Rising local case counts are fuelling concerns over a second wave of the novel coronavirus in London, Ont., but a local expert is hoping lessons learned in the spring will make a difference this fall.
Still, all residents are urged to follow public health guidelines to help control the spread of the virus.
The Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) declared a community outbreak on Sunday after several Western University students tested positive for the virus, while on Monday, the province recorded its largest case count since early June with 313 cases, mostly in the Greater Toronto Area.
“To be honest, this is not surprising,” said Dr. Saverio Stranges, chair of the epidemiology and biostatistics department at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.
According to Stranges, the reason for the increase is two-fold: an increase in mobility as restrictions are loosened and school resumes, but also an increase in testing capacity.
“We learned from the first wave that in order to mitigate impacts of these infections, it’s extremely important to isolate cases in a very timely fashion, especially to avoid further spread of infection in the community, but also to protect vulnerable population centres.”
UPDATE: The Oakridge location reached capacity for the day at roughly 3 p.m., according to the MLHU. It reopens 9 a.m. Wednesday. #LdnOnt
— 980 CFPL London News (@AM980News) September 15, 2020
The community has also seen a spike in those seeking testing with the Carling Heights COVID-19 assessment centre reaching capacity by 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Oakridge arena location reaching capacity at roughly 3 p.m. Tuesday, and long lines at the testing trailer for students on Western University’s campus.
Mayor Ed Holder said he’s “exceptionally concerned” about the recent increase in COVID-19 diagnoses, though he noted that “the good news is people are getting tested.”
“I think all Londoners need to be concerned about this. It’s absolutely a wake-up call.”
Holder says that the majority of Londoners have been following public health procedures — including physical distancing, proper hand-washing, and use of face masks — but he said that some people appear to believe they’re “invincible” or that the “rules don’t apply to them.”
“Well, sometimes I don’t think you can teach ‘dumb.'”
Holder also said he saw throngs of people outside of bars along Richmond Row over the weekend, packed on the sidewalks “like sardines.”
“Bar owners and restaurant owners, for the most part, are exceptionally responsible, but we’re asking them to take responsibility in terms of those lineups on Richmond Street.”
Holder said that he is concerned about people visiting London with from regions that might have higher infection rates, but said that setting regional restrictions is not his call to make.
“This would be a provincial call,” Holder said, “and this is the premier in consultation with the provincial minister of health and then beyond that, the provincial minister of health does dialogue with the local area medical officers of health like Dr. Chris Mackie in the Middlesex-London Health Unit.”
Indeed, on Monday, Premier Doug Ford warned parts of Ontario could face a return to lockdowns if the province can’t get a handle on increasing rates of COVID-19.
For his part, Stranges wouldn’t rule out the possibility of the province, or sections of the province, moving back to Stage 2, but he also noted that many lessons were learned over the spring and summer.
“We know much, much more as compared to the very early stage of this pandemic, back in March or April. I think we have learned what are important things in terms of the public health recommendations that we’re talking about and also the wider testing capacity should allow our public health infrastructure to detect cases at the very early stage,” he said.
“As long as we’re able to mitigate the community spread within reasonable numbers where the contact tracing is still feasible, then I think, we can keep the status quo going back to new normal in a gradual fashion.”
In an interview focusing on the surgical backlog resulting from initial delays and deferments due to the pandemic, Julie Trpkovski, vice president of clinical services at London Health Sciences Centre, said the hospital is currently preparing for a second wave.
“We know we’re going into Wave 2 and we don’t know what the required response will be within Wave 2,” she said. “But we’re going to be looking to find some balance here to try to keep our surgical volume going across that Wave 2.”
Regardless, public health officials are urging people to stay vigilant, especially heading into the colder months.
“Obviously, we need to avoid that the pandemic or epidemic in our community becomes out of control. That would be the situation with the possibility of going back, in terms of the stages of the economy,” Stranges said.
“Physical distancing is absolutely critical,” Holder noted, “and I think the evidence of how critical it is is in the numbers and the spike that we have seen in London over the last few days.
“I am exceptionally worried about this.”
Dr. Mackie said the declaration of a community outbreak on Sunday is evidence that there is still a risk from COVID-19 in the community.
“We know the temptation to get back together with friends and party is great but it is crucial that we all do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” he said in a statement.
“That means limiting social gatherings, sticking to our social circles, keeping two metres apart and staying home if you feel sick.”
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