Kitchener-Waterloo

No large gatherings in Waterloo region, testing for coronavirus to change, health officials say

The region's acting medical officer of health is recommending any events of more than 250 people be postponed or cancelled. As well, the region will now only test people who need to be hospitalized, health care workers or those in long-term care or retirement homes.

Ezra street gathering 'a significant risk to the health and safety of our residents'

Signs like this one are posted at municipal buildings throughout Waterloo region reminding people on how to stop the spread of germs during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Large gatherings of 250 people or more need to be postponed or cancelled and the region is changing how it will test people for the coronavirus, acting medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang said Friday.

The province updated its recommendations for testing late Thursday night, which changes of testing for the region, Wang said during a press conference.

Testing will be prioritized for people who need to be hospitalized or for certain groups, including health care workers and people living in long-term care or retirement homes.

Testing is no longer being recommended for people who develop a cough or fever and have travelled to an affected area.

"They will still need to remain at home in self-isolation until such time as they are no longer symptomatic for 24 hours," a release from the region said.

The region currently has four confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Health officials also noted they are receiving a high number of phone calls about the coronavirus. They've increased staffing to help deal with the influx of calls and plan to add more "as quickly as possible."

No large groups, don't travel

Wang also made recommendations that echoed ones made earlier in the day by Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.

They include:

  • Large gatherings of 250 people or more be cancelled or postponed. This doesn't apply to post-secondary institutions and workplaces "at this time." Instead, post-secondary institutions and workplaces are being encouraged to increase flexibility for their students and workers including work from home options.
  • Residents should postpone all non-essential travel outside of Canada, including to the United States.
  • Returning travellers to the region should not visit people in hospital, visit a long-term care or retirement home or visit seniors or people with chronic health conditions.
  • Children who travel outside the country cannot return to school, daycare or camps for 14 days.
  • People returning from Hubei Province in China, Iran and Italy are to self-isolate for 14 days from the date of their return.
  • Returning visitors from all other countries, including the United States, self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days.
Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang is Waterloo region's acting medical officer of health. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Ezra street party

Wang also said people should not attend the unsanctioned Ezra street gathering on Tuesday. The annual celebration of St. Patrick's Day often draws thousands of young revellers to the street on March 17.

"This uncontrolled party was already a significant risk to the health and safety of our residents. It is even more so now," the region's release from Wang said.

"I am asking people not to put their own health or those essential resources at risk. Please do your part in helping to protect our community."

Waterloo regional police Chief Bryan Larkin also called for people to stay away from the Ezra gathering during a separate press conference on Friday.

Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky also issued a statement Friday afternoon saying it's time for the "silent majority of students ... to show their inner leadership on the outside" and speak out against the gathering.

Jaworsky urged students to stay home and focus on their studies.

"Don't go to Ezra Avenue. Period. The gathering is illegal and dangerous. It poses significant health risks and the spread of COVID-19 is a very real concern," he wrote. "Students were accepted into our great post-secondary institutions because of their smarts. Now is the time to show parents, family and friends that you have real 'street smarts.'"

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