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Oshawa grapples with COVID-19

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

It’s been on the minds of many Durham residents lately, and has left the streets of Oshawa, and most recreational buildings, virtually empty.

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, has left Ontario in a state of emergency, and Canada’s borders closed. Ontario itself has now seen 1,966 cases of the virus, with 33 deaths, as of when this article was written.

In Italy, more than 5,000 people have died from the virus, while China has reportedly seen more than 15,000 people lose their lives.

One reason Italy was hit harder than other European countries was due to its average age being higher than most other nations in Europe. Italy’s median age is fifth in the world at 45-and-a-half years old.

COVID-19, while extremely contagious, tends to hit certain groups harder than others, such as seniors and those with a compromised immune system.

Symptoms of the virus include a persistent cough, trouble breathing, and a fever.

But where did it come from? What prompted this new virus to hit the world so hard it literally shut countries down, and has infected more than 500,000 people worldwide? And what can seniors do to protect themselves?

The virus’ first appearance was in Wuhan, China, in the Hubei province, and resulted in the Chinese government shutting down the city, which has a population of more than 11 million people.

COVID-19 is a novel virus, which means it is a virus never seen before, and it is believed it originated in an unspecified animal. This means the virus itself mutated so it could be transferred from animal to human, and then mutated again to transfer from human to human.

The virus first appeared in Wuhan in December 2019, when 27 of the first 41 people hospitalized reportedly passed through a market located in the heart of the city.

From there it spread across the city, and then into the rest of China itself.

Since then, COVID-19 has made its way across the world, infecting more than 500,000 people, and killing more than 25,000 in more than 199 countries and territories.

Countries which have been hit hard since the virus found its way out of China include Italy, Iran, and the United States.

In Durham Region, there are currently 99 reported cases of COVID-19, and four deaths, according to Durham Region’s website at the time of writing. There have also been seven people diagnosed who have recovered.

Speaking with The Oshawa Express, Durham’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Kyle says there is a sea of information out there, and staying on top of it all is impossible.

As for COVID-19, Kyle explains there are a number of different coronaviruses, which all come from animals.

“There are a number of coronaviruses, most cause mild respiratory illness, but there are [a few] that cause more severe disease,” he explains. “So, SARS, MERS-CoV, which is Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, and COVID-19.”

He explains the viruses begin in animals before making their way to humans, and eventually humans pass the virus from one person to another through droplet spreads.

“That means through intimate contact, or through sharing of infected items, that sort of thing,” he says.

Kyle says he isn’t sure what animal COVID-19 initially came from, but the focus is on live animal markets in China, most notably chickens.

“But zoonosis means the virus can circulate within a number of different animals,” he says. “Influenza of course you hear of pigs and swine flu and so forth.”

The three deaths in the region were all in Oshawa, two of which were seniors. The first was a resident at long-term care home Hillsdale Terraces, the second a woman in her 90s with a history of travel, and the third was an employee at a local Superstore in his 40s, with no history of travel.

To keep safe Kyle has a number of recommendations for seniors, and everyone else.

“I would take all of the messaging from public health and others to heart,” he says. “So the importance of social distancing, avoiding gatherings – we’re now down to five people in gatherings outside of home situations. We’re talking about physical distancing, so keeping a minimum of six feet apart if at all possible.”

Kyle also emphasizes hygiene, in particular hand hygiene, especially after going to the grocery store or sharing items.
“Of course, there’s no sharing of food or drink, that sort of thing,” he says.

He notes people should also conduct good “respiratory etiquette,” which means coughing or sneezing into you sleeve.

The Durham Region Health Department has implemented a number of projects and initiatives to help fight the virus, according to Kyle. He explains whenever there is an outbreak, there are well-established outbreak policies and procedures put in place.

This includes coordinating of residents, testing, frontline staff wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), restrictions of visitations to place such as long-term care homes, and more.

“If an outbreak is due to COVID-19, there are measures put in place as directed by the ministry of long-term care, and they relate to not only infection prevention and control measures, but the redeployment of staff using PPE, those sorts of things,” says Kyle.

He notes the region, which operates four long-term care homes, including Hillsdale Terraces, would be subject to the same rules and directives as any long-term care home.

“If they needed assistance with respect to that advice, we as a health department would help interpret the rules, and provide assistance and support as best we can,” says Kyle.

He adds the region is responsible for reporting lab confirmed cases, contacts, and more to the ministry and provincial prevention system.

“So we would do the data entry on our end for all cases of COVID-19, including those from long-term care homes,” he explains.

Kyle hopes those who are quarantining or in self-isolation are following the advice they’ve been given, as well as the advice people have been given in regards to social distancing at home, and outside of the home.

“There is community based transmission, and while you’re at home, of course you don’t want to pass it on to others,” he says. “So, it’s important for all of us to do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 to ultimately relieve the pressure on the acute care system in terms of those who are most at risk for complications, and indeed those who are being hospitalized.”

Ontario is also playing its part to protect seniors, having recently announced $10 million will go towards helping community organizations coordinate subsidized deliveries of meals, medicines and other necessities to seniors.

“I know asking our seniors to stay at home will not be easy as it will mean inconvenience, isolation and significant change in routine. That’s why we are encouraging everyone to reach out and support them, whether it’s delivering their prescriptions or picking up the phone and giving them a call. It will all make a positive difference to our most vulnerable citizens,” says Premier Doug Ford.

Kyle says everyone has their part to play, and it isn’t a sprint, it’s a journey, and it’s going to take weeks to months for the virus to slow down, and for the curve to flatten.

Kyle also notes, for those who are concerned about the virus, or who have questions regarding the situation, there’s a number of resources available.

“There’s a whole host of other measures on, and [],” says Kyle. “I realize that seniors may not have as much access to the web as others, but a focus on respiratory etiquette, hand hygiene, social and physical distancing, and of course if they are confirmed cases and at home, self-isolation, and the same in long-term care settings.”