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Ontario doctors call for some public health measures to stay in place as province reopens
A doctor wears a stethoscope around his neck as he tends to patients in his office in Illinois on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jeff Roberson
Katherine DeClerq, CP24.com
Published Saturday, May 16, 2020 1:36PM EDT
The organization representing Ontario doctors is calling on the government to keep certain public health measures in place until a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is discovered.
As the province begins the process of reopening following a months-long lockdown due to the pandemic, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) is urging caution, saying that until a vaccine is available, there will always be a risk of a surge of COVID-19 patients.
“As Ontario begins to plan for reopening, consideration must be given to the fact that significant work and loss have brought us to this point of readiness and continued efforts and measures are required to safely transition to a ‘new normal,’” the OMA said in a report made public on Friday.
“What we know from the experience of other countries and the biology of the virus is that we should not rush. We cannot immediately return — by default — to the previous normal. Rather, we must make a transition to a “new normal” so that we are able to control our ability to lift and impose restrictions as needed and avoid a potential surge.”
In light of the reopening, the OMA is recommending that the following five public health measures remain in place until a treatment for the disease is found.
The first recommendation is that people should continue to use “personal protective measures,” which includes physical distancing, hand washing and wearing masks in public. The association also recommends that workplaces stagger shifts and allow employees to work with home when possible.
In order to reopen, the OMA says the province must also have a firm understanding of “the prevalence of COVID-19 in the population” through proper testing. This includes the capacity to provide and analyze tests for anyone with symptoms of the disease, as well as close contacts, essential workers and vulnerable populations.
Temperature checks, the OMA said, are not an adequate measure of COVID-19 status.
“Temperature checks only indicate those who are experiencing symptoms and specifically symptoms of fever, thereby neglecting those who are not yet symptomatic or experiencing other symptoms,” the report said.
In addition to testing, the OMA is calling for sustainable contact tracing of all cases in order to find and isolate as many close contacts of positive patients as possible. To do so, the association said the province may have to hire more tracers or use technology to help support interviews.
The OMA wants a “nuanced approach” when it comes to the decision to reopen schools and child-care centres. The report says that parents who choose to not have their children return to school should be provided with alternatives.
“While most children will generally be at a lower risk of developing severe symptoms of the virus, some kids who have underlying health conditions, as well as some teachers and staff, may be at higher risk. Parents may also be at high risk if their children get infected and bring the disease at home.”
Schools and most child-care centres in Ontario have been closed as of mid-March. A decision on whether they will reopen for the remainder of the academic year is expected early next week.
Finally, in order to ensure everyone is cooperating with the public health measures, the OMA says that the government should provide “simple, timely, effective, evidence-based and transparent” communications with the public.
The OMA represents more than 43,000 physicians, residents, medical students and retired physicians.