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Now is a critical time to keep up physical distancing measures, health officials say

The medical officer of health for Sudbury and district says people need to “dig deep” in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Penny Sutcliffe said she understands the efforts and sacrifices residents have made to keep the virus from spreading — but now is not the time to let up.

She compared they city’s current status to the Wednesday of a work week.

“We’ve gotta … dig deep. Make sure that we maintain those measures, maintain the distance, work remotely, only go out if it’s essential, keep our two metres [apart],” she said.

“It really is the maintenance of that right now. It’s difficult, it’s hard, but we really must make sure that we keep that up right now.”

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe is the Medical Officer of Health with Public Health Sudbury and Districts. (Submitted by Public Health Sudbury and District)

Sutcliffe said she trusts provincial public health officials who will be making decisions about relaxing some measures that are currently in place, but noted it’s hard to go back once they are loosened.

“I think it’s hard to put the lid back on when measures are [removed]. All of our provincial counterparts, and at the national level also, are thinking really carefully about that. We cannot act too soon to release those measures.”

Sutcliffe said she suspects any new provincial guidelines and directions will allow for some local flexibility.

“Ontario isn’t just one homogeneous province. We have multiple outbreaks or situations occurring across this province. I think that [steps taken] to relax any of the of the public health measures that have been in place to prevent COVID-19 need to take that into account. What exactly that will look like we really don’t know at this point in time.”

Protecting yourself means protecting others

Sudbury long term care home Pioneer Manor announced its first case of COVID-19 on Sunday, April 26. Extensive testing and research is now underway to determine the virus’s impact.

“With regards to Pioneer Manor and all the testing that has been done there, I’m not worried about that institution,” Sutcliffe said.

“I am in general very worried about our long term care homes and our vulnerable populations of people in long term care homes, and people who are older living in the community. So [we need to] make sure that we’re protecting ourselves but also protecting our older population.”

She noted that the health unit is “pouncing” on every lab-confirmed case that’s reported to them.

“We do a complete investigation to understand where they might have been exposed, and to also understand if they have any close contacts that need further direction about testing or about self-isolation, depending on the circumstances.”

‘We have to move in lockstep’

Dr. Jennifer Loo of Algoma Public Health said it’s imperative people keep up their efforts to “slowing the curve.”

“This is good news because it tells us that all those measures that we’ve put in place, the closures, the strict rules … they’ve been working [and] they’ve been working as intended,” Loo said.

“That’s because everyone’s been pitching in and doing their part. So the important thing now is … to keep on doing it, because we don’t actually want just to plateau at a very high level of cases.”

She said they want to see numbers [of cases] go down before restrictions are loosened.

“Overall rates are not necessarily as high as some of the larger cities with denser populations, but that doesn’t mean it will automatically stay that way. What happens to the spread of the virus is really dependent on our actions,” Loo said.

“We may not be control able to control what the virus does [but] we can absolutely control our own actions. People across our communities have been stepping up in tremendous ways.”

When it comes to businesses and opening up the economy, Loo said it should be “very carefully planned out, based on information.”

“It can’t happen piecemeal … it can’t happen just in northern Ontario or just in a particular city. And that’s because the virus does not respect borders. People move, the virus doesn’t,” she said.

“We have to move in lockstep and we, at the local level, look forward to working very closely with the provincial public health experts — as well all other sectors — to carefully look at the information, so that when that strategy does get rolled out … it is safe and appropriate.”

The medical officers of health for Sudbury-Manitoulin and Algoma joined us to talk about the latest on COVID-19 and the new numbers in the region. 16:01

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