Is there a Regional plan in place should the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) reach pandemic proportions?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

March 1st, 2020



The coronavirus disease (COVID-19)  has been found in 47 countries.

We may be be close to declaring a pandemic, which is when a whole country or the world is infected.  China, Iran and Italy are struggling to control the spread of the disease. The disease is now being spread in the United States.

Ontario has now found 19 people who are infected.

There is much that is not yet known by this virus. It appears that most people do recover from an infection.

The damage to the economy has been significant; the New York Stock Exchange recorded the largest drop in its history.

Stock prices

Biggest one day drop of New York Stock Exchange prices in its history. “The game has changed with Italy and also with the new case in California,”

People have every reason to be concerned – deeply concerned.

Japan has closed all its schools.

It has been suggested that the Tokyo Olympics might be cancelled.

None of this is said to be alarmist – however we do have a serious problem on our hands.

Ontario learned a lot from the SARS outbreak – those lessons are serving us well.

The provincial Medical Officer of Health and the Ministry of Health has a constant flow of information – we are informed at the federal level and the provincial level.

We are not informed at the Regional level.

The disease is now in Canada.  It is being passed from person to person.  That does not mean the ravages of the 1918 Spanish flu is about to overcome us – but it does mean things have changed and public behavior has to change.

The public expects leadership from the people who we have put in place to lead.  The Medical Officer of Health is a critical part of protecting us.  Saying nothing is just not acceptable.

In the event that the virus gets completely out of control what does the average uninfected person do?

What does a person who suspects they might be infected do?

What does a person who is infected do?

If there are say 100 people in the Region infected – what do we do?

Is there a plan in place?

We have plans for people to use recreational centers when the weather is sub-zero and dangerous to be out in.

The public is advised when there is a West Nile virus concern – the Gazette publishes those notices regularly as we do with an outbreak of measles.


Dr. Hamidah Meghani, Halton’s Medical Officer of Heath.

The public has not heard a word from the Regional Medical Officer of Health on the COVID19 virus.

The public deserves better.

The Medical Officer of Health for the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health board told a local newspaper in that community that “It’s more of a communication event than a medical event for us.”

The communications advisors at the Region said the Medical Officer of Health had no comment when the Gazette asked for a comment.

Region alcohol

A report on Halton’s alcohol consumption took up more than 45 minutes during a Regional Council meeting

The Regional Medical Officer of Health did advise Regional Council recently  that Halton could well have a alcohol problem; the Regional rate of consumption is 5% higher than the provincial rate.

There is something wrong with the priorities.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.



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3 comments to Is there a Regional plan in place should the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) reach pandemic proportions?

  • Tom Muir

    Health agencies in Canada behave habitually (politically really) so they “don’t alarm the public”. I have personal experience working with governments showing this tendency and being warned off by this phrase.

    In a recent February 25 Medscape article, titled, COVID-19: Time to ‘Take the Risk of
    Scaring People’, this situation was addressed by several experts. I have excerpted some of their remarks in the following.

    “We hope that governments and healthcare institutions are using this time wisely,” Sandman and Lanard continue. “We know that ordinary citizens are not being asked to do so. In most countries…ordinary citizens have not been asked to prepare. Instead, they have been led to expect that their governments will keep the virus from their doors.”

    For Osterholm, the official WHO designation of pandemic is irrelevant at this point — it’s a pandemic mindset that health professionals need to nurture. “I recognized weeks ago we weren’t going to contain this thing,” said Osterholm, who coauthored a recent opinion piece in the New York Times.

    “When you realize, oh my with influenza-like transmission in a disease that might have over 2% fatality rate, this is a very serious situation,” Osterholm told Medscape Medical News. “Trying to contain [a virus] like that is like trying to stop the wind. It’s not going to happen.”

    And he said previous comparisons of COVID-19 to seasonal influenza created a false sense of security.

    “What we’re talking about is a disease that could have a much bigger impact than flu on any one given year,” he stressed “When’s the last time you saw influenza, even as a pandemic strain in 2009, shut down supply chains like this? Or cause the kind of international issues like this. This is a really a very different situation. The mortality rate is 20 to 30 times higher.”

