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Still no COVID outbreak plan for back-to-school from province, says health unit – BradfordToday

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Though students and teachers head back to school in less than three weeks, there’s still no plan for what must be done if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19. 

Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said today the health unit is still waiting on a document from the province that all health units must follow in the event there’s a positive COVID case at a school. 

“Time grows short, I agree,” noted Dr. Gardner during a media briefing today. “Ideally we would have it now, if not, a little while in the past. The later it comes, the more challenging it is for us.” 

Gardner said there are other health care leaders and family physicians who play a role in the response to COVID in schools, and they too await instructions. 

“We have a lot of interest right now among physicians and health care leaders about what would be expected,” said Gardner.

Though the health unit is still awaiting the province’s direction on outbreak management for schools, Gardner said the health unit will still be able to do case contact management in the interim. 

Communication, however, might be a little different. The health unit will face a lot of questions from parents should one or more COVID cases be confirmed at a school. 

“We will have to be proactive,” said Gardner. 

The health unit has received word from the province they will receive enough funding to hire 20 more nurses for direct outreach to schools. Gardner said each nurse would be assigned a group of schools where they would be public health resources to field calls and follow-up and assist with any investigation. 

“We don’t have the funding yet,” said Gardner, noting the health unit had to be cautious about recruiting and hiring the nurses without the funding in hand. 

In the meantime, the health unit has been working with leadership at the region’s school boards to plan for back-to-school. On the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit website, a new page dedicated to “return to school” provides resources, frequently asked questions, and strategies for students, teachers and staff – all advice with the endorsement of the health unit. 

The same information will be provided by the health unit to parents and guardians through their child’s school. 

“The safe return to school is at the forefront of everyone’s minds right now and we know that it has been difficult to make decisions about whether to send your child or children to school or have them do on-line learning,” said Gardner, in a press release sent out by the health unit. “Everyone’s situation is different, and the decision to send your children to school in person needs to be one that works for you and your family.”

Gardner reiterated school is important for students, and though there is a risk of transmission for COVID at school, not returning to school also does not completely eliminate that risk. 

“There is no risk-free option with COVID-19 and it would be unrealistic to think that we can get through the next few months without some risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the school classroom,” said Gardner.

New COVID cases reported in the region are at an all-time low, with just four new cases in the last seven days. 

“We’ve not been that low on cases since we first started … our first case was March 11,” said Gardner. “That’s a real milestone for us.”

According to the health unit website there are ten active, lab-confirmed cases in Simcoe County. Though there are two people hospitalized in the region, neither is in an intensive care unit. 

For more information on the back-to-school plans for masking, screening, physical distancing, and sanitation, visit the health unit website.

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Sampling-site bottlenecks continue to impede Manitoba COVID-19 testing efforts – CBC.ca

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When Bronagh Nazarko took one of her kids to get a COVID-19 test in Winnipeg, she ended up waiting four hours in line and missing a day of work.

When her husband took their other two kids to get tested several days later, he too waited four hours and also missed a day in the home office.

The experience left her wondering how other parents are supposed to juggle child-care and work responsibilities while they wait for a COVID-19 swab, which Manitoba’s government has spent six months promoting as a central facet of its pandemic response.

“We’re very lucky that we have fairly flexible office jobs and that we can work from home, but for a lot of people, I just can’t see that this is sustainable to do this,” Nazarko said Wednesday in an interview.

“I can see that this would deter people from getting tested, and I’m concerned that that means cases will get missed because people don’t want to wait.”

Winnipeg still undergoing surge in demand for swabs

For weeks, there have been long lines outside Winnipeg’s sole drive-through COVID-19 sampling site in the North End on Main Street and heavy traffic at its three other sampling sites.

Winnipeg is now the epicentre of the province’s COVID-19 outbreak, with the city possessing 335 of Manitoba’s 418 active cases.

(Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

The province has responded by warning more restrictions could be placed on the Winnipeg health region if residents and visitors don’t become more diligent about gathering in small groups, washing their hands, keeping a safe distance away from each other and wearing masks when they cannot.

On Tuesday, the province also pledged to open another sampling site by Sept. 28 under the management of private health-care company Dynacare. It is supposed to collect up to 1,400 samples a day, at first, with the eventual potential to administer 2,600 swabs.

“The new specimen-collection sites announced [Tuesday] will help address waits for sample collection that are due to increased volumes,” Manitoba Public Health said in a statement.

Manitoba’s Official Opposition contends this promise is not good enough for Manitobans right now.

“I think people are upset today, waiting hours in line,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

“This is something that the government has seen coming for six months or more. And again, we all made tremendous sacrifices, whether on a personal or social level to try and flatten the curve, to buy the government more time.”

Testing inspires confidences, premier suggested

At the height of Manitoba’s economically stifling lockdown, the premier suggested widespread testing and contact tracing would be the key to allowing the province to get back to business.

