Niagara Health’s St. Catharines hospital site.
Niagara Region’s Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Mustafa Hirji has confirmed that Niagara now has its frist case of COVID-19. In a video posted on YouTube Dr. Hirji said the patient is a male in his 80s. The patient experienced some symptoms on March 9. The patient was isolated at the St. Catharines hospital and tested for COVID-19. The test result confirmed infection on March 12. Dr. Hirji said that, “out of an abundance of caution” paramedics and healthcare providers who interacted with the patient prior to the patient being identified to have symptoms will be isolated.
Investigation into how the patient contracted COVID-19 is currently underway. Dr. Hirji said that in given the global spread of the virus, “a case in Niagara was not unexpected.”
“The risk to Niagara residents remains low,” said Dr. Hirji.
While there’s no doubt things are changing around the world at a rapid pace as a result of the continuing spread of COVID-19 things remain business as usual at Niagara’s hospitals.
In an interview with The Niagara Independent Dr. Johan Viljoen Niagara Health’s Chief of Staff said they’ve been meeting and planning around the infectious disease since January. “We started in mid-to-late January when it was obvious it was going to be a when and not if situation,” explained Dr. Viljoen.
The health care organization created a team made up of infectious disease experts and senior managers that has been meeting daily for the past few months. “The number one priority is an environment that is safe for patents and staff. We are confident we have a solid plan,” said Dr. Viljoen.
Currently Niagara Health is screening all patients using the set protocol and the team is in constant communication with provincial and federal health officials to ensure they have the most up-to-date information. “We are well equipped to identify at risk patients and treat them.”
Currently no patients at Niagara Health’s sites have tested positive for COVID-19.
While the local healthcare organization is ready and willing to deal with COVID-19 patients, Dr. Viljoen said if someone is feeling unwell and has some of the symptoms those people should not go to an emergency department. Instead people should contact their primary care physician or call Telehealth. Although to most folks it may seem counterintuitive Dr. Viljoen said, “It would not be wise to go directly to an emergency department.”
Niagara Health will soon be getting two assessment centres that will be located on hospital property but outside of the building. One will be at the Niagara Falls hospital and one will be at the St. Catharines site. “We don’t have all the details yet but once we do we will share them with the public.” The assessment centres are expected to be up and running within the next week.
While the World Health Organization has declared a pandemic Dr. Viljoen said that doesn’t mean that Niagara Health is in that situation. “It’s business as usual at this point but we are preparing for all scenarios.”
He said if a patient who tests positive for COVID-19 requires hospitalization they will be admitted to the St. Catharines site. If that happens Dr. Viljoen said then the team will decide if any clinics, surgeries or programs will move to another facility.
While there has been a flood of information circulating about the pandemic Dr. Viljoen said the best knowledge is basic knowledge. “Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, cough into your elbow, avoid contact with people who are sick and if you are sick then stay home.”
Of all the information that has been circulating about the outbreak Dr. Viljoen said the biggest myth is that wearing a mask will somehow be helpful. “If you are sick it may prevent you from sharing germs with others but if you are not sick, masks won’t prevent you from getting sick,” he explained.
Niagara Health has cancelled or postponed any staff travel to conferences or speaking engagements and any large meetings will be done by teleconference or videoconference. Any galas or social gatherings are also on hold.
“We are doing the very best we can to make sure our facilities are as safe as possible.”