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Officials say local health system ready for coronavirus

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Troy Shantz & George Mathewson

Health workers in Sarnia-Lambton are prepped and ready to deal with the novel coronavirus if and when it arrives, officials say.

Resources are in place to test suspected cases, and Bluewater Health managers have reviewed pandemic plans with airtight isolation rooms ready in the event of quarantine, said Shannon Landry, the hospital’s chief nursing executive.

“We’re prepared every day for infections within the organization, and in particular for pandemic infections or an increase in infections.”

Lambton’s medical officer of health, Dr. Sudit Ranade, said public health is in constant communication with provincial health partners.

As of Monday morning, Canada had 62 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 31 cases in Ontario.

“The provincial and national risk levels are being described as low. That would also apply to Lambton County,” Ranade said. “But it’s important to recognize that the situation continues to evolve.”

Concern about COVID-19 remains high locally. Some residents are cancelling overseas travel plans, and at many city stores stocks of hand sanitizer, wipes and masks are gone or nearly so.

The best prevention is to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and maintain distance from sick people, health officials say.

The procedures Bluewater Health has in place for influenza apply to suspected novel coronavirus cases, Landry said.

Patient screening considers coughs, fever, shortness of breath, and recent travel history, she said.

“Have you travelled to China or Iran, or any of those cities that you see in the news? If it’s yes to those questions, and they have symptoms, there’s a whole process that happens right away.”

Hospital workers are outfitted with personal protective equipment, the individual placed in an airtight isolation room, and a blood sample is sent to Toronto for testing.

If the sample indicates a presumptive case, it’s sent for confirmation to a government lab in Winnipeg. The process takes 24 hours or less.

Bluewater Health, like many Ontario hospitals, is already at or over 100% patient capacity much of the time. Should Sarnia experience an outbreak of COVID-19, patient discharges would be expedited to free up more beds and staff resources, Landry said.

“It’s a disease that is very unpredictable. We are obviously talking about it, obviously preparing for it with all of the processes we have in place,” she said.

“We’re not immune, but at this point in time we are at low-risk.”

Lambton Public Health is advising employers and businesses to be ready to protect their workforce with preventative measures. They include providing access points for hand hygiene, disinfecting surfaces, and social distancing, including staying home when sick.

People who contract the virus may show few or no symptoms, said Lambton Public Health supervisor Lori Lucas.

“You may not know you have symptoms of COVID-19 because they are similar to cold or flu,” she said.

Fever, coughing, difficulty breathing and pneumonia can take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to the virus.

For more, visit LambtonPublicHealth.ca.

Worldwide, 108,00,000 cases and nearly 3,700 deaths had been reported in more than 80 countries at press time.

In China, the epicenter of the outbreak, the death rate among individuals age 50 and younger has been less than 1%. The risk rises for the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions.

The mortality rate for those 80 and older was estimated at about 15%.

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