It’s critical that Kawartha Lakes – a community with a high number of older people – stay the course on social distancing to avoid any further community spread of COVID-19.
This, according to an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, Ashleigh Tuite, will be the key to prevent any large scale death numbers here.
With the tragic story unfolding at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, with 28 deaths reported to date and over 24 staff testing positive for the coronavirus, there is much room for concern.
Tuite’s work, along with those of her colleagues, has been instrumental in the Canadian government’s approach of ‘flattening the curve.’ Modelling work that she helped with has been used by many organizations and media, including the New York Times.
According to Tuite, we have to think about the timing of the virus, and what that means to the prevalence of community spread here in Kawartha Lakes.
“The time from infection to death typically takes three to four weeks. So deaths that are happening today represent infections that happened almost a month ago,” she tells the Advocate.
This timeline means that the virus was in circulation in the community before any lockdown procedures at nursing homes and before physical distancing went into effect here locally or provincially.
“You can anticipate that, in the absence of measures such as social distancing, there has been additional spread in the community, and more hospitalizations and deaths are likely in the coming weeks,” she says.
Before the United States became the world hotspot of COVID-19, much of the media focus was on Italy, which has been ravaged by the disease. Italy’s older population was invariably cited as a reason why the disease was so prevalent there.
According to recent estimates, 23 per cent of the population was 65 years or older in Italy. In Kawartha Lakes, the 2016 census shows more than a quarter of residents here are 65 or over.
“Having an older population means that you’re likely going to continue to experience a disproportionate burden in your community,” warns Tuite, in the absence of social distancing measures.
Asked to comment on Tuite’s comments, local medical officer of health, Dr. Lynn Noseworthy of the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge district health unit noted “to date, close to 80 per cent of the cases within the jurisdiction (of the local health unit) have occurred in individuals under the age of 70.”
However, given the number of Pinecrest staff who have tested positive (most of whom would be presumably under 70) and Ontario’s low testing per capita in general, testing data (as all the provincial and national authorities have been reminding us) should be treated with some reserve.
Local resident, Diane Engelstad was initially concerned about the messaging that was coming from our local health unit as not being serious enough. However, she has noticed improvements.
Engelstad is still concerned with the consistency and urgency of all local officials including that of Mayor Andy Letham because he has not asked that cottagers stay away from their seasonal homes.
As described in a recent story the mayor and at least once council member declared their support for seasonal residents coming to their properties in the city.
However, Noseworthy says “the health unit does not recommend that cottagers come up to their properties” in Kawartha Lakes.