousness was possible, that’s 48 hours before the onset of illness and then of course the 14 days after the illness. That means that this person, additionally, has only one household contact that we believe needs to be a quarantine, and so both the isolation of that person and the quarantine of the spouse, both have been put into place to assure that there is no further risk from this case in that community.”
He added, “I can tell you that the individual does work outside of the area, but did not travel for work during the incubation period or the period of infectiousness. That means two things. One, that the individual was not travelling while infectious, but it also means that there was potentially transmission near that person’s place of work or in that person’s place of work out of the area. So we will be looking into that as well.”
Dryden’s first positive case of COVID-19 was also confirmed that day, an older individual who is a resident of Dryden and who also had not travelled out of the country.
“So for both of these cases, we’ve got good cooperation, cases are in isolation, contacts are in quarantine, and any additional symptoms are being followed up and investigated,” he said.
Speaking on NWHU protocols as they relate to releasing information about COVID-19 cases, Dr. Gemmill informed, “It’s really important to emphasize that before we can really say anything meaningful, we need to do a bit of an investigation and first of all verify the case really is a case, that the case truly lives in our area. If you recall the second report that we had, while they gave an address in the northwest, did not, nor had they been in the northwest for some time. So these are all things that have to be put into place.
“The other thing I want to emphasize, that is critically important for us to be able to do this, so that we get any person who potentially is infectious into isolation and to get the contacts into quarantine. Those are the most important things to be done to protect our community. And while we do want to share the information with you, it’s not always possible to do it the moment we receive the report for all these reasons. It has to be verified and certain measures have to be taken to make sure that the risk to the community is eliminated before we do anything else.”
Dr. Gemmill said that he fully expects that there will be additional positive reports, “We’ve had a lot of testing done, there are over 150 tests still outstanding, and so it is quite likely that there will be additional reports from our area from the testing that has already been done. I want to draw your attention to the fact though, that positivity rate amongst the tests that have been done so far, is not extremely high yet, it’s just over two per cent. What that means to me is that we are still early on, but the two new cases, because there was no international travel, is an early indication that we’ve got transmission going on in the community.”
As of April 6 the NWHU was reporting 283 tests have come back negative and 136 test results are pending.
As of April 6, seven positive tests had been confirmed in the NWHU’s area. Positive test results have come from Dryden (1), Red Lake (2), Sioux Lookout (1), Rainy River (1) and Fort Frances (1). The health unit further clarified, “One of the cases being reported in the NWHU area has a primary residence in southern Ontario and has not been to the NWHU region since contracting the virus while travelling internationally.”
Dr. Gemmill concluded, “We are maintaining a small number of essential services, so if people need to reach us, they are most welcome to call to make an appointment, if it’s for example, I’ll just pick the example of a routine infant immunization, these are key to continue. We do not want a child to get whooping cough because they missed their opportunity to get that vaccine because of the novel coronavirus. If people call us, we will make appointments for services that are essential and that we can accommodate.”
He continued, “We are developing internal protocols. We’ve been contacting partners not just in the health field, physicians, but also municipalities, social services, and others. We’ve been working with long-term care homes, you’ve heard that there has been a problem, and one in particular in the south where a number of deaths have occurred. We want our long-term care homes to be prepared, to have protocols in place, and most importantly to do whatever they can to keep novel coronavirus out because this is the home of very vulnerable people, that’s been an important issue that we’ve been working on. We’ve also been developing plans with partners to address other vulnerable people in the community such as the homeless and so on. Working with you folks (media) of course to keep you and the public up to date, some of the Indigenous communities, but that is, I have to stress, a responsibility of First Nations and Inuit Health branch and more locally the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, so they are taking the primary responsibility, but we are cooperating with them and working on other things that are important that we need to keep going such as community food security initiatives for children and youth.”
Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre says it has been preparing for potential COVID-19 cases through the implementation of its Pandemic Plan and remains prepared as the first positive case of the virus in Sioux Lookout was confirmed by the Northwestern Health Unit last week.
“For the past several weeks, the team at SLMHC has been preparing to ensure we are ready to safely care for the people we serve. We continue to place everyone’s health and safety as our utmost priority,” the Health Centre shared.
Visitor restrictions at the health centre’s facilities remain in place and the process of creating more space at the hospital is underway.
“We continue to ask for your cooperation during this time,” the Health Centre urged residents of the communities it serves. “We recognize that this is difficult for both patients and families, however we must remain vigilant in order to help stop the spread of the virus and save lives.
“Creating more space at the hospital is also a high priority in our planning. This past week we have started the process of moving a number of hospital patients who are awaiting long-term care placement to temporary transitional spaces created at the W. A. “Bill” George Extended Care facility. We will continue to explore more opportunities for transitional space should the need arise.”
