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COVID-19 'unlike anything we have seen before in health care'

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Sandy Jansen, President and CEO of Tillsonburg District Memorial Hospital and Alexandra Hospital Ingersoll, has said COVID-19 is ‘unlike anything we have seen before in health care.’

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It’s a common statement in today’s health care world.

“Probably the most recent parallel would be the Spanish Flu,” said Jansen. “This is a virus that is completely foreign to every single person around the world – nobody has ever been exposed to this virus. As a result, the spread of the virus to everyone, whether you’re a health care worker or just a person on the street, it’s extensive.

“The trouble with this virus is that it is making some people very, very sick. When you look around the world, what we are seeing is hospitals completely overloaded with patients. It’s making the elderly in particular, and our vulnerable populations, very ill, and it’s also, of course, hitting health care workers, because our health care workers are humans too.

“So we’re trying to find a way to insure that we can sustain health care at a time when a huge proportion of the population could be ill.”

The virus, which has a 14-day incubation period, is putting a strain on the health care system.

“There’s a lot of balls in the air right now and that’s what makes this virus unique,” said Jansen.

Hospitals, governments, and businesses have implemented restrictions – and in many cases closures – to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Recently, the Ontario government announced it was ordering ‘non-essential’ businesses to close for two weeks.

Premier Doug Ford said the decision “was not made lightly” and is necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus that has infected 503 people in Ontario and forced the shutdown of schools, many bars and restaurants and child-care centres.

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“This was a very, very tough decision, but it is the right decision,” he said at a news conference.

“This is not the time for half measures… and the gravity of this order has not escaped me.”

The government later identified which businesses were deemed essential and allowed to continue to operate.

“Food will remain on the shelves,” Ford said. “Ontarians will still have access to their medications and essential products.”

Though the order is meant to apply for the next 14 days, Ford did not rule out the possibility it could be extended.

“We’re prepared to extend this order if necessary.”

When the governments – and the country – can go back to ‘normal’ or whatever the ‘new normal’ is… is unknown at this point.

“At this point, I think nobody knows the answer to that,” said Jansen, “because we’re really in a wait-and-see period. I hope… the media gets that message out there, that people need to self-quarantine. If people have been travelling, they need to self-quarantine. That’s the most powerful weapon we have right now – quarantine and social isolation. But we don’t know how well we’re flattening the curve – we don’t know the answer to that. Again, this is unlike anything health care has seen before, there’s no predicting what’s going to happen.”

Schools in the region were among the first to announce closures, closely followed by many government facilities, as well as sporting and culture events. As the days and weeks go by, the list continues to grow, although Tillsonburg District Memorial Hospital and Alexandra Hospital Ingersoll both announced they were ‘reassuring their communities – the hospitals are still available for those who require hospital care.’

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“We have had many calls from individuals wondering if it is still safe for them to come to the emergency department when they need care,” said Jansen in a media release. “Our hospitals are still open for business for those who need emergency care, or need to be admitted to the hospital. We are doing everything possible to keep our communities and our health care workers safe in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and we are still here as your community hospital when you need us.”

The restrictions that are in place at hospitals, governments, school boards, and businesses are certain to extend beyond April 5, or any ‘two week’ period.

“It could very well be eight weeks, 10 weeks, 12 weeks. It’s hard to say,” said Jansen.

The message in the TDMH and AHI media releases, said Jansen, focused on thanking the communities ‘who have expressed an outpouring of support to hospital staff.’

“We need our communities to remain patient as this situation evolves because there is no playbook for this. We restricted visitors, which is putting a profound emotional pressure on families and on our patients, so we’re working on ways to connect people virtually.

“I cannot emphasize enough, we need the media out there – and we need peer pressure out there – people who have travelled need to self-quarantine. And really abide by those self-quarantine measures. That may be the only weapon we have right now to flatten this curve. People have to take it seriously, that’s really, really important.”

Jansen stressed the local emergency departments are still open – when someone does have an acute medical issue that requires health care, “we are still here for our community to help keep them healthy and safe.”

– with files from Jonathan Juha, Postmedia.

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