“We know that through increased testing there is an increased possibility that we’ll be able to build confidence — not only in the general public, but in the health officials whose guidance we must listen to — that we are not opening the door to a resurgence in COVID infections in our province,” Premier Brian Pallister said on April 16.

Twelve days later, he pledged to increase lab-testing capacity to 3,000 tests per day with the help of a new Dynacare lab in Winnipeg. That lab was completed by the end of July and Manitoba can now complete as many as 2,800 tests per day, between the work conducted at the Dynacare lab and Cadham Provincial Lab.

In recent weeks, the province has been completing fewer than 1,500 tests per day, on average, and Winnipeggers began to complain about long lines.

(Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

Unlike in April, when health-care workers left idle due to restrictions on hospital and clinic operations presented an easily accessible pool of skilled labour, health administrators found themselves unable to find the staff to extend hours at sampling sites, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said last week.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen’s office said the province is facing unprecedented challenges.

“We empathize with Manitobans’ frustrations surrounding COVID-19, and work to alleviate these stressors as we have done throughout the entire pandemic,” Friesen’s office said in a statement.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is recruiting volunteers to help direct traffic at sampling sites, spokesperson Paul Turenne said.

The Dynacare site will also help, Friesen’s office said. The precise date it will open has not been determined, said Mark Bernhardt, Dynacare’s communications manager based in Brampton, Ont.

Kinew accused the province of relying too heavily on the private firm.

“It seems as though the government is just abdicating [its] responsibility to provide what I think is the most important public health measure right now: figuring out whether or not you have COVID during the COVID pandemic,” he said. 

“The government’s declared a state of emergency, and yet they basically created a vacuum of leadership and just said, ‘OK, Dynacare … you go handle everything for us.'”

Workplace testing available for private clients

Kinew also expressed concern that Dynacare provides workplace COVID-19 testing for companies willing to pay extra to test their workers.

“If someone has more money and they have a registered business, all of a sudden they can skip the line. To me, that’s not fair and it violates the public health interest that we all have in fighting the pandemic,” he said.

Bernhardt confirmed Dynacare provides mobile workplace testing for COVID-19 as well as blood tests for other illnesses. All samples collected from private clients are processed at a lab in Brampton, he said, and do not compete for lab time with public samples in Winnipeg.

Nazarko, who spent hours in the testing queue with her kids, said she is concerned about will happen in Winnipeg during the winter, when waiting for hours outside won’t be possible.

“I would personally really like to see them switch to an appointment-based system where we could wait at home and my husband and I could work until our appointment time comes,” she said.

Roussin said earlier this month the province is pondering what to do with sampling sites during the winter.

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'I can take it:' Ottawa top doctor receiving 'ugly emails' – OttawaMatters.com

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Ottawa’s top doctor says she has received some “ugly emails” during the COVID-19 pandemic but isn’t letting them distract her from her job.

“I take in that information and I think about how we can better support people with our social services, with economic recovery,” said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s chief medical officer of health. “I’m focused on trying to make sure we manage through this pandemic so people can get back on their feet.” 

Dr. Etches says she hasn’t received any death threats and doesn’t think she is in any danger.

“Of course people are frustrated. People have been harmed by losing their jobs, losing their businesses. Those are not small impacts, it’s very serious.” 

The doctor says she recognizes that everyone is suffering from the pandemic.

“I know that this is a stressful time and people are angry, and I appreciate that,” explains Dr. Etches. “They’re looking for someone to blame or to express that anger and I think it’s important to hear from people who are negatively impacted.”

Dr. Etches’ comments come after British Columbia’s top doctor said she’s been receiving death threats and abusive letters in her role as a public figure during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Bonnie Henry told a panel discussion at the annual convention of the Union of B.C. Municipalities that she’s had to have security in her home and has been targeted by people who don’t agree with her.

– With files from the Canadian Press

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Manitobans waiting more than 2 hours to speak to Health Links – CTV News Winnipeg

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WINNIPEG —
As COVID-19 cases rise in Manitoba, Health Links is experiencing increased call volumes, resulting in longer wait times for callers.

According to a spokesperson from Shared Health, the increase in calls is attributed to the spike in COVID-19 cases, as well as the return to school on Sept. 8. They noted a small number of callers are looking for the results to their COVID-19 tests.

In a statement on Sept. 23, the spokesperson said because of the increase in calls, Manitobans are experiencing longer-than-average wait times to talk to Health Links, noting that wait times vary throughout the day.

On average in the past week, wait times have ranged between 53 and 128 minutes, though those calling at peak times may wait even longer.

“As COVID-19 activity in Manitoba can be expected to continue to vary, the volume of calls to HL-IS is being monitored closely with consideration being given to how current wait times may be addressed,” the statement said.

The spokesperson reminded Manitobans that they can get their COVID-19 test results through the online results portal on Shared Health’s website, as long as they have a Manitoba health card.

Anyone who tests positive will be contacted directly, but the posting of negative results could take several days.

Health Links, a phone-based nursing triage system, is the flagship program for the Provincial Health Contact Centre.

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