Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health admits worry over reopening

Above, in the last few minutes of the video of his daily media briefing (at -3:18), Dr. Paul Roumeliotis answers NVN’s question on whether he’s worried about the start of Ontario’s reopening given the apparent vast majority of the population never exposed to the virus. Earlier in the video, the doctor clarifies many aspects of the rules around the enterprises allowed to reopen this weekend and afterward.

CORNWALL — Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis admits he’s worried about the prospect of community spread and a setback as the province enters the first phase of a further reopening of the economy and some recreational amenities this Victoria Day weekend.

Of the thousands of COVID-19 tests conducted to date (involving high-priority groups exclusively eligible for testing until recently), only 3.5 percent have come back positive, according to the doctor, though he points out it was 15 percent earlier in the pandemic.

But either way, does it suggest the vast majority of the population remains susceptible to infection by a virus not yet eradicated and still claiming lives — 1,825 to date in Ontario — especially in long-term care homes?

“I am worried,” Dr. Roumeliotis conceded during his May 15 daily media briefing, when asked about this concern by NVN. “I always worry. I had a talk with my staff and they asked me the same question before I got onto this call,” he said.

“Yeah, I am worried. On the other hand, I do believe a lot of people have no symptoms, and we won’t know about it,” he observed.

The low percentage of positive tests to date “will be an important marker to look at as we then start testing the general population, and as the general population starts going out,” he said. “That’s going to be a number for us, and yes, I am worried.”

“One of the prerequisites for us to be able to start opening up like this was really to see a decrease in the numbers, a decrease in the positivity [rate], and the ability for us to test widely,” explaining Dr. Roumeliotis, adding he also looks forward to monitoring the population for past infection through new blood anti-body tests recently approved by Health Canada.

Such tests could be conducted on past blood samples recently collected for other medical tests, to try and gauge prevalence of the virus in the community. “Our surveillance will be extremely important. I can’t sit here and tell you, I guarantee there will be no cases once we start opening up…. But I can tell you we’re going to be keeping a sharp eye on that, and that our contact tracing will have to be very, very vigilant and immediate.

“Unfortunately, however, as soon as we see we’re losing that battle — which I hope not, and I don’t think we will — we’ll have to go back and close. And that’s what we don’t want to do.”

The EOHU region has recorded 134 cases of the illness to date, including 33 residents and seven staff at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Plantagenet. Ten lives have been lost at that institution, site of the only fatal outbreak of COVID-19 in the EOHU area. Two other homes are in technical “outbreak” status after recent testing of all nursing-home staff and residents in the region: Woodland Villa had two residents show positive — one of whom was re-tested and found to be negative — and St. Joseph’s Continuing Care Home in Cornwall has a staff member who tested positive.

Three thousand six-hundred and twenty-five tests have been carried out in the region to date.

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