2nd confirmed case of COVID-19 with connection to Hamilton as city begins to ramp up response

A 52-year-old man has tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a trip to New York City.

A 52-year-old man developed symptoms after returning from New York City

Dr. Bart Harvey and Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger provided an updated on the city's first confirmed case of COVID-19 Thursday. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

A 52-year-old man has tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to Hamilton from a trip to New York City.

He's Hamilton's first confirmed case of the new coronavirus — and the second with a connection to the city.

Meanwhile, institutions across Hamilton have ramped up their response around COVID-19, with Hamilton setting up an emergency operations centre, police working to determine which officers constitute essential personnel and the provincial government shutting down all publicly-funded schools for two weeks following March break.

In other developments locally Thursday:

  • The spouse of a doctor at the Juravinski Cancer Centre who tested positive for COVID-19 does not have the virus.
  • Health officials have contacted a doctor who also worked at the cancer centre, but flew out of the country before she could be told to self-isolate.
  • Testing teams are seeing a surge in requests.
  • Public health is continuing to look at safe assessment sites.

The man in the Hamilton case announced Thursday started to show symptoms and went into self-isolation after being contacted by a colleague who attended the same meeting and became ill with COVID-19. He returned home on March 5 and tested positive five days later, according to associate medical officer of health Bart Harvey.

He's still in self-isolation along with his son and spouse.

Health officials say the man "took appropriate steps" before being tested and the risk of the viruse remains low.

"Our staff are in the midst of working with this individual to determine what their movements were and to identify any individuals that will be asked to go into self-isolation because they had a contact with this individual that could be consistent with the ability to transmit the virus," explained Harvey.

The new new case is not linked to the doctor who was revealed as the city's first confirmed connection to a case of COVID-19 Wednesday, states an HHS memo obtained by CBC.

"All proper isolation and protective procedures were followed," it reads. "There is no risk to staff who were present when the patient was tested."

A woman in her 30s, who works as a radiation oncologist at the Juravinski Cancer Centre, was the area's first positive case of COVID-19.

Health officials said the doctor began to develop symptoms Monday after returning from a trip to Hawaii and interacted with staff and patients before being tested and going into self-isolation. Officials from HHS initially say she had worked with 14 patients that day, but Harvey clarified Thursday that although 14 people were supposed to see her, only 11 showed up for their appointments.

Among the colleagues the physician was in contact that day were three other doctors. Two of them were directed to go into self-isolation, but the third had left the country.

Harvey said staff have since reached that doctor and cautioned her to be "extra vigilant about potentially developing symptoms."

He could not say where the doctor had travelled and noted self-isolation is difficult when someone is travelling internationally.

Test for St. Joe's surgeon negative

The spouse of the doctor who does have COVID-19 works as a surgeon at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, and was also in self-isolation following news his partner had tested positive.

But on Thursday a spokesperson for St. Joe's said his test had come back negative and added an expert with the hospital said "transmission of COVID-19 for an asymptomatic patient with negative test results is extremely unlikely."

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. (U.S. National Institutes of Health/The Canadian Press)

While the doctor who did test positive worked at a Hamilton hospital, she lives in Burlington, so is technically considered a Halton case of COVID-19.

That means the confirmed case revealed in the HHS memo is technically Hamilton's first.

"With the first positive case of COVID-19 confirmed, I would like to ask all community members to stay informed of any updates from Hamilton Public Health ... and continue to practice good hygiene," said Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

He later added the city is focused on providing a "measured response." and said public health is continuing to look at setting up safe assessment sites.

"As things ramp up, it's going to be a heightened concern to make sure testing is done away from hospitals and away from anyone who might be impacted by it," said Eisenberger.

Officials with the city will be meeting daily for updates on the virus and staff have set up a hotline for information about COVID-19: 905-546-2424 ext. 7970.

The infectious disease team has also beefed up its usual staff with 57 more people, many of whom will be working the phones.

But that doesn't mean everyone needs to undergo testing.

A total of 78 people in Hamilton have been approved for testing so far, including the city's first confirmed case. The other 41 residents are still awaiting their results, while 36 have come back negative.

Harvey said those carrying out testing are "feeling the crunch" of a surge of requests for assessment following the first few cases in the region.

"The only people who need to be considered for testing for COVID-19 are people who are symptomatic," he explained. "Part of the challenge is, people are understandably worried, but if people are well and don't have symptoms they will not be tested. We just don't have that many test kits to go around."

with files from Samantha Craggs