While risks are low for coronavirus, public health officials ready for battle

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SUDBURY – While the risk is very low in the Sudbury-Manitoulin area for anyone getting coronavirus, public health officials are working vigilantly with partners to make sure they are ready should there be any cases of the virus reported. 

“The risk of an outbreak or anyone getting coronavirus is low in Canada, Ontario and the Manitoulin-Sudbury area, as all public health officials are saying,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Medical Officer of Health with Public Health Sudbury District (PHSD) on Tuesday. “Is it impossible? No. We live in a small world with people travelling internationally all the time. We certainly can’t ignore it, but what we need and have done is make sure we are all ready if an outbreak occurs.”

Dr. Sutcliffe acknowledged that coronavirus “is here in Canada, and for sure we all need to be conscious about it and keep ourselves informed, updated through credible sources and educated on the virus. We all need to be conscious about this virus, but I am more concerned with those who are raising fears and panic unnecessarily. It is critical that people look to credible sources for your information and updates.”

“And I will give the usual advice we always give as public health officials, that if you are experiencing respiratory symptoms, stay home; if you are sick, wash your hands, cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze and cough so you don’t infect other people; drink plenty of fluids; and get your flu shot,” continued Dr. Sutcliffe. She pointed out there is one confirmed case of coronavirus in Toronto at this point, “and our colleagues in Toronto are working very hard to make sure the virus does not spread. The virus could mutate and become more virulent,” but she noted at this stage, a person will not be at risk if they have not travelled to the Wuhan area in China or been in contact with someone who has travelled there and is now ill.

The Toronto patient had visited the Wuhan area and returned to Canada with his wife on board a flight from China. Wuhan, China is where the strain of the virus, which has claimed more than 100 lives, first circulated. The man’s wife was also presumed to have caught the bug and is at home in isolation awaiting results of a diagnostic test.
Dr. Sutcliffe was at a meeting on Monday of the Greater Sudbury Control Group—a leadership team for emergency planning, to make sure everyone is ready in case of an outbreak. PHSD also met late last week with clinical providers and education officials to ensure they have good lines of communication and are accessing the same sites for valid and credible information and could take action quickly if anything needed to take place.

“The role of public health, municipalities, EMS, of all stakeholders is to be responsible and prepared if necessary,” stated Dr. Sutcliffe. “PHSD would activate emergency response immediately if something happens. We are ready as is the health system, and all stakeholders. There are a lot of unknowns with this virus but we don’t want people to be overrun with fear that they are going to get coronavirus.”

Dr. Sutcliffe told the Recorder there is a process in place to confirm that someone has the virus. “It’s a swab that goes down the back of your nose into the back of your throat. The sample is then sent to the Public Health Ontario laboratory in Toronto is also sent to the national microbial lab in Winnipeg for confirmation.”

She emphasized PHSD is being told the risk for Ontario residents is low, and said she believes this to be the case. She recommended that those people that haven’t been immunized for the flu should do so. Symptoms of the coronavirus can be quite similar to those associated with flu and colds, with a fever and/or cough, along with difficulty breathing.

For more information on the coronavirus and how to reduce your chance of getting the illness and spreading it, visit www.phsd.ca.