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Sutcliffe: It's time for all Sudburians to start practicing 'social distancing' to fight COVID-19

Canada on the right track to prevent levels experienced in Europe, says medical officer of health
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Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health Public Health Sudbury & Districts (Arron Pickard / Sudbury.com)

Greater Sudbury's medical officer of health said residents need to take COVID-19 seriously.

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe said the world is in a time of uncertainty with COVID-19, and reacting to it isn't a cookie-cutter, black-and-white or paint-by-numbers situation. There is no textbook reaction, because the book hasn't been written, she said.

“Strong action early on, even though it will cause some pain, is what we need to ensure we aren't in the same situation as those countries in Europe that are being overwhelmed by this disease,” Sutcliffe said.

The novel coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in late December, and has since sickened at least 174,615 people worldwide, including hundreds in the United States, and killed thousands, primarily in mainland China and Italy, according to data from Johns Hopkins. At least 77,600 people have already recovered. 

In Greater Sudbury, as of 10 a.m. on March 16, 132 tests have been conducted, two testing postive, with 65 testing negative, leaving another 65 results still to come.

Greater Sudbury has its second confirmed case of COVID-19, Public Health Sudbury and Districts announced March 15. The patient is a woman in her 60s who had close contact with first confirmed case in the city on March 10, a man in his 50s who attended the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in Toronto.

“I cannot confirm anything further about the individual, other than to say that through our investigation in this case, the only risk factor is the close contact with the first case,” Sutcliffe said. “There's no evidence of community spread.”

Also as a result of the investigation, there have been no other actions required by any workplace or other contacts she may have had as a result of testing positive for COVID-19.

“Having this second case was not unexpected, but there's no evidence of community transmission,” Sutcliffe said. 

However, with the number of cases in Ontario increasing on a daily basis, and the increasing evidence in other jurisdictions of community spread, “there's no reason to think the situation in Sudbury would be any different when you take into account travel to Ottawa, Toronto and international travel,” she said, meaning there's potential for more positive test results.

As of 10:30 a.m. Monday, the province reported 177 confirmed positive cases. There are 1,537 cases currently under investigation. A total of 10,178 patients had been approved for COVID-19 testing, with 8,464 tests coming back negative.

In her 20 years of experience, Sutcliffe said she's never seen a situation similar to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reacting to it is challenging, but she believes Canada is on the right track.

“There are many unknowns, and much of the decisions are judgment calls for which the book is unwritten, we're using our best judgment based on science,” she said. “I want to do my utmost to protect our community, and in particular, the most vulnerable.”

One of the first things to break down in times of crisis is communications, she said, and from a health-care system perspective, “I'd say we're getting it right with keeping the lines of communications open, in quelling rumours, in helping residents to understand what's fact and fiction.”

“We can see already many individuals, businesses and organizations taking measures to help increase social distancing, and we need to closely examine that. I believe we are inching closer to more clear direction on additional actions that organizations, businesses and families could consider taking to help flatten the curve of this outbreak.”

She made that comment as Premier Doug Ford was set to introduce legislation protecting workers taking time off due to COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced this afternoon that Canada will close the border to most foreign nationals, except Americans.

“What we've seen in other jurisdictions is, it's going to get worse before it gets better,” Sutcliffe said. “I think we are very fortunate, not withstanding all the tragic deaths that have occurred globally, but we are fortunate this is a very mild disease for most people. My goal is to work hard to ensure this doesn't reach the levels experienced in Europe.”

People need to be in this for the long haul, Sutcliffe said, meaning the virus is with us, and it will probably be with us forever.

“How do we make sure there aren't as many people getting infected as quickly as they are now, and overwhelming the system,” she said. “This is going to mean long-term changes to people's lifestyles, and certainly longer than the two weeks following March Break.”

That doesn't mean people need to resort to panic buying, though.

“There's no evidence at all about concerns over the supply chain, and this panic buying is really not necessary,” Sutcliffe said. “It's important to carry on with your lives, but keeping social distancing in mind, and these are practices people will have to keep in mind for months, not just weeks.”



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