When residents of Fort McMurray, Alta. are finally given the all clear to return to their homes and start cleaning up from a devastating, once-in-a-century flood, infectious disease experts says they will need to be cautious.
“To have the flood on top of what’s happening with COVID-19 is horrifying in some ways,” says University of Alberta infectious disease professor, Dr. Ameeta Singh. “I’m very hopeful that any further spread of the virus can be mitigated.”
Alberta health officials have put measure in place to reduce the risk of an outbreak during the evacuation. People have been put in hotels and motels, instead of crowded shelter spaces but it’s when the water recedes, and everyone returns to clean up, that experts warn, the risk of an outbreak could rise.
“I think when you cannot maintain the physical distancing, this is where those other measures come in as an absolute critical defense,” said Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious disease professor at the University of Calgary.
Jenne says volunteers will need to use hand sanitizer and wear masks while helping their neighbours recover from the flood.
He also recommends volunteers keep to designated zones so that if an outbreak does happen, it can be contained.
“It’s less likely to move all the way through to community and stay within one cluster of people or one bubble of people”
He said testing will also be important during this time of elevated risk.
Kristy and Andrew Laidlaw are anxious to help their neighbours begin the long clean up and recovery process. The Fort McMurray residents lost their home in the 2016 fire. They had only been in their rebuilt house for 18 months when the water began rising earlier this week.
“(The water) got halfway up our drive way,” Kristy Laidlaw said. “It started to freak me out.”
Fortunately, their house remains safe and dry but many houses in their neighbourhood were flooded.
“We were looking out from our house to see people who have carpet on their second floor that is definitely wet … so we’re counting ourselves as very fortunate,” said Andrew Laidlaw.
Pandemic or not, Kristy Laidlaw believes the people of Fort McMurray will be there for each other.
“People are going to say, Screw it – we need to get this done anyway. People will wear masks and stuff and try to maintain their distance but at some point, what’s more important?”
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