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Health unit prepares for possible ‘twindemic’ – The North Bay Nugget

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Symptoms of influenza and COVID-19 share a number of similarities

North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit
Nugget File Photo


When it comes to a possible “twindemic” – the arrival of flu season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – “all you can do is expect the worst, plan for the worst, and hope for the best.”

Dr. Jim Chirico, medical officer of health with the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, says there are “so many unknowns” about what this year’s flu season will look like.

The flu season in the southern hemisphere, which can provide indications of what will happen in the northern hemisphere, was very mild this year, but Canadians can’t take that as a true indicator of what will happen here.

“Was it mild because of the COVID-19 measures that were in place?” Chirico asks. “We don’t know. We don’t know how severe it might be.”

The flu normally starts to be felt in this region in the late fall, running until January. Canada has been weathering the COVID-19 pandemic since March, and there are no signs it will let up anytime soon. In fact, the number of cases across the country have been climbing over the past week.

Testing impact

Having two pandemics at the same time, Chirico says, can put more pressure on the health system as symptoms of influenza and COVID-19 share a number of similarities. That means the number of people seeking testing for COVID-19 could increase as the seasonal flu takes hold.

The flu, he says, affects children more, it appears, than COVID-19 does, but elderly residents are particularly susceptible to both.

Chirico advocates everyone possible get the flu vaccine when it arrives in the region. It helps reduce the possibility of contracting the flu and may reduce the severity of influenza, although it does not offer 100 per cent protection from contracting it.

“It protects not only you but those around you,” Chirico says. If we can reduce the number of flu cases, it will reduce the pressure on the health-care system.”

The health unit, he says, is working with primary health-care providers and pharmacies to make sure as many people who want the flu vaccine can get it. The health unit will be providing vaccination clinics, while the vaccine will also be available at doctors offices and at pharmacies.

‘Experience’

Chirico notes that when the H1N1 flu was prevalent some years ago, the health unit was able to conduct “mass immunization clinics.

“So we have that experience” to fall back on and to prepare for the eventuality that it might be necessary again, he says.

“We do have plans in place to do that.”


Dr. Jim Chirico

He also believes that the measures put in place to protect against COVID-19 can help prevent a serious flu season.

“I really do believe those efforts will pay off. The same recommendations for COVID-19 will prevent the flu, as well.”

Those measures include wearing face masks, social distancing, regular washing or sanitizing of hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based rub, sneezing or coughing into your arm, not touching your eyes, nose or mouth, staying home if you feel unwell and, if you develop a fever, cough and difficulty breathing to seek medical attention.

‘Done very well’

“People have been very mindful” of following those measures, he says, and the North Bay-Parry Sound area has “done very, very well.

“I do believe all the efforts to reduce the impact of COVID will do as well with the flu because they are transmitted in the same way,” he says.

The region has reported a total of 39 positive COVID-19 cases since the middle of March. Thirty-seven of those cases have been resolved and one person is in self-isolation. One person has died of COVID-19 in the region.

Chirico also notes that there was “a very reduced number of cases” of influenza last year, compared to the previous four or five years.

The area has reported between 126 and 298 cases annually with “very little mortality” over those years, he says, although the number of total cases “is obviously likely more” because most people who get the flu don’t go for treatment.

According to JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, both influenza and COVID-19 can present with fever, chills, headache, cough, fatigue and myalgias – muscle aches and pain, which can involve ligaments, tendons and fascia, the soft tissues that connect muscles, bones and organs.

Influenza differs in that it also generally features nasal congestion and sore throat, while COVID-19 can include shortness of breath and loss of the senses of taste and smell.

Assessment centres

There are five COVID-19 assessment centres in the region. Appointments must be booked in advance.

The centres are located at:

• Hopital de Mattawa Hospital. Book an appointment by calling 705-744-5511 ext. 0

• North Bay Regional Health Centre. Book an appointment by calling 705-474-8600 ext 4110

• West Nipissing COVID-19 Assessment Centre, 219 O’Hara St., Sturgeon Falls. Book an appointment by calling 705-580-2186

• 75 Ann Street, Bracebridge. Book an appointment by calling 1-888-383-7009

• West Parry Sound COVID-19 Assessment Centre at 70 Joseph St., Parry Sound, Unit 105-106. Book an appointment by calling 705-746-4540 ext 5030

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Alberta challenged by dueling narratives over COVID-19: Hinshaw – rdnewsnow.com

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The chief medical officer of health said we can’t live in fear and terror of the virus for months but also can’t abandon efforts to protect the most vulnerable and ensure the health system can continue to meet all Albertans’ health needs.

Hinshaw is asking Albertans to respect COVID-19 and says it “is not just the flu.”

She said it is a novel virus that can overwhelm the health system and weaken essential services.

“Respecting COVID-19 means taking public health advice seriously by taking care of ourselves and communities by taking steps to prevent transmission.”

She also asked for respectful dialogue with those who have different opinions, saying solutions will be found by working together.

Hinshaw reiterated a balance must be found between minimizing the risk of COVID-19 and the harms of restrictions needed to keep the spread manageable.

“We have now crossed a tipping point and are losing the balance we have been seeking,” she warned.

The total number of COVID-19 cases across the province stands at 25,733. There are 3,138 4,477 active cases, up 826 from Friday, and 20,949 recovered cases, up 639.

Red Deer added 14 cases over the weekend and is up to 174. The city has 39 active cases as of Monday.

(With file from Chris Brown – CHAT News Today)

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Mandatory mask bylaw activated as Wood Buffalo hits 51 active COVID-19 cases

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A sign outside the Superstore in downtown Fort McMurray telling customers about the store’s mask policy on Sept. 13, 2020. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

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The municipality’s mandatory mask bylaw has been activated after Wood Buffalo hit 51 active COVID-19 cases over the weekend. According to Alberta Health, 44 active cases are in Fort McMurray and seven active cases are in Wood Buffalo’s rural areas.

For 30 days, masks will be mandatory inside all indoor public spaces. The bylaw will not be lifted if the region remains over that limit. The bylaw was passed by council on Oct. 13.

A first offence will cost $100, with $200 for subsequent offences. This includes harassing or intimidating someone not wearing a mask due to a valid exemption. Businesses refusing to display signage will be fined $200. Frequent offenders could be fined up to $10,000, depending on the severity of the offence.

The bylaw does not apply to:

  • Anyone eating, drinking or exercising
  • Children under five-years-old
  • Anyone attending or leading religious services, although some religious organizations require worshippers to wear masks
  • Anyone needing to remove a mask to receive a service (for instance, dental work)
  • Caregivers, but only if a mask hurts their ability to care for anyone with a disability
  • Anyone needing physical assistance wearing masks

Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced at a Monday press conference that Alberta Health Services is contacting event organizers if a positive case attended the event. The organizer will forward the information within 24 hours to attendees.

The change is due to pressure put on AHS’ contact tracers because of the sudden rise in COVID-19 cases. Hinshaw said AHS is recruiting more people.

Hinshaw was also asked her thoughts on the sudden wildcat strike from Alberta health care workers that began Monday morning. Delivery of care is not part of her role, she said. However, Hinshaw said patient care could be impacted by the absence of striking workers and staff in COVID-19 quarantine.

“I know Alberta Health Services is working very hard to ensure that COVID precautions are in place, and that continues and whether or not they have to adjust the services that are provided,” she said.

Hinshaw also said private social gatherings in Edmonton and Calgary are now limited to 15 people. This includes birthday parties, house warming parties, wedding and funeral receptions, and retirement parties.

The measure does apply to wedding and funeral ceremonies, worship services, theatres or restaurants.

“Our best hope to avoid needing any further restrictions and to keep businesses recovering and the health system readily available is for all of us to go the extra mile,” said Hinshaw. “I know this is difficult. COVID-19 is a marathon not a sprint and Albertans have been sacrificing and working hard for many months now. But the warning bell is ringing and I want all of us to hear it’s call.”

Provincial COVID-19 updates for October 26:

  • A total of 25,733 people have been infected with the virus. The earliest known COVID-19 case in Alberta was detected in a blood sample collected on Feb. 24. The first case was announced on March 5.
  • Of those cases, 20,949 people have recovered, or roughly 81.4 per cent of all cases. There were 639 new recoveries since Friday.
  • There were 1,440 new cases reported since Friday, bringing the active total to 4,477. There were 364 cases reported on Oct. 23, 572 on Oct. 24, and 504 on Oct. 25.
  • There are 118 cases hospitalized, with 16 people fighting the virus in intensive care units.
  • There have been seven new deaths related to COVID-19, bringing Alberta’s total at 307.
  • 46,139 tests for COVID-19 were completed since Friday. There were 16,367 tests completed on Oct. 23, 17,106 on Oct. 24, and 12,666 on Oct. 25.
  • To date, 1,744,042 tests for COVID-19 have been carried out on 1,245,294 people.

COVID-19 in Fort McMurray:

  • There were four new recoveries in Fort McMurray since Friday, bringing total recoveries to 298 since the first case was reported in the city on March 19.
  • There were 11 new active cases in Fort McMurray since Friday, bringing the known total to 34.
  • Masks in public spaces will become mandatory once the Wood Buffalo region records 50 active cases of COVID-19.
  • There has been one death related to COVID-19 in Fort McMurray reported since Sept. 8.

