Lambton Public Health investigating nursing home and workplace COVID-19 outbreaks

Dr. Sudit Ranade, Lambton's Acting Medical Officer of Health,

COVID-19 appears to be clawing its way back into Lambton County.

After having only seven people test positive for the virus in September, four new cases were confirmed over the last four days – including in local schools. But late Thursday afternoon, public health issued a news release indicating the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is about to increase dramatically as they investigate an outbreak at a nursing home and a workplace.

Lambton Public Health is investigating an outbreak at a yet-to-be named Sarnia nursing home. Outbreaks are declared when one staff member or resident of long term care tests positive for COVID-19. The home is reaching out to residents family members now, so the location has not yet been identified.

An outbreak in long term care generally leads to changes in the way homes operate including increased infection control measures and limiting the number of people coming into the home.

In March, the province closed all homes in the province to any visitor, including family. The province only eased those restrictions, gradually, starting in June.

While visiting restrictions are likely at the Sarnia home now in outbreak, essential care givers – generally family members who play an active role in the care of the resident – will be allowed to continue coming into homes in outbreaks under new provincial rules. Ontario’s Associate Chief of Health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, has said only public health officials will be able to issue orders to keep essential care givers out of the homes.

Public health is also investigating an outbreak at a workplace where more than two people have tested positive for COVID-19. Officials don’t identify workplaces with outbreaks.

“Workplace outbreaks are declared when two or more employees test positive for COVID-19 within a reasonable timeline to suspect transmission in the workplace,” state public health officials in a news release. “All employees and close contacts have been identified and moved to isolation.

“There is no further risk to the community at this time. Workplaces will only be named if public notification will help to identify additional close contact that cannot be determined through contact tracing.”

Officials add “other potential individual cases have been identified through ongoing investigations.” Public health is now waiting for results of testing.

This comes just hours after we learned two more schools in Lambton are now reporting cases of COVID-19.

Tuesday, the Lambton Kent District School Board notified families of students in two classrooms one student tested positive for COVID-19. Those classes were told to stay home and isolate until Oct. 22.

Today, the board confirms another case at Bright’s Grove Public School. Two classes have also be told to self isolate there.

Director of Education John Howitt says there are now 92 students in total isolating at home and learning online.

“All of our face-to-face learning classrooms have an online learning presence. If public health does dismiss a class, we can quickly pivot,” he says.

And there is another case at Northern Collegiate in Sarnia however, Howitt say the person had not been in school for the past two weeks so the diagnosis has not affected the school at all.

The director adds while it has been stressful, the board and the schools are handling the situation as well as could be expected.

“It would be great if we went through the entire pandemic without a case, but it might not be a realistic expectation,” he says. Howitt adds teachers learn early to be flexible through change. “you are always ready for the unexpected,” he says. “That said, a pandemic is something you’re not trained for – you don’t expect – and it has required us to do some different things.”

There are now three active cases of COVID-19 in Lambton County with four cases in the last four days.

Across the province, there are 109 new school cases today including 55 new student cases, 17 new staff cases. Of the 451 current schools with cases, and five are currently closed.

Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Sudit Ranade, in a news release late Thursday afternoon urges residents to remember the public health guidelines about washing hands, social distancing and wearing masks when that is not possible. He’s also urging people to limit their activities.

“Narrow the scope of activities to absolute essentials to keep the spread to a minimum and allow other activities to function,” he says. “Transmission is connected to our social interactions and behaviours.”