MOH warns against heavy socializing after uptick in virus cases

Cathy Dobson 

Sarnia-Lambton’s medical officer of health says increased socializing, especially close interactions for long periods, is contributing to an uptick in local COVID-19 cases.

“The mixing and mingling of people…is the main source of transmission,” Dr. Sudit Ranade said Tuesday after four new cases were confirmed in 24 hours.

After a quiet month, Sarnia-Lambton jumped from two to 12 active over the past two weeks.

Dr. Sudit Ranade

Ranade said the latest individuals testing positive range in age with no specific group dominating. Some were traced to contact with known cases, but there is no specific event or place behind the uptick, he said.

Unlike some jurisdictions, Lambton Public Health has not released specific geographic information about the county’s 299 total COVID-19 cases. That’s because Ranade is concerned providing even general locations might identify specific individuals and cause “potential harm” to them.

“It’s a big challenge for small health units,” he said. “If we identify one case in a very small community it’s very likely that everyone will know exactly who that person is.”

Identifying a location can also cause those not living there to feel a false sense of security and stop taking the precautions necessary to avoid contracting the virus, he added.

Lambton Public Health issued a news release later Tuesday that confirmed six of the 13 most recent cases are from rural Lambton County.

One case has a possible travel link, two were from close contact with a case locally, and two others from a case outside Lambton.

Three were detected during routine screening of visitors and staff at long-term care facilities.

Since Sarnia-Lambton moved into Stage 3 on July 24 businesses and public spaces are slowly reopening their doors. Indoor gatherings are now permitted to a maximum 50 people and outdoor gatherings to 100.

But everyone needs to remember COVID-19 is still circulating in the community, said Ranade, commenting on Zoom as guest speaker of the Golden K Kiwanis Club.

“We need to think about keeping transmissions manageable…and protecting vulnerable people.”

The science shows the virus is primarily transmitted in water droplets within a short distance of an infected person who is speaking, coughing or sneezing, Ranade said.

“We are pretty sure (transmission on surfaces) isn’t a large source,” he said, adding surfaces in hospitals may be one exception.

He said he doesn’t believe wiping groceries is necessary, “but do it if it makes you feel more comfortable.”

While “very, very promising” vaccine trials have started in humans, he doesn’t believe a vaccine will be available until at least mid-2021.

Meanwhile, the key to managing the virus’ spread is to practice social distancing, good hand hygiene, covering coughs, using a mask when distancing is impossible, and staying home when sick, he said.

Sarnia council has passed a mandatory mask bylaw for public indoor places that goes into effect Friday. The rest of Lambton County has not made masks mandatory but recommends their use.

“Remember, the thinking behind masking is that it’s an additional layer of protection, not a substitute for distancing or staying home when you are sick,” Dr. Ranade said.