CK MOH provides COVID-19 warning and advice

Dr. David Colby, CK Medical Officer of Health. Oct 18, 2017. (Photo by Paul Pedro)

The Medical Officer of Health in Chatham-Kent is warning the gradual reopening of the local economy could be reversed if the number of local COVID-19 cases start to rise.

Dr. David Colby told the health board at its meeting on Wednesday that the initial pandemic restrictions and safety measures could get even worse if people aren’t careful and don’t follow social distancing and sanitation rules during the first stage of Ontario’s plan to reopen the economy.

Colby said he doesn’t want people to start relaxing and thinking it’s business as usual, because that mentality could lead to a second wave of the virus.

“It’s got to be a very gradual process and if our numbers go up we’re going to have to reverse these changes and maybe even adopt more draconian measures,” said Colby.

He admitted COVID-19 cases across the province are declining gradually but told board members he had hoped to see cases in Ontario drop faster than they have before significant steps were taken.

“As we take baby steps to reopen Ontario, we have to do so in a very cautious manner,” the doctor said.

Colby has previously said that he would like new daily cases to fall under 200 across the province. Currently, they’re over 300 new cases a day.

Colby said long term care homes can’t reopen to visitors yet and retail stores must ensure they have controls in place before they decide to open to prevent the virus from spreading such as Plexiglas barriers at the cashier, screening at the door, one way isles, stickers on the floor to promote the physical distancing of two metres, and hand sanitizer available to keep customers and staff safe. The doctor added that masks are not the most important safety measure for the public, social distancing and controls are the most important of all the measures. The Prime Minister and his health officials are now recommending that the public wear masks outside the house if they can’t keep social distancing.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford also said he will immediately re-institute pandemic guidelines if there is a surge in cases of COVID-19.

Dr. Colby also had some advice to better handle testing in the future — don’t do it all at once and don’t swab test residents at nursing homes unless absolutely necessary.

He said there are some valuable lessons to be learned from this pandemic and wants possible mass swab testing in the future such as the province-wide testing at nursing homes to be “systematically scheduled” and more controlled to reduce overloading the lab system. Colby said at one point CK Public Health diagnostic and control testing was delayed for longer than a week because labs were completely overwhelmed and tests were just sitting around frozen until technicians could get to them.

“Trying to manage and cohort the Greenhill outbreak when we’re not getting timely results was an extremely stressful period,” Colby said.

Colby added labs are trying to increase their capacity but were hammered with a wave of tests all at once that caused severe backlogs and headaches.

“Let’s hope that if we undertake anymore screening programs like that then that we do so in a very controlled and measured manner to avoid that kind of congestion,” said Colby.

He also said the swab test was not designed for screening and doesn’t perform very well in some situations like testing people without symptoms under lockdown in long term care homes because false-positive tests are more common than true positives and create more work to unnecessarily isolate people until they’re tested again.

CK Public Health only tests those showing symptoms and Colby said mass screening just doesn’t work.

“Blind testing is not the way to go,” he concluded.

Colby added there will be no drive-thu testing in Chatham-Kent because it’s not useful and there’s too much false information involved with the tests. Colby insists mass testing does not control the virus.