    Osterholm added, “I want people to start preparing today. We need to shore up our healthcare facilities and providers. We have to protect healthcare workers at all costs. What does that mean to you and your family? How are you going to stay together? How are you going to keep track of each other? Who is going to be there to take care of you if you’re a single mom and you get sick? Who is going to ensure that grandma has her medication? What kind of plans do you have for your food? Do you just assume your grocery store will be open in the normal way? Maybe you should start stockpiling goods.

    “There’s a lot of these issues we take for granted and don’t necessarily think about.”

    Public health and other healthcare personnel have an opportunity to explain to the public what to expect, agreed Toronto epidemiologist Fisman.

    “I don’t think this is the apocalypse, but it will look like a terrible flu season on steroids,” he cautioned. “People need guidance on how to prepare: Do I need an emergency kit? Should I have a food supply if my neighborhood is going to be on lockdown? Should I be planning family gatherings or events that will involve lots of travel? I don’t have answers to those questions: I think people need to look to public health agencies for guidance and I think public health agencies should be forthcoming.”

    Sandman and Lanard say healthcare professionals are wary of fear-mongering, but “over-alarming risk messages are far more forgivable than over-reassuring ones,” they write. “You’re only darned if you warn about something that turns out minor. But you’re damned, and rightly so, if you fail to warn about something that turns out serious.”

    It’s time to “take the risk of scaring people,” they write.

    “Every single official we know is having multiple ‘Oh my God’ moments, as new COVID-19 developments occur and new findings emerge,” say Sandman and Lanard. “And then what do they tell the public? That they understand that ‘people are concerned’ (as if they themselves weren’t alarmed), but ‘the risk is low and there’s nothing you need to do now.’ ”

    Fisman said the most concerning news about the spread of the virus is coming out of Iran “where there must be massive numbers of cases but very few are reported. You can’t fight an enemy you can’t see. This is likely across the Middle East, into Syria and Iraq, and I think that effectively ends the hope of containment.”

    He says estimates of the number of actual cases in Iran exceed 20,000, given the number of “exported” cases registered in Canada, Lebanon, and United Arab Emirates. With further Iran-linked cases identified in Afghanistan, Iraq, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait [on February 24], “the underlying epidemic in Iran needs to be massive,” he said.

    And healthcare professionals should not trick themselves into thinking the virus’ impact will be any lighter outside of China, said Osterholm. “When’s the last time you ever saw a virus change how it acts or operates when it crosses a political border? Next time you’re on a New York subway just think about what’s different between Wuhan and New York subways?”

    I particularly like the phrase “over-alarming risk messages are far more forgivable than over-reassuring ones,” they write. “You’re only darned if you warn about something that turns out minor. But you’re damned, and rightly so, if you fail to warn about something that turns out serious.”

  • Penny Hersh

    If at all possible don’t travel by airplane. All of the cases in Ontario to date have been spread by travellers returning from areas where the coronavirus is prevalent. If you have to travel wear a mask. In airports there are many travellers returning from different countries and one never knows where they are coming from.

    We have also been told that if you feel you might have come in contact with the virus then call the hospital first before going. The hospital will take the necessary steps to ensure that you don’t come in contact with anyone waiting in the emergency department. Also make sure you wear a mask.

    I would suggest that people take precautions even when going to see their doctor or going to a clinic. Sitting in close quarters with other people that are ill is not the best scenario at the best of times.

  • Carol Gottlob

    I can explain the alcohol consumption: this is a pretty affluent community. Alcohol is well within the budget of many (not all) households. Furthermore, alcohol is a disinfectant, therefore without direction from the Medical Health Officer, residents of Halton are left to their own devices as to how best to fend off this virus….
    -Remove tongue from cheek –
    In all seriousness, there should be billboards everywhere, on busses, on bus shelters, on the QEW, in schools, in Tim Hortons, GO stations, etc advising folks that the last place they should go if they have Corona-like symptoms is the hospital, dr’s office or walk-in clinic without calling ahead to be received by personnel who are prepared (protected) to receive them.
    What about using the Amber alert system to advise folks what to do, and more importantly, what not to do?
    It’s not my job, but that’s what I would be doing.