Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin, a member of the Haldimand and Norfolk Board of Health, listens intently as Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Norfolk and Haldimand’s Medical Officer of Health, shares an update on COVID-19 at Tuesday’s board meeting. – Monte Sonnenberg
Spending an estimated $5 million over the next two years on a “COVID SWAT team” is proving to be a hard sell at the Norfolk and Haldimand Board of Health.
Doubts were expressed Tuesday that the counties’ experience this spring with COVID-19 is an indication of how it will be this fall and winter.
Meanwhile, Vittoria Coun. Chris VanPaassen expressed skepticism that Ontario is experiencing a second wave of the virus despite a daily infection rate recently in the range of 700.
VanPaassen noted that Ontario, at its peak this spring, registered nearly 650 cases in a single day. The curve flattened this summer but has surged recently beyond previous highs.
However, VanPaassen pointed out that the 640 cases on that day in May were based on 6,000 tests. The recent surge to 700, he added, was gleaned from more than 40,000 tests. If the 700 cases are based on a 660 percent increase in testing, VanPaassen asked if the incidence of COVID-19 is really spiking.
VanPaassen also warned the public to take the numbers they hear this winter with a grain of salt. He predicted that many seasonal flu cases will be lumped in with COVID-19 during daily reports. Mild cases of COVID-19 share many of the same symptoms as flu and – because COVID-19 comes from the same family of viruses – the common cold.
“I don’t think anyone gets the regular flu this year,” VanPaassen said. “I think they’re going to get COVID flu instead.”
Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Norfolk and Haldimand’s Medical Officer of Health, congratulated VanPaassen for his “penetrating” insight on testing, calling him “Professor” and describing his comments as “a wonderful, scientific inference.”
The health team in back of Nesathurai bases its calculation for a 30-member rapid-response team on a worst-case scenario reflecting the busiest days the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit experienced this year managing outbreaks at the Anson Place long-term care facility in Hagersville and Scotlynn Group in Vittoria.
Those two outbreaks sickened or forced the quarantine of nearly 500 people. They also accounted for nearly all the 32 fatalities in Haldimand and Norfolk since April.
Nesathurai has frequently expressed concern about migrant farm workers grouped together in 600 bunkhouses across the health district. Aside from the super-spreader event at Scotlynn Group, Nesathurai wasn’t able to describe a similar outbreak in an agricultural setting in the health district. Health unit staff, however, has responded to 32 suspicious incidents.
“I think there are enough signals that things are going to get worse,” Nesathurai told the board. “How much worse is something we have to use our best judgment on.”
Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt sat in on Tuesday’s meeting. The board was eager to hear from Hewitt because Haldimand council met earlier in the day to consider the COVID response-team report.
Grave concerns and an abundance of caution, Hewitt said, will not help his council sell a three-percent tax hike to Haldimand residents to pay for their share of the new hires. In the absence of persuasive data, Hewitt predicted there would be “tremendous pushback” on the tax increase needed to cover Haldimand’s share.
“Many of the occurrences of the past are unlikely to happen in the future,” Hewitt said. “We’ve learned from that experience.”
Hewitt added that the 493 positive cases registered to date in Haldimand and Norfolk represent only 0.4 percent of the people residing in the health district. He added that – in most every fatality – the virus had help finishing its victims.
Van Paassen suggested a more modest hire of eight to address the stress and burnout issues afflicting the health unit. But ultimately, the report was deferred to allow staff to gather more evidence for a targeted number of new hires.
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