By John Swartz
We have a pandemic in play. The word is not synonymous with panic and in the words of Douglas Adams – Don’t Panic!
At the moment, authorities, the province in our case, have closed schools. There is a simple reason for this, which parents and teachers know all too well, if you want a bug to spread go to school. This closing measure is common sense because the COVID -19 virus is spread person to person through direct contact with other people (especially coughing into the open air), or the things they have touched. Airborne transmission appears to be possible within a 6 foot range according to health authorities.
Researchers have only recently been able to grow cultures of the virus, so any information about how long the virus can survive in the wild is unproven. However according to CTV News a new study indicates the virus could be detected –
“Airborne for up to three hours. On copper, the study found the virus could be detected for up to four hours, up to 24 hours on cardboard and two to three days on stainless steel and plastic.”
It is recommended to first clean surfaces like tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks, and other things people frequently handle, then disinfect with cleaning products containing quaternary ammonium, or hydrogen peroxide (recommendation is to let disinfectant sit for 10 minutes on surfaces to be effective). And of course follow already well publicized methods like frequently washing hands, etc.
The cleaning and disinfecting routine has been stepped up in City of Orillia facilities.
“A few days ago our environmental services began enhanced cleaning procedures, especially the high touch areas, the surface areas because that’s how this thing moves. TOK Transit are cleaning the buses with commercial disinfectant each night, as well drivers throughout their shift are disinfecting very high touch points such as railings and handles,” said Mayor Steve Clarke on Friday. The Orillia Public Library is included in the increased measure.
“The City custodian is doing enhanced stuff,” said Orillia Public Library CEO, Suzanne Campbell. “The staff are doing it as well. They are wiping down desks and tables and are providing wipes for people to wipe down things if they want to.” Those things are happening during opening hours. Overnight cleaning has been amplified. Think of it as a thorough spring cleaning – every night.
Clarke told SUNonline/Orillia senior staff met Friday to figure out exactly what the municipal response to provincial advice is going to be.
“We had a meeting with Brent Thomas who is our fire chief. He’s also the head of our emergency control group and he’s in constant contact with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU), Soldiers’ Memorial and with County of Simcoe Emergency Preparedness committee, so those conversations are ongoing,” said Clarke.
“We’re taking – kind of unlike what we’ve seen south of the border – we are taking our lead from the science and data driven situation directly from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and with the Ontario branch of the same and what they’re recommendation right now is if there’s a gathering of more than 250 people, the recommendation is we do not go ahead with that and we are going to comply with that.”
While the library remains open, management has taken some additional steps.
“We’re cancelling all our children’s (and youth) programs until April 6. We’re also cancelling one on one tech help. We’re also putting away most of our manipulatives for children, Lego and things like that,” said Campbell.
The Opera House had a number of events scheduled over the next few weeks.
“Most of our events, if they are not happening, they have been postponed,” said general manager Wendy Fairbairn. The time frame for postponements is to April 30, which means the Orillia Silver Band’s 70th anniversary concerts won’t happen as planned (there will now be a single performance on Sunday, November 1st, 2020 at 3:00 p.m.) There are other events affected and Opera House staff have already contacted some ticket holders and will continue to as soon as rescheduled dates have been made.
At the moment, productions like Mariposa Arts Theatre’s Rabbit Hole taking place in the smaller, 100 seat Shilling Theatre, are still on the schedule. Other programs in municipal facilities are also still operational.
“With other programming with smaller numbers are going to go ahead at the moment. We’ll have messaging and screening in place because if somebody fits some of the criteria that may not pass a COVID-19 screening, they will unfortunately not be able to participate in those things,” said Clarke.
The screening will be done by staff as people enter, following a questionnaire provided by the SMDHU. Some people may be asked to return home.
“Very nicely of course,” said Clarke. The City will adapt as things change.
“Right now it’s actually still such a very low risk area. That is subject to change and I suspect that is exactly what’s going to happen over the next days and weeks,” said Clarke.
“All these plans could change today, they could change tomorrow, they could change in a week. It all depends on how quickly the COVID-19 comes into this area. It is real, it is on its way, it is spreading and yet thankfully we are in a period of low risk, so there is no reason for alarm, but I would certainly say there is reason for concern.” (See last paragraph)
The SMDHU is for the moment the central clearing house for statistics and information.
“Corona virus, like many diseases, it’s a reportable disease. That means if a test comes back positive it’s reported to the medical officer of health. That’s the trigger for us to become involved,” said SMDHU media coordinator Kathy Dermott.
“We do all the case work, For example, someone goes in, they test positive, then we are the people who do all the contact tracing, find out where they’ve been, where they came from, where they may have come in contact with people, if they have people at home, that sort of thing.”
As of Saturday, today, there are no cases in Orillia, and there has been no change in the region and the confirmed infected count stands at one Barrie area case.
The SMDHU does have enforcement powers in many areas of public health and Dermott was not sure where they would stand if for example the powers of the Quarantine Act were invoked. A reading of the Act indicates local health authorities will have a great deal of power, but
“It’s a provincial decision. We’re a part of the public health system, let’s put it that way. If you looked at the press release that came out yesterday (Thursday, Re: school closings), it gives you an idea of how things happen. They make their decision. It’s a formal process,’ said Dermott.
A number of questions were sent Friday to Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital by SUNonline/Orillia on the advice of their director of communications. No response has been received. If and when it is received, SUNonline/Orillia will proved the information requested.
One of those key questions was about what people should do regarding testing. Other authorities suggest most people with mild symptoms should not be too concerned about getting tests, unless they are in a high risk group. The criteria establishing who should be tested and when are here.
Mayor Clarke has been consulting with health officials regarding what people should do and said, “If you find yourself with some of the symptoms of the virus, don’t rush into emerge, don’t rush into your primary caregiver, but call and they will give you direction on what to do and where to go.”
Dermott also said the SMDHU issued a press release two weeks ago advising people to gradually (key word) build up a two week supply of house hold items, which in no way could be interpreted to mean buy up all the toilet paper to get you through to next year, or any other items for that matter. In fact, SUNonline/Orillia could find no information anywhere recommending stocking up on anything beyond a two week supply of necessities. Life will go on, grocery stores and pharmacies will continue to be replenished, but empty shelves for key items, as has been reported to SUNonline/Orillia already, leaves many people high and not-so-dry who are just looking to replace items they’ve run out of.
Relying on good information rather than rumour, is the most important trait people can exhibit right now.
“People should always look for accurate, current and credible sources of information. The ministry of health has a dedicated web page (and here), and the (federal) government website as well, and of course our website,” said Dermott.
The City of Orillia also has a web page with up to date information. As mentioned only programs where 250 or more people are expected to participate are postponed or cancelled, however the Waste Water Treatment plant, both fire stations and the City’s operations center on James Street are closed to the public.
Mayor Clarke said the emergency response team comprised of all local agencies wil be meeting next week to review plans in order to be prepared if the situation changes. The City has thick binders outlining responsibilities and actions to be taken in the event of several kinds of emergencies.
“We learned some lessons from the province, from the country and around the world, so readiness measures in our manual have all been informed by those experiences,” said Clarke.
“By all professional accounts, it’s on its way. It’s going to hit us. The degree to which we can be prepared and mitigate how hard and how fast it hits us will be the success.”
Just as publication was to occur, the City issued an update – “the City of Orillia is cancelling its March Break camps and closing the Orillia Public Library effective March 15, 2020 until further notice. All City recreation programming is also being suspended until further notice. All families enrolled in March Break camps and recreation programs will be notified directly by email.”
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia: Supplied)