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Homegrown virus expert impressed by Sarnia’s response

Published on

Tara Jeffrey

Sarnia-Lambton’s low COVID-19 counts are a testament to the region’s successful public health measures, says a leading infectious disease specialist and Sarnia native.

“While we are seeing a lot of heat happen in the GTA, other places in Ontario like Sarnia are doing just fine,” Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti told The Journal from Mississauga. “These are areas where it shows that the public health response can work.”

On Monday, Lambton moved from the lowest ‘Green-Prevent’ status under the province’s COVID-19 framework, to ‘Yellow-Protect.’

The change means some modified seating limits at restaurants and bars, and some additional requirements for retail stores, cinemas and performing arts and other facilities. It could also bring more targeted enforcement and fines, Lambton Public Health said.

Until this week, Sarnia-Lambton was the only region in Southwestern Ontario still at the green level.

Nevertheless, local school cases and hospitalizations are low compared to surging numbers in hotspots like Toronto, Peel and York regions caught in the pandemic’s second wave.

As of press time, there had been no outbreaks since early November, and no deaths since June.

“It’s important to highlight that when public health is successful, often times you don’t see anything,” said Chakrabarti, who keeps an eye on his hometown’s numbers.

Chakrabarti’s role as an Infections Disease physician during a pandemic results in multiple media requests a day — from CTV news to the Washington Post. He’s helped pen several articles exploring the virus and its impacts, including a recent Toronto Star piece about the role of Canada’s south Asian community in transmission.

“As much as infectious disease is an important thing, it will be nice when things get better and we’re not talking about this every day,” said the former Errol Road and Northern Collegiate student and married father of two.

Most Sarnia-area residents live in detached homes and that’s been helpful for virus control, he said.

“It’s a lot easier to stick to your own household,” he said. “We also have to remember that when you discover cases — and I know this sounds kind of weird — that’s a success of the system as opposed to a failure,” he added.

“It’s a respiratory virus that people can pass with little to no symptoms, so you’re never going to be able to completely prevent this without a vaccine.”

The goal, he explained, is to respond quickly and break the transmission chain by testing, tracing and isolating.

People in Sarnia know their status can change quickly, he said.

“But at the same time, you can do something about it. Just because it changes it doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you’re going to have a New York City-type situation there.”

When it comes to the stresses of working the frontlines, Chakrabarti said things have come a long way in a few short months.

“At the beginning, when the pandemic was coming at us, I had a lot of worry and anxiety about what’s to come,” he said, pointing to concerns like PPE shortages.

“We now know how to treat these patients better… and we are much more prepared than we were before.

“Right now, I’m just tired,” he added. “I just can’t wait for this to be over.”

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