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Lambton Public Health warns of climbing COVID-19 transmission in region

The Bluewater Bridge spanning the St. Clair River connects Sarnia Ontario, Canada, to Port Huron Michigan, USA.
The Bluewater Bridge spanning the St. Clair River connects Sarnia Ontario, Canada, to Port Huron Michigan, USA. Getty Images

Lambton Public Health is reporting seven more people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of Friday morning, leading to two outbreak declarations.

Public health says there are also several potential exposures within schools that are not being declared as outbreaks but have resulted in a significant amount of people needing to be isolated.

Read more: Ontario reports 712 new coronavirus cases, 9 more deaths

It’s a large jump from the one or two cases reported every couple of days between Aug. 17 and Oct. 13.

“What the main message here is … where once upon a time months and months ago, we would have had six or seven cases and many of them would have had very limited exposures. Now, because more and more things are open, you see more and more potential contacts for any given case because people are doing more things,” explained medical officer of health Dr. Sudit Ranade.

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“We are also recognizing over time, through our investigation, that many of these cases are linked to each other through social networks and connection.”

As of Oct. 15, 2020, Lambton Public Health had recorded a total of 358 cases in the region since the pandemic began.
As of Oct. 15, 2020, Lambton Public Health had recorded a total of 358 cases in the region since the pandemic began. via Lambton Public Health

Ranade is urging people to reduce unnecessary social contact and limit “the non-essential things that you do.”

“Having said that, we also want people to be open with public health when we call them. When we call you where it’s not really punitive focus, we do really want you to tell us the things that you’ve been doing.”

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The outbreaks involve a long-term care facility and a workplace. Lambton Public Health says more details on the long-term care home will be provided to the public once the facility completes its notification process while workplaces are only named if it will help identify more contacts that cannot otherwise be determined through contact tracing.

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Lambton Public Health says one confirmed case is tied to Bright’s Grove Public School in Sarnia. The health unit did not specify if it involved a staff or student. The province also lists a case at Colonel Cameron Public School in Corunna involving a student.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley says he has serious concerns heading into the winter months.

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“Our caseload went down significantly and we hadn’t had any new cases for a week, people thought the COVID was over: ‘It’s okay. We don’t need to do this anymore. We don’t need to mask up and do all that.’ This is gonna be a long, long battle and it’s going to have its highs and lows,” he said.

“Because, as you know, we entered COVID in March. So we didn’t have all those dynamics that come with the winter months in Canada about being enclosed and limiting what people can do. So I think it’s going to be a real struggle in the months ahead for all levels of government to keep the public engaged and not doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”

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Read more: Coronavirus: What you can and can’t do in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa under Ontario’s modified stage 2

Now that hot spot areas like the Greater Toronto Area and Ottawa have entered a modified Stage 2, Bradley is raising concerns about people travelling from those regions to Sarnia. In particular, he says he’s heard concerns from driving instructors and others who’ve raised complaints about people coming from out of town for their driver’s test.

Bradley’s urging the province to temporarily prohibit those from out of town coming to the city to take a driver’s test.

“It’s been going on for, I think, a considerable period of time. It wasn’t really a big concern,” he says.

“What’s developed with Toronto last Friday and that area going back into the second stage, that other process is still happening here. People are coming down here from Brampton, Peel, that area and taking their driver’s test. There’s a couple of reasons, even before what’s going on with COVID. One is it’s easier to get a testing time and two, it’s a lot easier to drive in the streets of Sarnia than it is in probably Brampton or Peel. But it has become a real concern.”

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He also says that when people from outside of the community book appointments to take a test in Sarnia, they’re taking slots away from people within the community who require a test, though his main concern remains the potential transmission of the coronavirus.

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“As a matter of fact, the last 24 hours here, the COVID cases have spiked in Sarnia,” he said.

“The last thing we need to do is bring people down here to take driver’s tests who are not coming from an area that is even anywhere near the stage that we are. We’re in Stage 3 and we’ve been making progress. We’re having some setbacks now. But we do not need people coming in from Stage 2 into this community for something that is not essential.”

Read more: York Region moving to ‘modified Stage 2’ amid spike in coronavirus cases

Regardless of whether people have travelled between Sarnia and the GTA, for example, or if they’ve failed to limit non-essential visits and activities, Ranade stresses that it’s important that people be honest in interactions with public health teams.

“(The) technical kind of term that we use is ‘social desirability bias.’ When we ask people questions, you tend to get answers that people feel like you want to hear,” he explained.

“The problem is that it just hampers our ability to get in touch with contacts. That’s really the key. We need to know where people have been and what they’ve been doing so that we can access the risk and that we can identify potential exposures so that we can contact people who may have been exposed. And based on the risk, either isolate them or ask them to monitor themselves for symptoms.”

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