Straining health unit resources top of mind for medical officer of health

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Straining the resources of the Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit is among the worries for the local medical officer of health.

During a virtual news conference on Nov. 30, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai expressed his worries as Haldimand and Norfolk on Monday moved into the orange-restrict category of the province’s COVID-19 response strategy from the yellow-protect

“We get individual cases, and some Individual cases have one or two contacts, and some of them may have 15 contacts,” he said. “It’s not just the number of cases but the number of contacts associated with those cases.”

Since the pandemic began in March there have been 658 positive cases of COVID-19 in Haldimand and Norfolk. Of the positive cases, 573 people have recovered.

There have been 57 new cases reported in the last two weeks.

The province’s framework has five designations: green-prevent, yellow-protect, orange-restrict, red-control and lockdown.

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Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp said it is more important than ever for local residents to follow public-health protocols regarding COVID-19.

“We really don’t want to see our local businesses — already struggling due to COVID-19 — forced to close as part of a provincially imposed lockdown,” Chopp, who also serves as the chair of the Norfolk and Haldimand board of health, said in a news release on Nov. 27.

“But — given the province’s framework — that will be the unfortunate reality if we aren’t able to keep case numbers under control in our region. That’s why it’s so important that, as we approach the holiday season, we continue following the public health guidance aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

During the Nov. 30 news conference, Nesathurai said he would not be surprised if Norfolk and Haldimand are moved to the red-control zone in the future.

“When looking at the data, I’m concerned that we may ultimately move from orange to a higher level of restriction,” he said.

“We remain optimistic that we won’t have an increase in cases, and an increasing number of people presenting to the hospital, but I would not be surprised if we have further public health measures to try to control COVID-19.”

The province imposes a range of measures when it moves a health district to orange-restrict.

These measures are designed to protect public health and prevent further business closures. Some of the measures are already in place in Haldimand and Norfolk.

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Measures include, but are not limited to:

  • Reduced operating hours and capacity at bars, restaurants, meeting and event spaces, and cinemas.

Limiting the number of people who may be seated together to four at bars, restaurants, meeting and event spaces.

  • Requiring contact information at bars, restaurants, meeting and event spaces, and for all patrons of sports and recreational facilities.
  • Requiring attendance records for all team sports.
  • Requiring appointments for entry to sports and recreational facilities.
  • Increased spacing requirements at facilities where there are weights or weight machines and in exercise or fitness classes (minimum of three metres).
  • Personal services requiring the removal of face coverings, such as beard trimmings and lip waxing in salons, are prohibited.
  • Gathering limits remain capped at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
  • The province also continues to advise that all non-essential travel from areas of high-transmission to areas of low transmission should be avoided. Areas rated as high transmission in Ontario include Peel Region on the west side of Toronto and the City of Toronto itself.

As the community gets used to the new rules, Nesathurai said he hopes everyone will continue doing their part.

“One of the core messages I’d like to share today is that it is particularly important for people to avoid congregating outside of their household,” the doctor said. “We see dining events leading to case transmissions. The challenge with large dining events is that people aren’t wearing masks in close quarters and COVID-19 is highly infectious.”