With the latest spike of COVID-19 cases in Renfrew County resolved, Dr. Robert Cushman, Acting Medical Officer of Health for the Renfrew County District Health Unit, says now is not the time to be complacent.

He says wave two of the coronavirus is hammering the world, but for Renfrew County, November was better than October and September. He warns that residents could get a big, horrible surprise for Christmas. He pointed to similar spikes of COVID cases after Thanksgiving in the US, and says they can draw parallels to what could happen over the holiday season.

During Renfrew County’s spike in the early autumn, he says that the Unit struggled at times to keep up with contact tracing. Quicker lab turnaround thanks to the Eastern Ontario Hospital Lab was very helpful and he said that the Unit had done really hard work with contact tracing. But he said during October and November, they were really stretched for resources, sometimes to the breaking point. He said November hunting camps were responsible for 7 cases. Cushman says that one of the workplace outbreaks was caused by only one person, but was responsible for 18 cases and nearly 200 close contacts needing testing and isolating. He said you can see just how fast and how far it can spread here.

Cushman also says preparations are underway to distribute a vaccine when it gets approved. He says the Unit has been working with the province. Cushman says he has the utmost faith in General Rick Hillier who he says he worked with during the Ice Storm of 1998. Cushman says the military is very skilled at this type of work. On what the Unit itself will do, Cushman says the flu clinics they are currently administering are considered a test run for rolling out, and good preparation for this vaccine. RCDHU and Paramedics will run immunization clinics based on what they will receive from the major population centers. Cushman however predicts more people are going to want the vaccine than what they will be able to receive. Cushman indicated that healthcare workers and long-term care homes would be a priority to receive a vaccine.

With news that Eastern Ontario health units would be receiving rapid tests, Cushman says that RT-PCR, the nasal test, will remain as the gold standard and widely used in the RCDHU. He said the new tests are much better for rapid testing in a place where there’s a lot of COVID-19, like an outbreak in a long-term care home. He says in those situations they can get reliable results. But he says If the health units use it in the community as a whole, with a very low prevalence of the virus, like Renfrew County, the test loses its accuracy. If improperly used he says the number of false negatives could give them more misinformation than not.

In closing, Dr. Cushman says the health unit is relying on you to keep the coronavirus in check and urges people to continue their physical distancing, hand washing and face covering. He says winter is upon us, and there will be more time indoors with a virus that thrives in closed spaces. He says the key is to keep people in your bubble to a minimum. Cushman says the only way for decent herd immunity comes with a vaccine. He says that it will be a long, tough winter, but says the community is the offence. He says the health unit is relying on you.

As of December 4th in Renfrew County, the are two active cases in Pembroke and Renfrew areas. 132 cases are resolved with 1 death.