Cushman cautions of long winter dealing with COVID-19

·4 min read

Pembroke – COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon and as numbers continue to increase in the county and the onset of winter begins, the chief medical officer for the area is advising vigilance, keeping within a bubble and testing when necessary.

“We are socially starved, and it is going to be a long winter,” Dr. Robert Cushman, the acting chief medical officer of health for the RCDHU said. “The next four to six months are going to be a challenge. It is horrible. We are so fed up and tired of this.”

With winter approaching and many parts of the Ottawa Valley dusted with snow, the reality of a long winter ahead with COVID-19 precautions is settling in for many people and he stressed this is not the time to ease up on vigilance, physical distancing, mask wearing and taking necessary precautions.

“In winter they say we spend 70 to 80 per cent of our time indoors,” he said. “It will be problematic. We have to co-exist with COVID and get our numbers in hand.”

Renfrew County and area has seen the numbers jump in recent to 106 infections in total with the month of October registering with the highest number of infections at 32, and September close behind at 27. In contrast the early months of the pandemic saw 13 infections in March and only four in April.

“We were quite fortunate in Wave 1 to contain it,” Dr. Cushman noted. “Wave 2 is worse everywhere. Before it was isolated cases. Travel and healthcare were dominant themes. Those were easy to contain. What we are seeing now is community spread. The number of contacts per case is overwhelming.”

The recent outbreaks like Fellowes High School and a family Thanksgiving dinner where contacts spread rapidly and infections reached 13, have shown how easy it is for a single case to mushroom into contacts with the workplace, school and family, he pointed out.

“People need to be careful with symptoms and stay in their bubble,” he said. “One thing we are seeing is the workplace, whether it be a school or restaurants, people tend to let down their guard because they are with colleagues.”

He is very conscious of how challenging this is in the winter when people are forced indoors, and some activities are being limited, he admitted.

“Hockey is a Canadian passion for everybody,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of issues there. That is a challenge. The problem is what goes on off the ice.”

Thanksgiving was an issue, but he is not anticipating a similar jump after Halloween.

“I think Halloween was quite tame being able to have it outdoors,” he said. “So many people are doing their best, but there is a percentage that is carefree.”

It is important to make sure precautions are maintained with keeping bubbles small, masking, physical distancing, staying home when sick and testing. This is also protecting the economy, he said.

“We don’t want more shutdowns or a lock down,” he said.

With physical distancing and more people interested in getting flu shots he anticipates the cold and flu season will not be as bad this winter, he said. Anyone who does experience symptoms of a cold and flu needs to be tested for COVID-19, he stressed.

“If you have symptoms, take screening measures carefully,” he said.

The health unit brought in a Section 22 order on Friday which will enforce the importance of isolation and testing, and this will provide extra enforcement tools.

“We have had challenges with people not isolating as well as they should be,” he said. “Now we can get a court order and can be fines.”

He pointed out in another district a family had eight cases within the family. This shows the importance of reducing contact with others when there is a confirmed or probable case.

Looking forward the behavior of the public will determine how COVID-19 impacts the area, he said. The importance of keeping a bubble small with a maximum of 10 people under a roof is important.

“Ask yourself if you can mask and safely distance,” he said. “It is one thing to say we are only having six or seven in our bubble but how many others are in their bubbles.”

He noted there is a big difference between going to a grocery store for 10 or 15 minutes and sitting in a home or work environment with others for hours.

“If you think about this disease, it is an indoor disease and there is a time function,” he said.

There is some belief the number of cases in long-term care homes might be due to repeated exposure in an enclosed environment, he added.

Dr. Cushman said all residents need to co-operate by monitoring for symptoms, testing, isolating, making, hand washing, physical distancing and being cognizant of their movements and actions. Although he said it was too early to talk about Christmas gatherings, he said that is an important event in the upcoming horizon.

“We are going to pave the way for Christmas,” he said. “Is it going to be the road to hell or to a good festivity?”

Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader