Stay away from hotspots such as Ottawa, says top doctor for Leeds, Grenville & Lanark

BROCKVILLE — Dr. Paula Stewart has some simple advice for residents of the local health unit who live close to Ottawa:

“Don’t go where the virus is.”

Stewart, medical officer of health for the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, says the surge of COVID-19 in the nation’s capital is having a spill-over effect into her health region.

About half of the active COVID cases in the health unit are from eastern Lanark, Stewart noted.

Many residents of that area work in Ottawa or have relocated from the city, she said. They still have friends and colleagues in Ottawa and have such services as their hairdresser or barber there.

Stewart pointed to Premier Doug Ford’s request that people in Ontario’s COVID hotspots avoid visiting low-risk areas to guard against spreading the virus.

Stewart said she had the same advice for residents here, but in reverse: Stay away from COVID hotspots.

Stewart said the second wave of COVID was very different from the first and posed new challenges for public health officials.

When the pandemic hit this spring, virus carriers were mainly people who had recently returned from travels in Europe or the United States, she said. They tended to be older.

There also were serious outbreaks in two of the region’s long-term care homes and one nursing home, all in Lanark.

The average age of COVID 19 patients in the first wave was in the mid-70s, she said.

In the current wave, the demographics are different. Instead of seniors, the average age of a COVID-19 victim is mid-30s.

Stewart said people were contracting COVID from social gatherings or in workplaces.

She said people tended to let their guards down as COVID numbers dropped during the summer and businesses and schools reopened.

Workplaces have become a problem for COVID as workers forget the basic rules of social distancing, masks and hand-washing, she said.

People must remember that anyone outside of their own households is a potential carrier of the virus, she said. You never know where they’ve been or with whom they’ve been, she added.

Workplaces have redesigned layouts to keep people apart, but employees often forget the rules in lunchrooms or during after-work gatherings with colleagues, she said.

Even such activities as carpooling can be hazardous if people don’t open windows, reduce the number of passengers and wear face coverings, she said.

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