Health officials urge Thunder Bay residents to act as if COVID-19 is in the city
Nearly 300 people have been tested for COVID-19 in the city, 163 tests have come back negative
City of Thunder Bay and public health officials continued to urge city residents to follow protocol when it comes to limiting the spread of COVID-19 in a press conference on Thursday.
Dr. Janet DeMille, medical officer of health with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, said there are still no confirmed cases of the virus in the city, and nearly 300 tests for the virus have been completed in the area.
"We have, thanks to a number of assessment centres and the community paramedic program, good access to putting people through to testing," she said.
According to DeMille, as of 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 163 tests have come back negative while the rest are pending.
DeMille said testing is being prioritized for people and groups who are more likely to have COVID-19.
"We're also targeting particular high risk groups where it would be important to identify a case in that group, and reduce any ongoing transmission to a vulnerable population," she said
DeMille added that health care providers and residents in long term care homes are considered high priority groups.
"So while we seem to be in a relatively good situation though right now in northwestern Ontario and in the Thunder Bay area, I think it's important to recognize and acknowledge what's happening around us ... that there are increasing case numbers and that there is increasing community spread."
DeMille said that despite there being no confirmed cases in the Thunder Bay area, because the virus continues to spread elsewhere residents should be putting all the measures in place "as though COVID-19 were actually here already."
Dr. Stewart Kennedy, COVID-19 incident manager from the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, joined DeMille and City Manager Norm Gale at the press conference on Thursday, and underlined the importance of protecting healthcare workers and the community during the pandemic.
"This is the greatest health crisis we have faced in over a century and that's why we're taking our job very seriously," he said.
Kennedy said the hospital is continuing to use their assessment centre, but there may be changes as capacity increases to do testing for the virus on-site at the hospital.
"We have been approved for a licence at the Thunder Bay regional hospital to do our own lab testing. We've ordered the technology, we've ordered the hardware, but there is difficulty getting in the reagents because they're made in the United States, and everybody is after those reagents," said Kennedy.
Kennedy also addressed the shortage of protective equipment for healthcare workers in hospitals, such as face masks, and added that as of right now there is enough equipment for nurses and staff to use while dealing with presumptive cases at the hospital.
"We feel quite strongly that if we follow our new policy that we put in place, that the staff is safe. But if they don't follow the policies, and there's a lot of fear out there and they're using the equipment inappropriately, then we will run out of ... equipment," he said.
Kennedy added that the Ministry of Health and the federal government have assured the healthcare sector that there is production happening that will meet the supply demand in Canada and in Thunder Bay, and that community efforts are also helping to meet the protective equipment needs.
"The community has stepped up, we're having community members say we can make face masks for you," he said. "In fact we're having production going right now with cloth masks."
Kennedy reiterated DeMille's message, and said the community must continue to practice social distancing and self isolation in order to limit the spread of the virus, and to protect healthcare workers who are on the front lines.
City manager Norm Gale said at the press conference that the city of Thunder Bay is committed to sustaining essential services provided during the pandemic, and that the corporation has an "all hands on deck" effort.
"The words and the advice of Dr. DeMille and Dr. Kennedy is very important. It matters for you, it matters for me, it matters for the people who are providing services for the City of Thunder Bay and everybody here that that advice is heeded and taken seriously," he said.
For more information and resources on how to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, visit the Thunder Bay District Health Unit website.