COVID-19 in rural areas:

  • One new COVID-19 case was recorded in Wood Buffalo’s rural areas, bringing the total active cases to seven.
  • There were no new recoveries in Wood Buffalo’s rural areas since Friday, keeping the total to 64 recoveries.
  • AHS has not confirmed which rural communities had active COVID-19 cases, only community leaders have.
  • Fort McKay’s First Nation and Métis leaders have made it mandatory to wear masks in the community.
  • Masks in public spaces will become mandatory once the Wood Buffalo region records 50 active cases of COVID-19.
  • There have been no deaths related to COVID-19 in the RMWB’s rural areas.

Local COVID-19 cases and outbreaks at schools

  • Information on school outbreaks can be found online from Alberta Health Services. No school in Wood Buffalo has been ordered to close.
  • On Oct. 22, a positive COVID-19 case has been reported in relation to Sister Mary Phillips School. The school has not be classified an outbreak by AHS and remains open.
  • An outbreak is declared when five people at a public site, such as a workplace, test positive for COVID-19. At continuing care centres and schools, the number is two.
  • An outbreak is over when no new COVID-19 cases have been reported after 30 days.

Local COVID-19 workplace outbreaks:

  • Information on workplace outbreaks can be found online from Alberta Health Services.
  • An outbreak at Syncrude’s Mildred Lake site was declared on Sept. 3 when 11 workers tested positive for the virus.
  • An outbreak at Suncor’s base plant was declared on Sept. 4 after five workers tested positive for the virus.
  • An outbreak at Canadian Natural’s Horizon site has been declared.
  • An outbreak is declared when five people at a public site, such as a workplace, test positive for COVID-19. At continuing care centres and schools, the number is two.
  • An outbreak is over when no new COVID-19 cases have been reported after 30 days.

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Record 1440 new COVID cases in Alberta this weekend

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To combat the surge in cases in the province’s two largest cities, a new mandatory 15-person limit is in effect on all social gatherings in the City of Calgary and City of Edmonton.

The South Health Zone saw another 73 cases this weekend with 37 in Lethbridge, 10 in Lethbridge County, nine in Brooks, five in the County of Warner, three in the County of Newell, two in the M.D. of Taber, and one each in Cardston County, County of Forty Mile, Cypress County, and the Crowsnest Pass.

255 infections are currently active in the South Health Zone including 161 in Lethbridge.

“We have now crossed a tipping point and are losing the balance we are seeking,” warned Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

To deal with the influx of cases in the Edmonton Zone, up to 30 per cent of non-urgent surgeries in the area are being postponed until further notice.

Seven additional COVID-19 deaths were confirmed with four in the Edmonton Zone and three in the Calgary Zone. 307 Albertans have lost their lives as a result of the virus.

“I don’t ask that you fear COVID-19 but that you respect it. COVID is a novel disease that is not just the flu. It has the ability to overwhelm our health system and weaken essential services if we let it do so. Respecting COVID-19 means taking public health advice seriously and taking care, not only of ourselves but also our communities by preventing transmission.”

Provincially, 118 patients are currently hospitalized and 16 have been admitted to intensive care units.

1,744,042 tests have been completed among 1,245,294 different Albertans.

More details to come.

The regional breakdown for COVID-19 in Alberta is as follows:

  • Calgary zone – 11,345 cases, 1,549 active
    • 139 deaths (three new)
    • 42 in hospital, three in ICU
  • Edmonton zone – 9,210 cases, 2,179 active
    • 98 deaths (four new)
    • 62 in hospital, eight in ICU
  • South zone – 2,268 cases, 255 active
    • 27 deaths
    • Seven in hospital, three in ICU
  • North zone – 1,891 cases, 311 active
    • 35 deaths
    • Four in hospital, two in ICU
  • Central zone – 953 cases, 162 active
    • Eight deaths
    • Three in hospital

The breakdown for the South Health Zone by community is as follows:

  • Brooks – 1,162 cases (nine new), 30 active, nine deaths
  • Lethbridge – 452 cases (37 new), 161 active, two deaths
    • West Lethbridge – 166 cases (11 new), 50 active, one death
    • South Lethbridge – 148 cases (11 new), 50 active
    • North Lethbridge – 138 cases (16 new), 61 active, one death
  • Lethbridge County – 129 cases (10 new), 23 active, one death
  • Cardston County – 108 cases (one new), four active, five deaths
  • Medicine Hat – 90 cases (one new), six active, two deaths
  • County of Warner – 71 cases (five new), six active, one death
  • M.D. of Taber – 50 cases (two new), six active
  • County of Forty Mile – 45 cases (one new), three active
  • County of Newell – 42 cases (three new), seven active, two deaths
  • Cypress County – 38 cases (one new), five active
  • Fort Macleod – 33 cases, zero active, three deaths
  • M.D. of Pincher Creek – 27 cases, zero active, two deaths
  • Crowsnest Pass – Three cases (one new), one active

Source: – Lethbridge News Now

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