SAULT STE. MARIE — Rumours notwithstanding, there are no confirmed local cases of COVID-19 in Algoma, Dr. Jennifer Loo assured city councillors Monday night.
However, in a SooToday interview following her presentation, the associate medical officer of health and director of health protection at Algoma Public Health confirmed that some local residents have been instructed to self-isolate at home for 14 days because of COVID-19 concerns.
In a presentation punctuated by Mayor Christian Provenzano politely hacking into his sleeve, Dr. Loo said she wouldn't be surprised if the novel coronavirus epidemic eventually reaches Sault Ste. Marie through travellers, and then spreads further within the community.
She warned councillors about an "infodemic" of questionable advice available online and said healthy people don't need face masks to protect against the infectious disease.
"When I say there are no cases in Algoma, what I mean is there has been no positive laboratory result that we've received for any individual who's undergone testing in Algoma," Loo told SooToday.
"In many scenarios, we are working with folks to either self-isolate, which means they should stay at home for the recommended period of time of 14 days typically, or they should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days, which means they can go about their business but go home if they start to feel ill."
'Yes, there have been individuals where we've made those recommendations to self-isolate if they've returned from one of those high-risk regions [such as China's Hubei province or Iran]."
How many locals have been sent home because of possible exposure to novel coronavirus?
"I don't have an exact number here tonight, but I would say no more than a couple handfuls at this point," Loo told us.
"This is something that's very much evolving. I would not be surprised, especially with March Break travels and other folks returning, that this number might change. It fluctuates every day."
"Every time a person gets tested, if they're well enough, they're told to go back home and self-isolate until either they're cleared by test results or we have more information," Loo told City Council.
"If there's a very high-risk individual, for example, who travelled recently to a highly impacted area or who had close contact with a confirmed case... public health would already be undergoing what we call case contact management, identifying close contacts, family members, to say now is the time to isolate yourself or monitor for symptoms, depending on the risk level. That's the type of follow-up that's already underway, especially for high-risk scenarios, even when testing hasn't yet come back."
"There have been a lot of rumours, and a lot of information that's been shared and some misinformation," confirmed Mayor Provenzano. "It's easy to do that nowadays on social media. But the person standing in front of us, Dr. Loo, would be the person who knows if there was a confirmed case of coronavirus in Sault Ste. Marie or the Algoma region. And she's telling us there isn't. Regardless of what you might be hearing to the contrary, that's the fact."
"We're recommending that people really try and avoid touching their faces," Loo said. "It's very unnatural. Our habits are to touch our faces. It's very common. It takes practise to get into these habits and we're recommending that now is the time to start practising these common measures in order to take that really effective preventative action."
"We're also asking people not to spend money on protective equipment or items that are not recommended... Healthy people do not need masks unless they are taking care of someone who is sick, like in the hospital setting."
Speaking just minutes after City Council approved a resolution proclaiming the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Loo made another request of the community.
"We're really asking people to be mindful not to exclude or stigmatize individuals or groups out of fear or misinformation," she said.
"Risk of exposure to this virus is associated with travel to an affected area. It's not associated with nationality. It's not associated with ethnicity."
Citing the most recent updates available Monday night, Loo said that more than 100,000 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed worldwide, with 3,100 fatalities, 2,986 of those in China's Hubei province.
Outside of China, the infection is blamed for 484 deaths, including the first Canadian fatality, identified Monday in British Columbia.
In Canada, 72 confirmed or presumed cases have been identified, including 34 in Ontario.
So far, Loo said, all cases in Ontario have been linked to travel, with no evidence of widespread community transmission.
Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, warned travellers on Monday to think twice about going on cruise ships because COVID-19 can spread easily in close confines.
Should the City of Sault Ste. Marie impose restrictions on cruise ship visits planned for this summer?"We don't have any recommendations at this point in time, but we're definitely keeping abreast of the evolving situation," Loo told SooToday.
Loo said Algoma Public Health has been working closely with Sault College and Algoma University to ensure that international students are safe.
Mayor Provenzano said the city's emergency management committee met last week about the COVID-19 issue.
"We want the community to know that the leaders of the community are mindful of it and we're working together," the mayor said.