GREY-BRUCE – The Grey Bruce Board of Health met on Oct. 23. Topping the agenda was an update from Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health, on the COVID-19 situation in local schools.
Arra spoke about the Grey Highlands school where three cases of COVID-19 were reported on Oct. 18.
“The case is complex,” he said, noting three classes were involved, along with a bus route shared with two other schools. And a number of Mennonite children attend the school.
Arra stressed that the flow of information was critical in responding to the situation.
As it turned out, no outbreak was declared. The three students were from one family and the virus was not contracted at the school. In fact, the source was a person from outside the Grey-Bruce Health Unit area. “We were not notified,” Arra said. “That health unit had stopped contact tracing three weeks earlier.”
The local health unit definitely still does. Priorities were set and contacts deemed high risk were notified. Arra explained that had the health unit taken a conservative approach and contacted everyone, the school would not have been able to continue operating.
Because of the students from the Mennonite community, a mobile assessment centre was dispatched to the school and testing was done there. A daycare centre in town was also contacted but was not affected.
Others who were contacted included the board of health chair and vice-chair, school officials, mayors and municipal CEOs, the MP and MPP. “Contacting the leaders ahead of time builds trust and compliance,” Arra said. He explained that when it comes to the latter, “Communication is the heavy lifting.”
A press release was issued in co-operation with the school board. Arra said the health unit continued checking social media and noticed nothing in the way of rumours. “Stakeholder engagement was optimal,” he said. On the Monday and Tuesday, there were “minimal calls” to the health unit, a sign “we got ahead of it.”
Late last week, there was another situation at a Grey-Bruce school, this one at Sacred Heart High School in Walkerton, where one person tested positive.
“This event is less complex,” Arra said. Only one person is involved, two classes and no school bus. “I am confident of containment,” he said.
In closing, communications officer Drew Ferguson was commended for his efforts.
Said Anne Eadie, Kincardine mayor, “You had a plan in place, carried it out and it worked.”
She asked why some health units don’t do contact tracing, and Arra explained it’s not a matter of funding. “Contact tracing is stopped when it is not effective,” said Arra. That happens when the numbers are very high. That isn’t the case in Grey-Bruce where numbers are low and contact tracing works well. There are eight contact tracers, with the possibility of pulling other nursing staff to make it about 50. There’s an additional 50 nursing students at Georgian College. Arra said the health unit has discussed recruiting some of them (for contact tracing).
Remembrance Day and Christmas are coming, and the local health unit is taking a “wait and see” attitude towards these events. Federal and provincial announcements could be made, and Arra said it’s better to delay and avoid conflicting information. Halloween is no problem – we’re not in stage two but remain in stage three. Arra noted the goal of the health unit is not to shut things down but to open them up “as fast as we can, as long as it’s safe.”
The board will recommend that Bruce and Grey counties stay with the status quo on board of health membership for another year, to maintain continuity during the pandemic.
Also discussed were flu shots. As stated in a press release, the flu shot won’t protect you from COVID-19, but it will protect you from becoming sick with both the flu and COVID-19. Because symptoms are the same, the flu shot will help keep hospitals from being overwhelmed with people suffering from serious respiratory illnesses. Some members of council requested a day where board members could get their flu shots to publicize the need for them. Not all board members will be there – Sue Paterson, Hanover mayor, said she got her flu shot on Oct. 14.
A letter from a member of the public was included in the correspondence package for board members. The letter gave a different perspective on the wearing of masks, questioning the long-term impact on health. The writer does physical work in a humid environment where a mask and acrylic face shield must be worn at all times, except on breaks.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times