Simcoe Muskoka Public Health confirms Huntsville COVID-19 case and warns of further community spread

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Agatha Farmer

Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, has confirmed one COVID-19 case in Huntsville and 8 more cases in Simcoe Muskoka from yesterday's tally of 21.

Data on the health unit website speaks to 26 cases, however Gardner confirmed 29 at the March 26 Simcoe Muskoka health unit press conference. The regions COVID-19 cases are mostly clustered in the middle age range of 35-64. There are four cases in the younger age group between 18-24 and five are 65 and older and two which information is not yet available on.

Sixteen of the 29 cases are in self-isolation recovering at home, five are hospitalized and three are deceased and two are under investigation. The source of the case infections are as follows; 14 are travel related, 3 are close contacts of other cases, and 6 are community acquired and 3 are under investigation.

"We had an individual pass away yesterday," confirmed Gardner. The deceased is a woman in her 70's who was admitted to Orillia Soliders Memorial Hospital. She was a community acquired case without any links to travel. He also noted that the hospitalized cases are "relatively young people, between the ages of 30 and 50."

Gardner confirmed that some of these younger hospitalized patients had an underlying health condition but not all.

"Having six community acquired cases is cause for concern and it speaks to the fact that we have community transmission happening in Simcoe Muskoka and therefore people need to take to heart the physical distancing practice, we are calling upon everyone to do because it really comes down to thinking twice before going out," he said.

If you do have to go out Gardner advises to be at least two meters from other people and to avoid crowds, hand wash frequently and if you do develop symptoms of respiratory infection you should be isolating at home and seeking further assessment "particularly if you develop sever symptoms." Call Telehealth Ontario line or the Simcoe Muskoka Public Health Unit. Gardner indicated that he is confident that Muskoka will experience community transmission.

"There is probably many more cases in the community than what we are learning of through testing given that there is limited access to testing and given that some people can have mild or even no symptoms and yet be able to transmit to others which takes us back to physical distancing and washing your hands," said Gardner.

The topic of exercise was brought up and once again Gardner underlined that people are free to go for walks and hikes but still need to practice physical distancing from others while outside. The public health unit is currently in communication with municipalities to limit the gathering of people at certain popular outdoor parks and facilities. Gardner suggests people avoid such places when going for a walk.

Muskoka's first COVID-19 case is a male in his 20's from Huntsville and has not required hospitalization. Gardner did not have information on when this individual was tested but will be providing that in the near future.

"The person is staying in self-isolation in Huntsville, he is a travel related case who had been to Austria and Switzerland," said Gardner.

Gardner noted that gender seems to play a part in COVID-19 infections as more men than women have been reported. In Simcoe Muskoka out of 26 cases 16 are men and nine are women. He predicts a rise in cases over the coming weeks and months.

"Anything that we do today given the incubation of this virus will not have a visible effect till at least two weeks out into the future .... we do know from mathematical modelling that we can, if we are very good about physical distancing greatly reduce the number of cases over what they could be," he said.

The public health unit has also confirmed that the rate of testing in Simcoe County is higher than that in Muskoka. The rate of testing in Simcoe is 12.8 tests per 10,000 population as oppose to Muskoka at 8.8 tests per 10,000 population.

"That is a statistically signifiant difference, I think that that perhaps is noteworthy. That being able to increase access to testing in Muskoka is perhaps highlighted by that, and perhaps getting assessment centres in operation in Muskoka is perhaps highlighted by that," he said.

Gardner said he has inquired about the Muskoka assessment centres and he understands that they should be open and in operation by early next week.

Snowbrids and GTA residents coming to Muskoka to self isolate according to Gardner "could be an issue."

"What is more worrisome for me is the need for everyone in Muskoka and elsewhere to exercise physical distancing," he said.

As for how long self-isolation and physical distancing will be in place Gardner gave China as an example.

"The outbreak in China commenced in December and they have maintained tight controls until just the past week so that's over three months and they are just relaxing some of those controls. There is actually concern that they could end up with another waive of an outbreak ... People should be planning for this to last months," said Gardner.

In the coming week Gardner indicated that we will be transitioning from this being primary travel related to community spread.

"That is where the real danger is and I believe we will have more and more transmission happening in the community," said Gardner.

Gardner is concerned about the potential of the virus itself leading to over capacity at local hospitals. He is however, more concerned that the community will need these controls for months and it is possible that even tighter controls such as a lock down might be necessary.

Gardner confirmed that he in in contact with the regions hospital CEO's including Muskoka through teleconference on a weekly basis to address state of preparedness and challenges. He acknowledges that surveillance data is "the top of the iceberg ... beneath the waters is much more, it could be 10 times or even greater maybe a 100 times as much in the way of circulation in the community."

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