COVID-19: Officials Urge Calm; City and University Make Protective Moves

So far, there is still no confirmed case of Novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Guelph, but that doesn’t mean we’re not feeling the effects. In the last 24 hours, there have been a whole list of new closures and cancellations as the city’s health officials are trying to quell concerns about whether or not Guelph is ready for its first case of COVID-19.

“Currently if you come to the hospital with suspected COVID-19, odds are that you will be sent home to self-isolate,” said Perry Hagerman, senior communications specialist with Guelph General Hospital. “Right now, the hospital is only testing patients who are so ill that they’re going to require hospitalization, as well as health care workers who present with symptoms.”

This is not too different from the usual protocol of local health agencies when it comes to communicable diseases.

“A lot of people get the flu, but we really only test people who live in institutions who might spread it to other people, people who live in long-term care homes, or people who are already hospitalized because we need to know if they actually have the flu,” added Chuck Ferguson, communications manager for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.

“We need to prioritize who is tested, and you do that with all sorts of diseases,” Ferguson explained. “The hospitals are beginning to prioritize because everybody wants to be tested. It’s great to know, ‘Do I have it or not?’  but there is a process. We really want to track everyone who’s positive, but if your doctor says you probably have it, then you don’t necessarily need to be tested to confirm that.”

Right now, anyone coming back to Canada from an area with a high infection rate like China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, or anyone that’s been in contact with someone that’s recently comeback from an affected area, are being told to self-isolate for two weeks, and report to their local public health office.

“We have people presenting to the emergency room who aren’t sick enough to be admitted, or may not have all the criteria [to be tested],” Hagerman said. “There’s a lot of cold and influenza in the community too, and it’s basically about making sure we’re utilizing our resources as best we can.”

Hagerman added that this is a public health situation that’s changing rapidly, but the hospital is working to get a specialized clinic for potential COVID-19 patients established at 65 Delhi Street, down the road from Guelph General, sometime early next week.

“The goal is to open up a COVID-19 assessment clinic three doors down from the hospital starting Tuesday morning. Something could trip us up, but that’s the goal,” Hagerman said. “People will present their instead of the emergency department and maybe the testing process will be slightly different, but it’s hard to say. He know that there’s a lot of concern out in the community.”

In the meantime, Ferguson is urging calm. If you haven’t been traveling, and haven’t knowingly interacted with someone who has, then you should proceed as normally as you can while following the best advise of public health. Washing your hands, keeping a metre’s distance from other people, and covering yourself when you’re coughing or sneezing is the first, best defense from spreading the disease.

“If you’re walking down the street, you won’t catch the virus. You’re not going to get it from just the general environment,” Ferguson explained.

“Wearing a mask, if you’re a healthy person, is not going to help you,”  he added. “In fact, it’s going to increase the risk of infection because as you touch the mask throughout the day, you risking touching your eyes, nose or mouth and you could be infected that way.”

Of course, now interacting with people out in public is going to be a bit more complicated…

So is the whole town closed down now?

Not yet. Obviously, private commercial businesses will remain open although some like The Dragon and the Beat Goes On have already posted to social media that they are observing increased caution.

Although some City of Guelph facilities will be closed (see below), many of them will remain open with some restrictions as outlined by Health Canada. All branches of the Guelph Public Library, the Guelph Civic Museum, and City recreational facilities are open, and events will be assessed on a case-by-case basis before they’re allowed to proceed. The conditions for those cases include attendance by fewer than 250 people, availability of hand washing stations, and that participants will be able to keep at least a metre’s distance between them.

“Based on the advice of Guelph’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer, City staff have decided to close some facilities to the public and cancel large community events. We know these cancellations are disruptive and inconvenient, but we’re all working to support each other and protect the health of our community,” said Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie in a statement.

There’s no bigger group gathering in Guelph that the campus at the University of Guelph, and now the U of G is making moves to mitigate the chances of spreading COVID-19 on campus. Will campus be closed? No, but student life will change for the remainder of the winter semester.

After a Change.org petition asking the university administration to move classes online collected almost 5,000 signatures, the U of G announced Friday that they will be ending physical classes for the rest of the semester. There will be no classes for one week as faculty and staff get organized to complete the semester without students attending physical classrooms. The semester will then be extended to April 9, and final exams will be conducted in a “modified format.”

In the meantime, campus itself will remain open even though campus activities, like March Break tours for high school students and Campus Day on March 29, are cancelled. Students living on campus will be able to return home and study remotely if they wish, but the residences will remain open and operational for those that wish to stay.

What’s closed and cancelled?

  • The Ontario government has announced that Ontario’s public and Catholic schools will be closed for two weeks immediately after March Break. That means schools in Ontario will be closed until April 6, including all the schools of the Upper Grand and Wellington Catholic District School Boards.
  • The Guelph Farmer’s Market is closed until April 30, and so is the Evergreen Seniors Centre.
  • The Muslim Society of Guelph has cancelled Friday services for the time being, Dublin Street United Church has cancelled its Sunday services for the next two weeks, and Lakeside Church will be broadcasting their services starting this Sunday.
  • All public events at the River Run Centre and Sleeman Centre have been cancelled until April 30. Closed and private events will be allowed to proceed on a case-by-case basis. Of course, if the Sleeman Centre’s been closed for business, then that means…
  • The OHL has paused all hockey activities (including Guelph Storm games) until further notice.
  • March Break camps at City of Guelph recreational facilities, and at the Guelph Civic Museum are cancelled. The eMERGE Eco-Market for next Saturday is also cancelled, and World Water Week activities sponsored by the City for March Break will also be cancelled.
  • The University of Guelph has cancelled the annual College Royal Open House weekend.
  • The 10th annual Resilience Festival during the week of March 21 has been cancelled.
  • The Guelph Tool Library will be closing its doors until April 5.
  • The Elmira Maple Syrup Festival on April 4 has been cancelled.
  • Drayton Entertainment has cancelled all performances until May 3.

If you have any questions or concerns about the Novel Coronavirus you can call Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health at their dedicated COVID-19 line at 1-800-265-7293 ext. 7006 from 9 am to 4 pm.

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