Dr. Ian Gemmill, acting medical officer of health for the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU), said in a public meeting on Wednesday that although there are no new cases this week, it is important for everyone to keep in their mind the personal protective measures needed to protect themselves.
Until now, about 4,000 COVID-19 tests have been done in the northwestern region. About 3,000 of those tests have come back, and of those, only 21 were positive.
“We know cases here are low [in northwestern Ontario]. We have a public that understands personal protective measures,” Gemmill said. “I do not see why [family] visits cannot be done if distance measuring rules are followed and kept in consideration.”
But as for making different rules from southern Ontario, to reflect our different infection rate, that’s not possible at this time. The northwestern region cannot open up and lift restrictions even if the positive cases are relatively low because they have to be guided by provincial guidance, Gemmill said.
Gemmill also said he reminds people that the criteria for the tests have been expanded to include those who exhibit at least one symptom, those who have been in contact with individuals who recently travelled and even those who have no symptoms at all. Everyone in Ontario is now eligible to get tested.
If you are having at least one symptom, Gemmill said, it is very important to self-isolate even before getting tested.
In a press release on Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford encouraged people to “please go get a test.”
“Aggressive testing is another tool available to combat this virus,” Kathryn Pierroz, communications coordinator at Riverside Heath Care Facilities, said in an email. “Riverside has received approval from the provincial government to increase its testing capabilities; COVID-19 testing appointments may be scheduled directly through our Assessment Centres.
“To make an appointment directly through Riverside, call (807)274-3261, ext. 4913. No Ontarian will be denied an appointment but appointments must be scheduled,” the press release said. “Drive-thru testing offered in May will continue through the summer months.”
In a town like Fort Frances where fishing is a very popular activity, many of the audience asked Gemmill about whether they can go fishing with their families.
“I know people love to fish because it is the season for it,” Gemmill said. “If you decide to go, do take your precautions. Do not go when you are sick, practise good common sense and respect protective measures.”
Over the past few days and while public health officials continue to stress the importance of staying at home and maintaining physical distancing measures, images from very crowded parks and beaches began to surface the internet.
Henry Gauthier, Riverside President & CEO, said “As we reopen services under a ‘new normal’ status we firmly believe that increased testing of asymptomatic individuals, as a complement to symptomatic testing, is a necessary added precaution to improve our ability to protect the most vulnerable in our society.”
“It is too early to get back to where we were last summer,” Gemmill said. “We’re not finishing, we are just beginning.”