5 new COVID-19 cases in Hamilton Monday as officials prepare for steep rise in coming days
'I hope I'm wrong, but I'm prepared for that'
The number of coronavirus cases in Hamilton has climbed to 10 after five new cases were announced Monday, but local medical officials expect the number to grow fast.
Dr. Bart Harvey, associate medical officer of health for the city of Hamilton, said he thinks local coronavirus cases will "go up exponentially."
"I hope I'm wrong, but I'm prepared for that," Harvey told CBC News.
"Other cases are going to pop up, it's not 'if,' we're in the 'when,' I think it's just how many and how fast."
Of the five new cases, Harvey said all are believed to be travel related — and two are parents of the almost three-month-old infected baby whose infection was announced Saturday.
In fact, the baby being identified as a COVID-19 patient came down to luck.
Harvey said the baby was experiencing respiratory issues, which prompted the parents to visit a walk-in clinic. The staff at the clinic sent the parents to a hospital, which by chance included the novel coronavirus in their testing for other viruses.
Harvey adds the family, which had symptoms similar to a "bad flu" hasn't traveled outside the city, but the city is still considering it a travel-related case since it is testing a relative who was out of the country.
But a negative test would change their thinking.
"If they test negative, it wouldn't be consistent with that person having international travel ... the conclusion might be this baby and this family illustrates or may be consistent with community spread and we don't know where they were and who they got exposed to, but we don't have all our evidence in yet," he said.
"The whole notion of COVID-19 didn't register with the family."
Of the 10 cases in Hamilton, Harvey notes they mainly consist of two clusters of more than one member of a family being infected.
"It's a virus that likes close and prolonged contact," he said.
The other three new COVID-19 patients include an adult who travelled to Germany and two other adults who had separate trips to the U.S.
And of the previous five cases, three, including a couple in their 60s, are connected to a Celebrity Summit cruise.
City cuts transit and schedules town hall
The city is hosting a virtual town hall Wednesday to address concerns from the public.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger, emergency services general manager Paul Johnson and Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city's medical officer of health, will provide more updates at the meeting. City council will also meet on Friday.
Johnson said Hamilton Street Railway is reducing bus service to a Saturday schedule starting next Monday, March 23. Sundays will remain unchanged.
"This change is to ensure we can provide predictable and reliable transit service albeit it will be a slightly less frequent service in our community, " he said on Tuesday during a press conference at city hall.
"If we took the chance and then didn't have enough drivers, we would have a haphazard approach to transit ... many people would experience cancellations at the last minute."
The revised schedule will be posted online by Friday and right now, there will be no changes to DART service, though there are fewer riders than normal according to Johnson.
He added the facilities closed over the weekend will be cleaned and sanitized.
In addition to the city implementing three COVID-19 assessment centres today, Eisenberger said the city has received "a number of offers" for additional centres.
"Convention facilities, hotels might be available if there is additional need for hospital space and at this point that doesn't seem to be the case but we're certainly going to keep them on file in case that need arises."
St. Joe's hospitals are also taking precautions.
The hospital network is ramping down elective surgeries and other non-emergent clinical activity while also screening all patients, visitors and staff entering all hospital sites.
The screening will include questions about their health and recent travel.
More cases in Halton and Niagara
The province also confirmed one in Niagara Falls and one in the Halton region. Brantford and Brant County has also seen a jump to 25 suspected cases, although none are confirmed.
Halton's case involves a man in his 30s being treated at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington after a trip to Miami.
Halton Region Public Health said in a release Monday afternoon the man became symptomatic on March 10 and showed up to the hospital on March 14. He was tested in an isolated environment according to Eric Vandewall, president and CEO at Joseph Brant Hospital.
"As per established infection prevention and control protocols, the hospital took all precautions, including testing in an isolated environment with all necessary personal protective equipment," reads the release.
"Halton Region Public Health is actively engaged in contact tracing and case management. The case is self-isolating at home."
Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara region's acting medical officer of health told CBC News the case in Niagara involves a 47-year-old man who travelled to the U.K., France, Netherlands and Switzerland. He returned to Canada in the second week of March and days later, starting experiencing respiratory symptoms.
"[He] called the healthcare provider for advice ... based on that call, considering the symptoms and travel history, it was decided this person was possibly infected with COVID-19 and a time was scheduled for this person to get tested," Hirji said.
The man showed up with a mask and then tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Hirji said the man is in self-isolation. His three family members were the only others exposed according to Hirji and they are also in self-isolation.
The overall risk of infection for locals is still low as most positive COVID-19 cases are travel-related.
"While we continue to see more cases, I want to reassure residents that most individuals who do contract COVID-19 with mild symptoms will recover on their own," Dr. Hamidah Meghani, Halton region's medical officer of health, said in the release.
Brantford and Brant County sees jump in suspected cases
The updated numbers mean there are now three in Niagara and four in Halton.
The Brant County Health Unit, which also includes the city of Brantford, said Monday that it has 25 suspected cases. Previously, it hadn't announced any.
"These cases are being considered probable cases, without lab testing confirmation, as per the Ministry of Health's new directives," the health unit said in a release. "Lab testing has been for ordered for these 25 cases and results are still pending."
As of Monday, the city of Hamilton is also assessing 105 people for the virus.