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Opinion: Are local health officials taking Covid-19 seriously?

It sends a confusing message to the public when North Bay's senior health official contradicts Canada's top doctor and minimizes a world wide pandemic by comparing it to the flu

Confusion is stirring in the city as some are questioning the seriousness of the local Covid-19 response after the mixed messages at yesterday’s press conference at city hall coming from North Bay’s chief public health official, Dr. Jim Chirico.

After talking to media about the local medical response Dr. Chirico said that he didn’t want to minimize the health crisis, but then went on to do that very thing as he trivialized the seriousness of the Covid-19 pandemic by comparing it to the 3,500 people that die annually from the flu.

Let's be clear, Covid-19 is not the flu and it is far more contagious and deadlier than the flu. At least that’s the message coming from Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, who this past weekend warned the entire country that “We all need to act now, Covid-19 is a serious public health threat and our window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow”.

Two days later on March 17th, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency, and from data obtained through media sources including Maclean's magazine, we can see the virus is spreading at an exponential rate (see chart in picture gallery).

It sends a confusing message to the public when North Bay's senior health official contradicts Canada's top doctor and minimizes a worldwide pandemic by comparing it to the flu, so let's check the numbers.

FLU: The death rate for the flu is 0.1% and the rate it spreads is 1.3 (for every 1 person who gets sick, they will spread it to 1.3 people).

COVID-19: With 184,000 sick and 7,500 dead as of the time of writing, the current global death rate for Covid-19 is sitting at approximately 4.07%. That rate jumps up to 14% - 20% for the elderly and sick. While still being determined, the Covid-19 spread rate is estimated between 2.2 – 3 (for every 1 person who gets sick, they will spread it to 2.2 - 3 people).

If Canada’s top doctors’ message isn’t enough warning, all you need to do is look outward to see the carnage this deadly virus is causing on a world-wide scale. In Italy, during the last 24 hours alone 345 people died of Covid-19 bringing that country’s death toll to 2,503 in less than two months. The economies of the world are crashing, planes are grounded, travel restricted and borders closing, hospitals being overrun in many countries, and even church services banned.

I don’t remember the entire world shutting down from the flu before, or even from  9-11, SARS, MERS, or even Ebola.

When it comes to testing for the virus, some places are doing it right such as South Korea who are doing drive-thru testing centers across the nation and the USA who are offering testing to anyone at all who wants one, and is actively encouraging people to get tested.

But when it comes to testing locally some are questioning North Bay's approach as the majority of potential Covid19 patients are being turned away from getting tested in the first place if they don’t meet unnecessarily strict criteria. At a time like this, shouldn’t we be encouraging as many people as possible to get tested if they feel ill? 

Covid-19 is in Canada, it's in Ontario, and in all likelihood, it's here in North Bay as well and it has a 2 week incubation period. By downplaying the seriousness of this illness, it is increasing the likelihood of “community spread” and instead of discovering and isolating a small number of sick people, by discouraging testing we risk it spreading to the point where the infected numbers could skyrocket and by then it could be too late to try and contain it and our hospitals could be overwhelmed.

Now is not a time to panic, but it is not a time for business as usual or half measures either. This too shall pass, but until then we all need to be concerned and take the appropriate actions to keep each other safe. 

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Neal McNamara

About the Author: Neal McNamara

Neal McNamara is an entrepreneur, investor, and former Military Police studying business at Nipissing University
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