“We recognize that a confirmed case of COVID-19 may raise fear and anxiety among the communities we serve and we want to encourage you to stay informed with the most reliable information and resources,” commented SLMHC’s President and CEO, Heather Lee, who added “the Northwestern Health Unit’s website,
www.nwhu.on.ca, is the recommended website for up-to-date information on COVID-19 in our region.”
SLMHC also shared, “We join with other health providers in our community and region to remind everyone to practice social distancing, proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette. We also remind the public that all non-essential appointments have been postponed at the hospital.”
The Health Centre asked, “If you experience COVID-19 symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath) or suspect you have the virus, call the Northwestern Health Unit’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-866-468-2240 or the COVID-19 Assessment Centre at 737-5880. For more information about SLMHC’s COVID-19 response visit our website at www.slmhc.on.ca/covid19.”
On April 3, Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority shared that it has created the COVID-19 Regional Response Team (CRRT) to “ensure the safety of their communities, and all First Nations.”
“The CRRT will work to coordinate SLFNHA’s regional efforts. The goal of the CRRT is to ensure that critical support is provided to 33 First Nation communities in northern Ontario. With the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Sioux Lookout there is now, more than ever, an urgent need to act,” SLFNHA shared.
As the health authority serving Ontario’s north, including many remote, fly-in only First Nation communities, SLFNHA shared that it is responding to the ongoing and constantly evolving challenges faced by these communities.
“They are taking many proactive measures in their response to COVID-19, including leveraging all possible support from Provincial Territorial Organizations, Tribal Councils and community leadership, as well as government bodies. Despite this, addressing the risk posed by COVID-19 is extremely challenging due to the unique needs of remote communities.
“First Nation communities have limited access to medical facilities, medical equipment, supplies and professionals. Within all First Nation communities, there is a severe risk that if COVID-19 is introduced the spread of the virus would be amplified due to overcrowding and lack of resources, including access to safe drinking water in many communities. In addition, personal protective equipment, and other essential supplies can be difficult to acquire in a timely and efficient manner and in the quantities required to meet the needs of communities, especially in this time of global crisis and supply shortage,” the health authority informed.
“With cases confirmed in Thunder Bay, and Sioux Lookout, all remote communities are now experiencing elevated risk factors. Thunder Bay, and Sioux Lookout are essential hubs servicing all of Northern Ontario.
In response, as a part of current measures to protect the health and wellbeing of community members, the
CRRT has recommended limiting all non-essential travel in and out of communities. Communities are monitoring both road and air. Preventing the spread of the virus to First Nations Communities is the best way to ensure continued safety due to the lack of resources,” SLFNHA further shared.
On April 3, the Municipality of Sioux Lookout advised the public of decisions Sioux Lookout Municipal Council had made earlier in the week.
Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance shared, “The health and well-being of everyone residing in Sioux Lookout is of paramount importance to the Municipality.”
“On Thursday, April 2nd, the Municipality was notified that the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Sioux Lookout,” Lawrance said, adding, “all residents must continue to follow the directives of public health officials. To that end, we direct people to contact the Northwestern Heath Unit for all pertinent information either online via https://www.nwhu.on.ca/covid19/Pages/home.aspx/ or by telephone at 1-866-468-2240.”
Among its decisions, Council has decided to maintain the closures of all Municipal facilities to the public through April 30, 2020 and to postpone the implementation of new water/sewer rates which were to come into effect on April 1.
The Municipality of Sioux Lookout also informed, “The various air carriers that operate from/through the Sioux Lookout Municipal Airport are implementing screening of all passengers, in response to an Order from the Minister of Transport requiring this practice. Additionally, the Sioux Lookout Municipal Airport has also taken steps to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus by removing some of the seating in the Terminal Building and adding tape to the floor at the Terminal to facilitate social distancing, as well as undertaking additional cleaning and sanitizing.”
Essential Municipal services such as water and wastewater systems, garbage and recycling collection and other essential public works will be continuing.
The Municipality is advising that payments due to the Municipality are still required, but added, “There will be some flexibility regarding late payments, providing prior arrangements have been made with the Finance Department.”
Members of the public can remit payments to the Municipality using:
• Online banking
• Dropping off payments in the drop-box at the Municipal Office
• Mailing payments via regular post
• Calling the Finance Department with a credit card number
People can reach the finance department by calling 737-2700.
The Municipality also shared, “In response to the ongoing reduction in Municipal services and operations, the Municipality has had to make the difficult decision to lay off 42 staff on a temporary basis. The Municipality is hoping that the layoff is short lived. Measures have been put into place to support our hardworking and dedicated staff during this difficult time.”
“The Municipality will continue to closely monitor the public health crisis and will provide updates to the community in terms of its impacts on Municipal operations and services, as new information becomes available,” shared Municipal CAO, Michelle Larose, adding, “as stated, we will be continuing with the closures and reduced operations through April 30, 2020, however, should the Municipality determine that those closures need to be extended, in light of public health recommendations, we will revisit and advise at that time.”