Screening for coronavirus at Canada’s border “full of holes” that cannot be plugged


There is no effective way to screen people for the new coronavirus on the Canada-US border, health experts tell Global News.

This includes the thousands of essential workers – such as nurses, doctors, truckers and airline crews – who are exempt from the ban on non-essential travel to Canada and who continue to move freely across the border.

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“There is no magic solution to making our borders absolutely watertight,” said Dr. Michael Gardam, infectious disease specialist and chief of staff at the Humber River Hospital in Toronto.

Gardam says screening measures like those deployed at Canada’s borders – where officers ask travelers if they feel unwell and look for physical signs of illness – are ineffective.

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He says there are several reasons for this: people sometimes lie about their health and others may not show symptoms.

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“We know from studies that have been done in recent months that border control measures are sort of 50/50,” said Gardam. “They are not great. “

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Gardam said other more invasive measures, such as checking the temperature of people when crossing the border or boarding an aircraft, may also not help detect the virus because common drugs, such as Advil and Tylenol, eliminate symptoms like fever and cough.

“People can answer questions honestly and have no temperature, and then develop symptoms five minutes after crossing the border,” he said.

Cross-border travel causes concern

According to statistics released by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), during the first full week of new border measures, approximately 317,000 people entered Canada. This includes essential workers, such as commercial truckers, who represented almost half of the 187,000 land border crossings reported by the CBSA.

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“There is no practical way to do a full border check and expect that when you go to the grocery store, the food will be on the shelf,” said the mayor of Windsor, in Ontario, Drew Dilkens.

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Dilkens is concerned about the safety of approximately 1,600 essential health workers who cross the Windsor-Detroit border almost daily.

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But Dilkens does not advocate the complete closure of the border to nurses and doctors. This would be inhuman and would deprive people living on both sides of the border of the vital health care resources they need to fight COVID-19, he said.

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Instead of closing the border to essential workers, Dilkens said that public health officials and hospitals in Canada and the United States must ensure that personnel have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and that resources are available so that people can practice physical distance whenever possible.

“We know, as the hospitals there know very well, that if something were to happen at the border that caused a sudden stop, you would literally have entire hospitals that would have to close,” he said.

Health workers are asked to choose

As of Monday, Michigan had 17,221 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 727 associated deaths. About a quarter of the cases and an equal proportion of deaths were recorded in Detroit.

The sudden acceleration of the virus – which has made Michigan a center for the coronavirus epidemic in the United States – worries health officials in Windsor.

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Windsor-Essex County Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said he and his staff recently advised local hospitals to ask nurses and doctors working on both sides of the border to choose if they wished to continue working in Canada or the United States

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Ahmed said the request, which was first reported by the Globe and Mail on Monday, is aimed at minimizing risk to healthcare workers and preventing transmission of the virus from Detroit to Windsor and vice versa. He said it was also about reducing the possibility of spreading the virus from one health facility to another.

“If we can reduce the number of crossings, we can reduce the risk,” he said.

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Regarding border screening, Ahmed said there was little more that could be done to detect the virus, especially in cases where people had not yet developed symptoms.

He said he had heard of doing “spot tests” at the border, which would use rapid test results to determine if someone wishing to enter Canada has COVID-19, but that type of test can also be problematic because people with the virus will not always be positive at the onset of the disease.

This, he said, could lead to a “false sense of security” for people who test negative and then move to the community.

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Like Gardam, he believes that the only effective way to stop the spread of the disease among essential workers is to remain vigilant about social dislocation and to follow other public health recommendations.

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He also said that prioritizing testing for healthcare workers, which Windsor-Essex does, is essential to preventing the spread of the disease.

The government, meanwhile, has stated that it has adopted strict border screening measures and that anyone with signs of illness – however they answer screening questions – will be referred to those responsible for public health for a new interrogation.

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The CBSA has also stepped up operations, including observing and interviewing travelers in airport arrival areas, and distributing information brochures to anyone entering Canada with details on mandatory self-isolation. , physical remoteness and other precautionary measures that they must follow.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked on Monday about health care workers forced to choose between working in Canada or the United States. He said the premiers and local mayors had to make “extremely difficult decisions” and that he knew they would do what is the right to protect their communities.

He also said it was important that essential medical supplies and personnel be allowed to cross the border without interruption.

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