By Jenna Cocullo
A 52-year-old Chatham man has been tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the first confirmed case in the municipality. Just hours later, municipal officials reported a second confirmed case, an 81-year-old woman who had recently travelled to the United States.
Chatham-Kent’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Colby, made the initial announcement Wednesday morning at a joint press conference with the municipality, Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit, and Chatham-Kent Health Alliance (CKHA)
It is believed the man contracted the virus from a Caribbean cruise, not locally, Colby said.
Colby said the man is “doing absolutely fine clinically” and the health unit is dealing with the fallout from this situation such as isolating all his close contacts.
“This is the basis of control in public health when these things happen; get on this early and take a proactive approach,” Colby said.
It is unknown whether the man came in for testing on his own or called beforehand. Once he got tested he was immediately sent home to self-isolate and health officials are in constant communication with him to see how his recovery is progressing.
Municipal officials said CK Public Health was notified Wednesday afternoon by the Ontario Public Health Laboratory of the second positive case of COVID-19.
The individual was admitted to hospital in isolation on March 16 and remains in stable condition.
Public Health staff advised the close contacts of the ill elderly woman to self-isolate at home for 14 days on March 16 as well.
“Having our second positive case does not mean that we are losing this battle at a local level, Colby said. “We had anticipated this virus travelling to our community and we are working to identify and isolate cases and their contacts to break the chain of infection. This is why the closures, bans and directions came when they did.”
Lori Marshall, CEO of Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, said the hospital staff that tested the man are able to continue working, noting that he was safely tested and staff wore the proper safety equipment.
“This is an example of how things went very well,” she said.
Mayor Darrin Caniff, municipal CAO Don Shropshire, and April Rietdyk, general manager of Community Human Services, were also present at Wednesday’s press conference.
All five speakers reiterated the importance of frequently washing our hands, avoid convening in large groups and to create social distancing.
Rietdyk said while most residents were following the messaging, there were still some problem areas where people were gathering, noting the playgrounds have seen 25 children, plus their parents, at one time.
“Delaying the onset of this infection in a significant proportion of the population spreads the need for health services over a long period of time rather than a small fraction that needs acute and intensive care all at once,” Colby said, noting that Chatham-Kent has a higher demographic of seniors which could cause special problems for the health-care system.
Rietdyk said she is working with the library and recreation services for new ideas and options for parents to do with their children.
Marshall reiterated several changes announced to health care and announced some new ones that will allow them to increase capacity.
Effective March 19, the hospital will be declining elective surgeries, outpatient clinics will be closed – with the exception of those related to cancer, chemotherapy, dialysis, infusions and fractures – routine diagnostics for conditions that are not life threatening will be rescheduled and outpatient rehabilitation will cease to operate for the time being.
Marshall said hospital management has been able to reduce the occupancy rate to 90 per cent and these measures will free up even more beds. At the start of the outbreak, they were operating at almost 100 per cent capacity.
“The best thing when all of this is done is that people say we overreacted,” Marshall said.
She added that all patients who these changes affect will be contacted individually over the next several days.
All visitors are restricted from the hospital with exception to labouring mothers, pediatrics and Level 2 Nursery, palliative and critical care, emergency department, and patients those requiring accessibility accommodations, all of whom are allocated one consistent visitor.
Long-term care, group homes and supportive housing have also stopped visitation with the exception of those in palliative care, said Shropshire.
Effective Thursday, CKHA will open a COVID-19 Assessment Centre at 47 Emma St., Chatham in partnership with the Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit.
Hours of operation will be between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. Hours could expand should the need arise. Parking will be provided free of charge during hours of operation for those needing the centre.
Marshall said there would be no satellite assessment centres in nearby communities as the best thing is to keep it close to the emergency room in case there is a need for immediate treatment.
Only those who meet the case definition for COVD-19 will be tested.
Monday night’s council meeting is still on, with options for the public to watch from home said Shropshire, noting that it is important to keep democracy functioning.
He added the provincial government is looking to put legislation in place that would legalize virtual council meetings.
Caniff added that council would only proceed with essential items that need to be approved in order to keep things running.
Provisions are being put in place this week for municipal employees to work from home, in alternate shifts or in various locations such as the library. At any given time they will have up to a couple hundred employees working from home.
Shropshire said with a few of the city’s facilities closed – such as the hockey rinks – staff had been redeployed to provide additional support where needed, such as to the long-term care facilities.