By Mike Williscraft
Buckle up Niagara West, you are in for a bumpy ride.
Municipalities have hunkered down closing facilities and cancelling all programming. Community groups have followed suit as pretty much every event – from historical society meetings to Legion annual general meetings
Panic buying started at varying points last week with local grocery store shelves being picked clean in a matter of hours, while some locations saw regular traffic flows and buying habits.
No matter who or where you are, every resident and business owner has felt the impact of a virus which has still only afflicted three people in Niagara Region.
That third patient – according to Niagara Public Health – is recovering at home in self-isolation. The patient had interacted only with his immediate family during the time he may have been contagious, and has not exposed anyone in the community. All protocols were followed by health care providers resulting in no exposure of themselves or other patients.
“As we continue to see growing COVID-19 cases around the world, we expect to continue to see travel-related cases in Niagara,” said Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara’s acting medical officer of health.
“However, we are not seeing any local circulation of the virus, and so our risk remains low. Everyone should feel comfortable continuing with their daily activities, but taking reasonable measures to reduce their risk with hand hygiene and social distancing.”
Contact Niagara Region Public Health and Emergency Services by calling 905-688-8248 ext. 7019 or toll-free 1-888-505-6074 if you have a fever, new cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and any of the following:
• Travelled outside of Canada in the 14 days before onset of illness;
• Close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19;
• Close contact with a person with acute respiratory illness who travelled to affected areas within 14 days prior to their illness onset;
According to Hirji, the best way to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19 is to:
• Avoid all non-essential international travel, as recommended by Provincial and Federal health authorities;
• Wash your hands often with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand rub;
• Practice social distancing by avoiding unnecessary close interaction with others (e.g. shaking hands, deferring events);
• Stay home if you’re sick;
• Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve;
•Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces daily. Use a disinfectant and follow manufacturer’s instructions;
•Call ahead if visiting your health care provider for infectious symptoms so they can plan to protect others from spread.
Tuesday morning, Premier Doug Ford announced the declaration of a State of Emergency for the Province of Ontario declaring closure of bars and restaurants, except for take-out options.
“This is not a provincial shutdown. I repeat this is not a provincial shutdown,” said Ford, noting it vital all supply chains remain intact.
Emergency services – pharmacies and hospitals – will remain open as will grocery stores.
As residents seek refuge in the safety of their own homes, the impact has been immediate across all business sectors.
“On Tuesday, the Provincial Government declared a state of emergency. These rapidly changing and uncertain times call for unprecedented measures to ensure the continued safety of our residents and staff,” said Grimsby Mayor Jeff Jordan.
“This is our first priority. Grimsby and its citizens have always rallied around community with compassion since our founding in 1790. As well, our local businesses are the lifeblood of our town and need to be supported. We need to endure these troubled times with compassion, intelligence and the realization that we are all in this together. With this attitude and action our community will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever.”
West Lincoln Memorial Hospital has also felt the impact and Hamilton Health Sciences has implemented a series of policy changes to help cope with the situation.
Some items HHS has implemented include:
• Actively screening all patients;
• Putting in place measures to limit access/entry points to hospital sites, as well as screening everyone coming to those sites, including staff and physicians, starting this week. Details will be shared ASAP;
• There are strict visitor guidelines in place in order to reduce the number of people at sites;
• A phased implementation to wind down non-urgent, elective surgeries, and non-urgent, ambulatory programs and services. Some programs have already paused service, including the Autism Program, Developmental Pediatrics and Rehabilitation, as well as some elective surgeries and cancer screening;
• Patients will be notified directly if their care is affected;
•Two Assessment Centres opened in Hamilton today. Visits are by appointment only for people with a referral by their doctor or Public Health;
• All staff and physicians returning from travel outside Canada are being directed to contact HHS Employee Health Services for instruction;
•Travel between sites is limited to ONLY what is required to support patient care or necessary hospital business, and;
•All learner placements are temporarily suspended until further notice (exception: medical clerks, medical residents, clinical fellows, essential research learners).
HHS has also adjusted its visitation guidelines.
The following changes are now in effect:
• Any family member /caregiver who has tested positive for COVID 19 and/ or is symptomatic will be restricted from visiting. All patient lounges, and common rooms will remain closed. If a family member/caregiver is not in the patient room, with the patient they will need to leave the hospital.
• Visiting hours are restricted to 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
• One family member/caregiver is permitted to visit at a time. The visitor must leave the hospital before another visitor can come.
•Family members/ caregivers under the age of 18 will not be permitted in inpatient areas except under special circumstances.
• The patient will identify the family member/caregiver(s) who will be permitted to visit.
Emergency Departments/Ambulatory Clinic Areas
• One family member/caregiver (over the age of 18 years) can accompany the patient, except under special circumstances.
• Exceptions to the above policy will be made in situations involving trauma, end of life and/or a major surgical procedure.
• Additional requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the Clinical Manager/delegate overseeing the area.
With the constantly changing guidelines and protocols issued by all levels of government and businesses themselves, Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton said patience is key.
“This is a time to show compassion for one another, to lead with courage, make tough calls and support our neighbours,” said Easton.
“We will rebound, but our focus right now is on the health and well-being of our local community.”
All Town of Lincoln facilities have been closed to the public until April 5, effective 10 p.m. March 17, including: Town Hall; Fleming Centre; Lincoln Public Library; Lincoln Museum & Cultural Centre; Lincoln Community Centre; Jordan Arena; Lincoln Rescue Fire Stations will not be open to the public – fire response will continue as it is an essential service, and; uLinc will be suspending operations starting Wednesday, March 18, 2020, until April 5, 2020.
The Town of Grimsby activated its Emergency Operations Centre March 12. Since that time the team has held multiple meetings, and will continue to do so throughout the COVID-19 event, said Mayor Jordan.
Some key actions that have been taken to date include:
• All municipal facilities are closed to the public until April 5/20
• All municipal staff that are full time and permanent part time are continuing with their work.
• Staff have been given resources for enhanced hygiene practices to help ensure a safe work place.
• Staff are continuing to provide municipal services through phone calls, emails, one-on-one appointments, online systems etc..
• Notices have been posted at all facilities, with a number to call for assistance.
•At this time municipal service levels remain unchanged, with the exception of course of leisure services. All leisure services have been postponed until April 5/20
•As a result of programming changes and decisions from hockey associations the West pad and East pad ice at the Peach King Centre are currently being removed.
•All programs that hold permanent space with the Town of Grimsby have chosen to close to the public including FORT, Grimsby EarlyON, Historical Society and the Niagara Region Seniors Day Program.
West Lincoln’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) is active in response to the spread of the COVID-19 virus and moving forward on the best measures to protect the health of the public and staff, says West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma.
As a precautionary measure to ensure continued containment of the virus the Township has enacted disinfection efforts at Township facilities, and will enact a series of closures including programs and camps. Effective at 8 a.m., March 14, until and including April 5, 2020, the following facilities were closed to the public: West Lincoln Community Centre; Smithville Public Library; Caistorville Public Library; Caistor Community Centre (Abingdon Hall); Silverdale Hall; Wellandport Hall, and; Wellandport Public Library.
“Overall I’ve been very pleased to see how the residents in West Lincoln have responded to the unfolding situation. I’ve visited stores and talked to retailers observing civil calm and responsible behaviour. I’m really liking that,” said Bylsma.
“The township staff are doing their part to protect the public but at the end of the day this will be a matter of personal response for which we all will give some accounting when the crisis passes. I have great trust in the neighbours.”