Sudbury

Sudbury health unit planning for possible pandemic of COVID-19

Health agencies across the country, including Public Health Sudbury & District, are in planning mode with the COVID-19 virus. At this point the World Health Organization has not declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, but infection numbers continue to grow.

World Health Organization has not declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic, but says there is potential

Public Health Sudbury is into pandemic planning to prepare for the possible arrival of the coronavirus. (Twitter/SudburyPolice)

Health agencies across the country are in planning mode with the COVID-19 virus.

At this point the World Health Organization has not declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic. It is still an epidemic, which means cases can be contained.

But numbers and the countries affected continue to grow, and the WHO says there is potential for this health issue to become a pandemic.

Any public health directive for our country would come from the Public Health Agency of Canada and filter down through each community's local health unit.

"All of us are working to look at how best to prepare should COVID-19 turn into more of a pandemic situation versus what we're facing right now, which is where we're in containment mode," says Dr Ariella Zbar, associate medical officer of health for Public Health Sudbury & Districts.

Dr. Ariella Zbar is the associate medical officer of health for Public Health Sudbury and District. (Casey Stranges/CBC)

Public Health Sudbury & Districts is updating its pandemic plan, which involves working with other local health system partners, including Health Sciences North.

"If that were the case, what do we need to do as public health and what do we need to do with our health system partners to make sure that we are best prepared to limit the disruption to people's lives and to protect the health of the population," she said.

One of the key details in the pandemic plan is how the hospital in Sudbury would deal with the extra patients who may contract the virus and need medical care.

"Looking at reducing the burden on the health care system, so trying to divert more mild cases away from the emergency department so those with more severe acute health care needs get the care they need in a hospital setting," Zbar said.

Updating plan to include details about COVID-19

Sudbury's pandemic plan contains guiding common principles.

"Those haven't really changed much," she said, adding that the document was last used during the H1NI epidemic in 2009.

"[COVID-19] is not an influenza virus, it's a different type of virus than that. We have different considerations that we do have to update given what our organization is able to do, the partnerships that we have and the guidance that is coming from the ministry and the federal agency."

The updates to the plan will also include details about COVID-19.

At this time there are 15 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Ontario, 24 overall in Canada. There are no cases in the Sudbury area.

Zbar reiterates that it's important for people to get accurate information about COVID-19 from credible sources like the World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of Canada and local health units.

Public preparation

Zbar says for the general public, basic emergency preparedness is always a good idea, like having an emergency kit that can support families for a minimum of three days.

"We know some people may not have looked into their cabinet lately to see if they have any non-perishables or either they're expired so it's a good time to look," Zbar said, adding that other suggestions include making a list of important contacts, and having copies of crucial personal documents.

But when it comes to preparing for COVID-19 and the possibility of a pandemic, Zbar says there are a lot of healthy habits we all can incorporate in our lives. Those include washing hands, not touching your face, staying home when you feel sick, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, cleaning high touch surfaces areas.

Some recommendations from Public Health Sudbury & Districts to help prevent the spread of illness. (Supplied by Public Health Sudbury & Districts)

"Hand sanitizer is a good thing to have on hand, it's where soap and water are not available."

However, Zbar says face masks are only necessary for those who are sick.

"If you are well it's not really recommended. If you are unwell on the other hand — you have respiratory symptoms and you want to prevent other people from getting sick it is something that you can consider," she said.

Mass gatherings

Public Health Sudbury & Districts doesn't yet have any specific advice for organizations, clubs, churches or other groups that hold mass gatherings.

"Those are items that we expect to have more guidance on from provincial and federal resources and it's something that we at public health are actively considering as we start to ramp up our planning around pandemic preparedness," Zbar said.

"We will be planning and monitoring as the situation evolves, and please stay tuned."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 16 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca

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