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Sudbury’s top doc says local COVID-19 case was not infectious at PDAC

Dr. Penny Sutcliffe says virus likely not contagious until infected person shows symptoms, public not being asked to practice ‘social distancing’
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Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, medical officer of health Public Health Sudbury & Districts. (Arron Pickard / Sudbury.com)

The Sudbury man infected with COVID-19 was not infectious while at a major mining conference in Toronto, so couldn’t have infected anyone with whom he came in contact, Dr. Penny Sutcliffe told Sudbury.com this afternoon.

The man, an employee with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines who works out of the Willet Green Miller Centre on the Laurentian University campus, went to Health Sciences North on March 7 with a cough and shortness of breath, one day after returning from the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Public Health said he travelled to Toronto in his own vehicle on March 1. He attended PDAC March 2-3, then drove home March 4. He went to work at the Willet Green Miller Centre on March 5 and March 6, and went to the emergency department on March 7. He was tested and sent home in isolation.

His test came back as positive on the evening of March 10.

Sutcliffe said Public Health has been receiving many calls from community members who attended PDAC and are worried that they could have been infected by the man, since, as a fellow Sudbury delegate, they may have had close contact with him at the conference.

Sutcliffe said evidence suggests COVID-19 is not contagious until an infected person shows symptoms. Erring on the side of caution, public health agencies are assuming infected people can be contagious on the day before symptoms appear.

If that is the case, the local man “couldn’t pose a risk to the public until he got home.” Since he did go to work on the Laurentian University campus while he was symptomatic, the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines has closed the Willet Green Miller Centre and, due to its location on campus, the school will be conducting all classes remotely until further notice.

Community spread

Sutcliffe said right now, the city only has a single case of COVID-19 and health officials have detailed information on his movements and interactions. When a person tests positive for COVID-19, a thorough exploration of that person’s movements, where they went and who they came in contact with is done. 

What’s termed “community spread” is not being seen in the Greater Sudbury area, Sutcliffe said. What this means is, cases of infection that appear to be spontaneous with no clear link between the infected (as would be seen during flu season for instance) are not being seen. 

Because there is no evidence of community spread, there is no need for the average person to practice “social distancing”, that is avoiding large crowds and events where many people are put in close proximity to one another.

That’s why Public Health Sudbury is not advising people to avoid sporting events, concerts or other public events.

“When we can’t make those connections (between infected people), that’s when we’re seeing community spread,” Sutcliffe said. “And that’s when it’s time to start social distancing.”

The best advice now, the region’s top doc said, is to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and use tissues when necessary. And if you’re sick, stay home and avoid public places.

Health Sciences North has protocols in place at this time, as well. 

“If you suspect you have symptoms of COVID-19, call Telehealth Ontario or Public Health Sudbury and Districts,” HSN said in a news release. “If you’re coming to the Emergency Department at HSN, please call ahead to 705-523-7100 and describe your symptoms and your travel history, including the countries you recently visited.”

If you need immediate medical attention, phone 911 and mention your travel history and symptoms, said HSN.

Patients entering the HSN Emergency Department are asked to follow the instructions in the signage posted outside hospital doors related to COVID-19. 

"There is also active screening for patients at the entrance to the Emergency Department," HSN said. "You may be asked to wear a mask while waiting for or receiving treatment to prevent the spread of illness."

If you plan to visit a patient in the hospital and you are not feeling well, you are asked to stay home.

"At this time, the virus is not circulating locally. However, this is a rapidly changing situation requiring that our organization, community, and individuals be prepared for the potential wider spread of the infection in the community."

Critical information regarding HSN's operations for patients, visitors and staff will be communicated via its social media channels, as well as its website at hsnsudbury.ca as needed.

– Sudbury.com


Mark Gentili

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