Almost half of Hamilton's COVID-19 cases are clustered within families

Three cases are a mom, dad and daughter. Six more are related to each other. In Hamilton, as in the rest of the world, COVID-19 hits multiple members of the same family.

Residents can call the police if they see gatherings of more than 50 people, the city says - but not 9-11

A woman walks through scaffolding downtown recently as the city shut down in response to a provincial declaration of a state of emergency. (Evan Aagaard/CBC News)

Six of Hamilton's COVID-19 cases are people related to each other, says a top health official, which boosts the notion that the virus often travels within families.

In fact, about half of Hamilton's 43 COVID-19 cases are clusters of families.

One cluster is a mom, dad and daughter, said Bart Harvey, Hamilton's associate medical officer of health. Several are couples. 

"One of the things we knew right from December out of China is this appeared to be a virus that required close and prolonged contact," he said. 

Harvey wouldn't elaborate Thursday on whether the cases are six members of an immediate family, saying only that they're close enough to spend a lot of time together. To his knowledge, none are in serious or critical condition.

"I would almost guess that at least half of our cases have links to close contacts or family members, with that one family being, at least for us, a bit of an outlier."

Harvey drew the links on Wednesday during the city's second COVID-19 virtual town hall. The city plans to hold them weekly, and translate them into Spanish and Arabic. 

Paul Johnson, director of the city's emergency operations centre, said residents can call police if they see people gathering in groups of 50 or more — but don't call 9-11. Call the main line at 905-546-4925.

Police can charge people under a provincial order for people not to gather in groups of 50 or more, Johnson said. The city is stressing that people in general should keep a two-metre distance between themselves and anyone they don't live with in order to slow the spread and not overload the health care system.

The city has closed Albion Falls because people were gathering in groups there, he said. 

"It is the most disappointing part of this job," he said. "What each and every one of us can do, the some 540,000 of us that call Hamilton home, is pretty straightforward."

Here's the breakdown of COVID-19 cases so far:

  • 2 patients are under age 20.
  • 11 are age 20 to 44.
  • 13 are age 45 to 64.
  • 12 are age 65 to 79.

One case was age 80 — a Heritage Green nursing home resident who died this week. 

Trying to avoid 'a tsunami of sick people'

Of the 39 people, 20 had travelled, 11 were in close contact with someone who had travelled, two acquired the virus in the community and six are pending investigation. 

Eventually, Harvey said, the majority of cases will be from community spread. More residents will get COVID-19 over time and develop immunity, he said. But the health care system can't handle too many patients at once. That's why we have to slow down the spread by keeping a physical distance from each other. 

"What we want to do is elongate the period in which people get sick from this virus," he said. 

In Italy, "they had a lot of people get sick in a short period of time, and their health care system, like our health care system, is finite. By us being able to stretch that out, we can hopefully avoid a tsunami of sick people."

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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