COVID-19 now spreading within EOHU area: Roumeliotis

SD&G, PRESCOTT-RUSSELL – The region’s top doctor says one of the two cases of COVID-19 over the weekend in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit area have lead him to rule the novel coronavirus is now spreading within the community.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis was asked by Cornwall Newswatch Monday afternoon whether he was prepared to say that the virus is now undergoing so-called “community spread.”

“Yes I am. The three (cases) we can trace it, but the one we have not found a source. So I am saying we do have community spread and I’m assuming that we do and that’s why I’m being aggressive with my measures,” Roumeliotis said.

The doctor put an order in place on the weekend, immediately closing places of worship, personal contact professions and others.

A local example of just how aggressive the coronavirus is, it was only five days ago (March 18) that Roumeliotis indicated there was no “local community spread.”

But the doctor says that doesn’t preclude them doing testing and more sites will come online soon.

“The testing will give us an idea of what the magnitude of the infections are. We’re actually speaking with ministry to see at what’s the threshold of testing (and) when we stop,” he said.

Testing centers are slated to start sometime this week in Cornwall and Winchester, with backup locations in Alexandria and Casselman. “The trigger for these is increased demand in the (hospital) emergency rooms.” A testing and assessment center opened in Hawkesbury this morning.

Roumeliotis also shared some specifics on the fourth case on the weekend. The woman in her 60s is from Prescott-Russell – the same location as the previous three cases – and it’s believed she picked up the disease while in Vancouver “for some meetings.”

The third case had no travel history – a man in his 30s – who is also from Prescott-Russell. He’s a healthcare worker in Ottawa.

Concern about crowds

While the provincial state of emergency has made gatherings of 50 or more illegal, Roumeliotis says he’s “leery about it” and believes that number will drop to 10 “very soon. The less, the better.” He says in many situations, people with groups can’t guarantee a two meter (six foot) buffer between participants.

Much like Premier Doug Ford implored the public Monday, Roumeliotis is adamant that people coming home from abroad need to isolate for 14 days. He says they are “bracing” for the influx of “hundreds of thousands” of people.

“I can’t urge enough, individuals who are coming back from out of the country, that they must self-isolate for 14 days. That means that they either drive through the border or go to the airport, arrive in Canada, go home. Don’t go the grocery store. Don’t go to the pharmacy. Don’t go to the mall. Just go straight home and stay there for 14 days. That it the biggest thing you can do to help us prevent the virus (spread).”

“You must stay home if you’ve travelled outside the country.” He says the same also holds true for much of the rest of the population but repatriated people have “come in contact with that” are “surely going to bring back the infection.”