The message from Grey-Bruce’s medical officer of health is clear: Do not travel to visit extended families for Easter this weekend.
Dr. Ian Arra said he’ll be sharing a meal with extended family members with the help of his iPad and an internet connection.
The Easter travel question was posed during the second telephone town hall with local leaders and host Bruce Power. The hour-long program was broadcast live on local radio stations Tuesday and made available online shortly after its completion.
Arra – who has become a household name locally over the last month serving as the public face in the fight against COVID-19 – stayed the course with his message. Wash your hands. Stay at home if you’ve been ordered to do so by public health, a medical professional, or recently returned from international travel. For others, maintain physical distancing when out in the community and only go out for essential items.
And although there is plenty of cause for concern, he wants people the use that concern to fuel their drive toward responsible actions – not in fanning flames of fear.
“If this was an emergency for a war, many people would not even dare to stick their head out a window for fear of a bullet,” he said. “We need to be concerned at that level, but at the same time not afraid.
“For the very few people who are not convinced that this is an emergency, that this is a situation that they need to be alarmed, I encourage you to please listen. Take some time during the day to read about what’s going on and read about what you need to do,” Arra said. “It’s time for people who don’t think this is an emergency to recalculate their thoughts.”
Arra said every measure the public health unit takes, and every bit of advice or order given, is based on evidence and data.
When a caller asked why the public health unit isn’t advising people to wear masks, Arra said there is no evidence to support that it would prevent or slow the spread of the virus locally.
Masks, Arra said, are only effective in preventing an asymptomatic virus carrier from spreading the virus. For others, it may cause them to touch their face more often – or give them a false sense of security.
People with the virus, or displaying symptoms, should not be going out in the community – mask or no mask.
When a caller asked if the virus could attach itself to their clothes while out on a walk, Arra brought up other people who have asked about the virus attaching to their dogs. He’s even heard of people boarding their pets to help mitigate that risk.
“This is fear,” he said. And it’s what he doesn’t want people spreading in daily conversations or over social media.
Arra said there are no reports, no evidence, of people getting the virus in such ways.
“It does not have legs, it does not have wings,” he said.
Arra also relayed how fear is causing harm in the community by relaying a story about a family with a confirmed case of the virus worrying about stigma if their neighbours found of they “brought the virus” back from a recent trip.
He referred to the story while answering a question about why the local health unit isn’t narrowing down the location of lab-test confirmed positive COVID-19 cases.
“Assume it exists in every location,” he said. “Presume any interaction could lead to transmission.”
Arra said with evidence of community transmission it’s trivial to pinpoint each location of a positive case to the general public.
The medical officer of health again applauded the efforts of local leaders and community partners including Bruce Power. He said he’s never seen more political commitment to health.
He relayed something a former mentor at the World Health Organization told him, that a political leader can save more lives in one week than a medical professional could their entire career.
“I thought at the time I understood what it means, I did understand it, but not in so much depth as I’ve started working here . . . and definitely in comparison to the last month,” he said.
He said we have a robust set of five tools to fight this virus. The health-care system, public health, local leaders, community partners, and the public.
The last and biggest tool, the public, are the ones who are going to have the biggest role in flattening the curve.
“It is literally in the hands of the public, in the handwashing of the public,” he said.