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Coronavirus: all you need to know about COVID-19 in Waterloo Region

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On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, to be a pandemic.

Around the globe, there have been more than 100,000 confirmed cases, with the number reaching 320 in Canada on March 15.

READ MORE: COVID cases in Canada tracker: How many new cases of COVID-19 today?

In Waterloo Region, there have been eight confirmed cases, with two being announced on Thursday and a two more on Friday.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Italians shine lights together from balconies, show solidarity during lockdown – Mar 15, 2020

Over the weekend, three more were added to the list, according to the Province of Ontario.

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Overall, there have been 145 confirmed cases province-wide with just five having been cleared.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Ontario reports 42 new COVID-19 cases, provincial total rises to 145

That number may not grow quickly growing forward as the province has changed the rules with regards to testing but that does not mean the virus has stopped spreading.

“The mild cases in the community will no longer need to be tested,” Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region’s acting medical officer of health, said Friday. “They will need to stay at home and self-isolate until their symptoms are no longer there.”

She said on Friday that there were dozens of people in self-isolation throughout the region as well.

“If you have returned from a company that has been effected, you are to self-isolate,” she explained. “So there are dozens of people that are self-isolating in our community.”

READ MORE: Kitchener-Waterloo tech firms asking employees to work remotely in bid to slow spread of COVID-19

With many tech companies in the area having already announced they were telling employees to work from home, the region and cities ratcheted up their response over the weekend.

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The region and cities announced that all municipally-run daycare centres, museums, libraries, arenas, pools, community centres and public libraries will also be closed until Apr. 5.

They have also closed all day camps and recreational programs as well.

Grand River Transit and garbage collection will continue to operate as normal as will emergency services.

All municipal parks, fields, trails and outdoor spaces have also been left open.

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“These are challenging times for our community and the decisions we have made may have significant impact on those we serve,” Regional Chair Karen Redman said in a statement. “We don’t make these decisions lightly but we believe these decisions are in the best interest of our communities, and our collective health.”

READ MORE: Trudeau closes Canadian borders to most foreign travellers amid coronavirus outbreak

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On Sunday night, the YMCA of Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo announced it was closing all daycare centres and EarlyON locations, gyms, camp and outdoor service locations, immigrant and employment services as well as all Teen Zone, youth and community-based programs until April 6.

In a letter posted to the YMCA’s website, it says “our YMCA provides a broad range of services and programming to diverse sections of our communities – many of whom have been identified at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

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“As such, we’ve committed to addressing this situation and basing all of our decisions with a people-focused lens. We’re collaborating with public health units and other leaders in our industries to make informed decisions that seek to keep our members, families, volunteers and staff healthy and well.”

Last week, Public Health announced it was postponing enforcement of the Immunization of School Pupils’ Act as it works with health-care partners to co-ordinate and implement the COVID-19 response in the region.

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READ MORE: Waterloo Public Health postpones immunization enforcement to prep for COVID-19

“With the demand from the public that we’ve been seeing growing in Waterloo for a coronavirus response, we’ve decided to defer those resources into making sure that we can appropriately respond to requests from the public,” David Aoki, manager of vaccine and preventable disease with the Region of Waterloo Public Health, told Global News.

On Thursday, the Ontario government announced that publicly funded schools would be closed for two extra weeks following March break.

This means that Ontario schools have been ordered to remain closed from March 14 through to April 5, 2020,” the statement read.

On Friday, the Waterloo Region District School Board announced it had confirmed that the school closure would include all child care centres, EarlyON and before and after school programs in WDRSB schools.

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On Friday, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University announced they were cancelling all classes for a week while alternative forms of education delivery (such as online) are developed.

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Conestoga College says that most classes are to be cancelled as well.

A growing list of events have also been cancelled in an attempt to avoid an outbreak.

On Wednesday, organizers of the Elmira Sugar Festival announced a cancellation, just days after similar announcements from those behind the True North Festival and Fluxible.

READ MORE: Elmira Maple Syrup Festival cancelled over coronavirus pandemic

Waterloo Public Health has provided Global News with guidelines on what residents are to do if they are concerned they may have contracted the disease. It says that if a traveller returns from a country with COVID-19 and they develop symptoms, they are asked to self-isolate and call public health.

The agency is also asking physicians to call 519-575-4400 when they determine a patient needs COVID-19 testing as it will make arrangements with the patient, doctor and hospital to get it done.

“There likely will be some wait just to let people know it’s quite busy today,” Wang said.

“So we help them assess when did they come back from a certain country, what are their symptoms and things like that,” Wang explained “Then, if we feel that it’s appropriate to have them tested, then we will work with Grand River Hospital or St. Mary’s or Cambridge Memorial to have them tested.”

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She said there have been more than 90 tests conducted in the region since the outbreak began with only the four coming back positive.

“It’s part of the strategy that’s being employed across Canada, which is a containment strategy. To try to make sure that we can detect cases, we can test them and then we can appropriately manage them, usually under self isolation or if they’re if they’re very elderly, would stay in hospital under isolation there,” she said.

“We’re going to have more cases. And our focus needs to be to try to reduce the spread.”

READ MORE: Ontario confirms 17 new COVID-19 cases, including baby boy

Public Health is also warning that those with mild symptoms may experience delays in getting tested as increased demands have forced the agency to prioritize patients.

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Wang released new recommendations on Friday for area residents including limits on gatherings as well as restrictions for travelling and travellers.

“It is my recommendation that all large gatherings of 250 people and all international events be postponed or cancelled. This does not apply to post-secondary institutions and workplaces at this time,” she said.

She also recommended that schools and businesses be flexible in allowing employees and students to work from home.

Wang also warned residents to avoid all non-essential travel.

“Waterloo Region residents should postpone all non-essential travel outside of Canada including to the United States,” she said.

“Returning travellers to Waterloo Region refrain from visiting patients in hospital, visiting long-term care homes or retirement homes, visiting the elderly or those with chronic health conditions.”

Confused about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

Visit full COVID-19 coverage on Global News.

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