The increasing number of cases of COVID-19 all over the place has people on edge, including the people that sit on the local Board of Health. On Wednesday, in their final meeting of the year, the Board heard from Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer who said that the dangers are real, but for those concerned about another lockdown, it’s her learned opinion that this region will stay orange. For now.
“It is my anticipation right now that we will most likely remain in orange, but the cabinet decision on that will occur on Friday,” Mercer told the Board of Health. Earlier this week, the City of Guelph announced their plans in anticipation for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph moving to level Red-Control.
One of the issues right now is making sure people aren’t coming to our area from red or locked down areas, which Mercer admitted is difficult because there are so many people that live in Guelph, but work in Peel or Waterloo. “I obviously do not encourage people from lockdown areas to travel, and that is not the recommendation at all from the province, but the policing of that is very, very challenging,” Mercer explained.
“In general, what we see is that this disease spreads when people get together in private homes, and some of our biggest culprits are those with children,” Mercer said, adding it’s the playdates, sleepovers, and birthday parties people are still having where kids. or their parents are socializing in the private homes of others that are an issue.
“If I could change any one behavior that is going to make the biggest difference in this pandemic, it’s for people to not go into other people’s homes,” Mercer added.
But what about schools? Associate Medical Officer of Matthew Tenenbaum said that WDG Public Health has seen around 40 cases of “school associated” instances of COVID-19, meaning that those cases were caught by the patients in the community, and not from a school-based outbreak of the virus.
“In general, it’s been a quieter fall than it could have been given some of the scenarios, but we have not seen very much transmission of COVID-19 in our schools,” Tenenbaum said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have that experience, and it speaks to the great work that our schools are doing and it speaks to the continued importance of us making sure schools stay open as we go into the fall and now the winter.”
Mercer added her praise for school-aged students who seem to be taking the pandemic more seriously than some adults.
“If our adults would institute the same behaviors that our children are in the schools, meaning in indoor environments with people that you don’t live with you’re masked 100 per cent of the time, you only take your mask off when you go outside, and you keep your distance and stay apart, we would see a lot less transmission in our community,” Mercer said.
In another report to the Board, Public Health acknowledge some concerns about systemic racism in our local health authority. The report called “Racism as a Public Health Issue” revealed that 35 per cent of people in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph who tested positive for COVID were from a visible minority group, when they only account for 11 per cent of the general population.
“We have some raw numbers that tell us that people from disadvantaged backgrounds, including racialized backgrounds, do experience a much higher case burden, and worse health consequences in terms of severity down the road,” Tenenbaum explained. “This is not just WDG data, but if you look across the province, we know that people who are racialized do experience a greater brunt of COVID-19 out of proportion to the share of the population that they represent.”
To start and turn things around, the Board of Health is advising more engagement, and more data gathering to understand better where public health is letting racialized communities down.
“It’s critically important that we continue to measure and monitor some of these indicators so that we’re looking at overall trends and how our community is doing more broadly,” Tenenbaum added. “We’re also understanding where variances exist, and where people or groups are being left behind, so that we can have a truly equitable response and really take care of the needs of everyone in our community.”
“This is the beginning of a conversation that we’re having internally as well as as a community, but I do expect there are going to be more steps to follow,” he added.