After about a month of no new reported cases, local public health officials announced three new cases of COVID−19 in Sudbury within days of each other in June.
Anik Proulx said that these cases are a “strong reminder” that the community is not out of the woods yet – as the province of Ontario moves through phase two of its reopening plan, now more than ever, residents need to remain vigilant.
“Is this something we expected to happen? I don’t think that’s an easy question to answer,” said the manager of health promotion with Public Health Sudbury and Districts. “We are certainly always hoping that we won’t see any new cases in our community,”
Proulx said it is important to realize that, while the economy is reopening and people are beginning to visit stores or other areas, the virus is still in the community.
“It is circulating, so we have to be sure that those prevention and public health measures are in place to prevent transmission,” she said.
The Sudbury area hadn’t reported a case since mid−May until two individuals, a man and a woman, tested positive for the virus on Jun. 19.
A few days later, Sudbury reported its 67th case of COVID−19, a man in his 60s who is now self−isolating at home. The man had not travelled and had not come into contact with a know case of COVID−19.
Proulx said that an increase in cases once restrictions ease is not necessarily uncommon.
“The main message here, from a public health perspective, is that in order for individuals to continue to protect themselves and others, they should follow public health measures: stay home as much as possible, only travel for essential reasons, avoid groups of 10 or more people, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol−based hand sanitizer, and cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or with your upper sleeve if you cough or sneeze,” she said.
“Also remember to maintain that physical distance of two meters or six feet. If you cannot maintain that physical distance, we highly recommend that individuals do wear a non−medical mask.”
Non−medical face masks are currently not mandatory in many parts of Ontario, including in Sudbury, Manitoulin Island, and Sudbury districts.
Last week, Premier Ford announced that he was reluctant to make face masks mandatory in indoor establishments, but strongly recommended that people do so.
Meanwhile, the Windsor−Essex County Health Unit in southern Ontario issued a class order that has made it mandatory for anyone entering a commercial establishment to wear a face mask unless the person cannot wear one due to medical reasons or age.
PHSD Medical Officer of Health Dr. Penny Sutcliffe is continuing to assess the situation along with the evidence of disease spread in the community.
“Enforcement is really recognized as a challenge when we talk about making masks mandatory,” said Proulx. “Even if wearing a mask does become mandatory, it has to be self−enforcing. We know, based on the literature of behavior science, it’s more likely to occur if people do it voluntarily.”
Wearing a mask “has to become something that is normal,” she said. “We all expect that everyone will do it as an added layer of protection. Wearing a mask is actually a sign of respect and kindness. I wear a mask to protect you, and you wear a mask to protect me.”
Local public health officials also understand that the conversation is ongoing at the provincial level. Officials are still debating whether to make masks mandatory in places where maintain social distancing is a challenge.
“Places like grocery stores, on public transit, or areas where there are vulnerable individuals (long−term care homes, for example),” said Proulx.
“But of course, enforcement is a challenge, so we are trying to remind everyone that it is their responsibility to do their part to prevent transmission of the virus.”
Proulx emphasized that it’s really in the community’s hands to make the transition into reopening the economy successful.
“Wearing a mask is a small price to pay for the benefits of businesses reopening, for social isolation to end, and for mental health to flourish in our community,” she said.
By Colleen Romaniuk