Coronavirus: ‘People should be aware…not alarmed’: Simcoe Muskoka health official

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, orange, emerging from the surface of cells, gray, cultured in the lab. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID-RML via AP

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health, Charles Gardner, says people should be “aware and informed, not alarmed” when it comes to the novel coronavirus.

In a phone interview with Global News Monday, Gardner said he thinks the risk to residents regarding COVID-19 is “about to change.”

“I look at the province, and the province is going through exponential growth in its case,” Gardner said. “The potential — I think it’s on the cusp, and people need to regard it as such.”

The local medical officer of health is recommending that dine-in restaurants and bars close or stop in-person delivery to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.

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“I recognize that these are difficult measures for our local businesses, but these are difficult times and avoiding close interactions with others helps reduce the spread of illness,” Gardner said in a statement Monday evening.

“We are asking people to practice social distancing, which means staying at least two metres distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing — that’s difficult to do in restaurants and bars, social places where people are physically in close proximity.”

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Gardner’s recommendations align with those of Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, David Williams, who urged restaurants and bars to close or maintain takeout operations only. Williams also urged residents to cancel gatherings of 50 people or more.

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On Sunday, two new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s jurisdiction.

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Gardner said the health unit has followed up and taken detailed histories of the two cases that were confirmed on Sunday.

The health unit is investigating after one of the cases, a man in his 70s who is being treated at the Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre in Barrie, Ont., came in close contact with another patient who died on Wednesday.

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“We’re still awaiting outcomes on that,” Gardner said. “If we get something that’s newsworthy and appropriate to release, we definitely will, but at this point, we’re still investigating.”

While one COVID-19 assessment centre opened Monday in Barrie, Gardner said others are getting ready to open.

“It’s certainly difficult to get tested now,” Gardner said. “The demand greatly exceeds availability, and so it is possible that it’s circulating in our community at this moment. We don’t have evidence of that, but it’s possible that we’re missing it.”

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As of Monday, there have been a total of 177 novel coronavirus cases in Ontario.

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