After not seeing a single new case of virus in the Huron Perth public health area since May 1, health officials are reporting a checkmark in the positive column, marking the region’s 50th case.
The new case, reported on May 20 at the Maitland Manor in Goderich, also triggers a six-day streak with no active cases reported in Huron or Perth counties. This is still only the 13th case documented in Huron County.
“I think some of the things that could be protective of Huron-Perth is that we are not an urban center, we have a density lower than that of a city,” said Miriam Klassen, medical officer of health for Huron -Perth.
Although experts and health officials agree that population density plays a role in the region’s lower rates, with rural communities generally being more dispersed, this is not the only reason the region has successfully fought off a massive wave of COVID-19 cases.
Klassen said the health unit was able to quickly conduct a thorough contact tracing and that pre-existing partnerships formed in the region within a single Ontario health team have accelerated effective communication.
She also said that there was a strong response from the community respecting public health guidelines such as social distance.
“People listened to the health unit’s response and instructions,” said Huron County Director Jim Ginn. “Because we have an older population, that may be part of the reason why they have taken this to heart in more of our regions. “
Huron-Perth Public Health on Thursday registered 37.2 cases per 100,000 population, far from the provincial average of 162.7.
By comparison, the Middlesex-London Health Unit has 92 cases per 100,000, Sarnia-Lambton at 178.7, Chatham-Kent at 133.6 and Windsor-Essex at 189.3.
Southwestern Public Health, which covers the center of Elgin and Oxford, is 30.3, making it the 7th lowest of the province’s 36 health units.
These numbers are likely to increase in the coming weeks as tests for people with mild symptoms increase, which means less severe cases of COVID-19 will be detected.
But beyond social distancing and a dispersed population, there is one more thing that is probably on the side of Huron-Perth Public Health and Southwestern Public Health: luck.
“When it comes to the health units that initially fed the imported cases, it often comes down to luck,” said Susan Bondy, epidemiologist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.
According to Bondy, some regions, for whatever reason, were fortunate not to have imported a significant number of cases after the March vacation.
Meanwhile, border cities like Sarnia and Windsor have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 cases.
“There is no evidence that there is anything special in Huron-Perth that they will not get a case for. It’s all about movement, ”said Bondy. “They are two hours by car from an imported case.”
Public health officials in the Huron-Perth and southwest regions fear that the low number of cases in their regions will trigger complacency among residents and urge citizens to remain vigilant even during the reopening of the province.
“In fact, I’m quite worried at the moment. I think people are still hoping and perhaps thinking that this COVID pandemic can be turned off like a light switch, “said Joyce Locke, medical officer of health for Southwestern Public Health. “It is far from the truth. “
She said the more businesses open, the more individuals should follow the recent recommendation from the federal and provincial governments to wear a non-medical face mask in indoor environments where physical distance is difficult.
Fatigue with physical measures of distance, especially during the summer, is a real possibility. This time of year tends to lead to more travel, with day trippers leaving big cities for quick getaways to rural areas, parks or beaches.
That, coupled with the relatively low COVID-19 figures in these rural areas, and people might get the false impression that the risk is gone, said Locke.
This is why she thinks that a regional approach to reopen the province further is not a good idea.
“It would only allow us to lower our guard further and be more at risk of something happening,” said Locke. “I think assuming we are not that bad would only prepare us to become that bad.” “