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Risk of catching coronavirus in York Region remains low, medical officer of health confirms

For the second time in less than two weeks, Dr. Karim Kurji appeared publicly to dispel rumours and misinformation about the emerging coronavirus outbreak and risk to local residents

For the second time in less than two weeks, York Region’s medical officer of health appeared publicly to dispel rumours and misinformation about the emerging coronavirus outbreak and risk to local residents.

Dr. Karim Kurji, speaking today at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, said that to date, there hasn’t been one case of the new virus confirmed in York Region.

And while at any given time York Region residents make up approximately one third of those under investigation across Ontario, all of them have been cleared as negative for the disease.

“Today, we had 31 (cases under investigation) and we’ve had lab results that have cleared a number of them. We’re now at 24 (investigations), and we’re expecting a number of them to be cleared by the end of the day,” Dr. Kurji said.

Ontario’s Health Ministry posts updated case statuses at a dedicated coronavirus website at 10:30 a.m. Monday to Friday.

As of today, there remains three confirmed positive cases in Ontario, with 167 confirmed negative, 81 presumed negative, and eight under investigation, for a total of 259 patients so far approved for testing.

Dr. Kurji stated emphatically that the coronavirus disease is not circulating in York Region, so residents need not fear about going about their day-to-day lives in the community.

Any residents who may have come into contact with the virus are self-isolating, Dr. Kurji said.

“They have behaved very responsibly, wearing masks, taking private vehicles from the airport to home, and basically self-isolating,” he said. “They haven’t had any visitors, they haven’t mingled. People have been very diligent and that is remarkable, and I have to compliment them. They have put forward their social responsibility to society, kept their children away from schools, and contacted the health-care system and public health and they were channelled for appropriate testing.”

Richmond Hill Mayor Dave Barrow, also at the coronavirus information session, said he wanted residents to hear directly from the public health unit that the risk of acquiring coronavirus in the community remains low for York Region residents.

“This means our communities are safe, including public spaces, local businesses, restaurants and recreation places,” Barrow said.

Meanwhile, as the outbreak unfolds globally, there were nearly 40,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, with an upward of 37,000 of those in mainland China, according to the World Health Organization’s Feb. 9, 2020 situation report. 

Outside of China, 307 cases have been confirmed in 24 countries, including seven cases in Canada, three of which are in Ontario, and all of those involved residents who had recently travelled to China.

York Region’s public health department is part of a broad network of health agencies working on various aspects of the situation that includes partners such Ontario’s Health Ministry, local hospitals and physicians, infectious disease specialists, Canada’s public health agency, the World Health Organization, and more.

With regard to local monitoring of coronavirus, Dr. Kurji said that when a local resident who may have travelled to Hubei believes they may have come in contact with the virus, they usually self-identify, either to their own doctor, or show up at a local hospital emergency department. 

The individual is assessed at the hospital, and samples may be taken for testing after consultation with an Ontario lab. 

York Region’s public health unit is notified, as well. 

“If an individual goes to public health first, we take a detailed history and facilitate the testing through the lab or the ER. Once that individual has entered the system, we conduct detailed interviews with them to identify close contacts, household contacts, people who may have spent a lot of time with that person, providing care, or feeding, etc. We then follow up on contacts to check if they have symptoms,” Dr. Kurji said.

There have been changes to certain protocols as more information becomes available about the coronavirus, he added. 

As of Feb. 7, anyone who has come from Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, even if they show no symptoms, are expected to go into self-isolation, stay home for work and school, and refrain from going out shopping, Dr. Kurji said.

“They are put into self-isolation at home, don’t share utensils, bed, etc. If they do interact, they should be wearing a mask,” he said. “Anyone who has visited from mainland China, we are asking them to self-monitor for the symptoms and signs. They don’t have the same restrictions as self-isolation.”

In addition, Dr. Kurji urges any residents who may be hosting guests from China to ensure they are following the guidelines laid out at the region’s dedicated coronavirus website to help prevent the spread of the disease.

If you have been in Hubei province in the last 14 days you should:

  • Stay at home for 14 days after the time you left Hubei province. This means do not go to work or school, or any social gatherings. If you need to leave your home (for example, to get groceries), take a private vehicle and make sure to stay a safe distance (2 meters) away from any other person.
  • Monitor yourself for signs and symptoms every day for 14 days after the time you left Hubei province
  • If you develop any of the following signs or symptoms, including a fever or new or worsening cough or new or worsening shortness of breath, go to your local emergency department. 
  • Wherever possible, phone them ahead of time to let them know that you are ill and your travel history and take a private vehicle if possible or an ambulance (if appropriate). Avoid taking public transit. Call York Region Public Health’s Health Connection line to alert us at 1-800-361-5653, but don’t delay seeking care.
  • All travelers who have travelled to mainland China (but not Hubei province) should monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days after returning. If any signs or symptoms develop (e.g. fever or cough or shortness of breath), go to your health care provider ( call your health care provider in advance to let them know and travel to them in a private vehicle).
For more information, visit here.