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COVID-19: Don’t let down your guard, doctors warn

The impact of public health measures restricting activities during the COVID-19 pandemic can now be felt across the Valley as we approach a seventh week since schools were closed and we were collectively introduced to the term ‘self-quarantine.’ With the sun starting to warm the spring air, the temptation might be to think we are relatively safe in our rural municipalities and break out of self-imposed isolation just a bit. This, however, would be a grave mistake, say the doctors working at our local medical centres and the designated assessment clinic (DAC) at the Recreation Centre in Ormstown. Rather, the time to worry is now.
“We are seeing more cases in the community and in the elderly [in the municipalities] around us,” says Dr. Catherine Bélanger, the COVID-19 coordinator for the Haut-Saint-Laurent local health network (LHN). “We can’t say that we are protected in our countryside,” she says. “Right now is the time to stay home.”

 

The open spaces in our rural environment help us feel relatively protected from the coronavirus, but we must still be cautious. PHOTO Lianne Finnie

 

The assessment clinic at the Recreation Centre has so far only seen a small number of patients. This is primarily explained by two factors, Bélanger says. The first is that “COVID has not hit yet. But I think it’s coming.” The second stems from the fact doctors have so far been able to treat potential cases through the medical centres. “We are doing as much as we can by telephone,” she notes, suggesting that for most patients a consult over the phone is enough to determine whether someone needs to be seen in person at the DAC or tested for the virus. And, right now, anyone is able to call the Huntingdon or Ormstown Medical Centres, whether they have a family doctor or not.

“The virus is at our door”

Due to a change to the government’s protocol for virus testing based on priority, “lots of patients are not being tested,” Bélanger says, adding that the medical community is relying instead on ‘soft signs’ to understand how the virus is progressing throughout the region and province. For example, the number of hospitalizations in the region continues to increase. Another sign is the fact that outbreaks have occurred in seniors’ residences in Chateauguay, Beauharnois, Vaudreuil and Salaberry-de-Valleyfield. A third soft sign is an increase in the number of people coming to the emergency room at the Barrie Memorial Hospital with symptoms compatible with COVID-19. “The virus is at our door. I think it’s here, or it’s coming within the next week,” Bélanger warns.

“This is probably the most critical time to be staying home,” says Dr. Justin Wight. “The fire is burning all around us,” he adds, while noting that anytime people travel outside the immediate area, they risk bringing the virus back with them, as it is now spreading in the community. “We should be staying as close to home as possible,” he says, suggesting it is important to be limiting our trips by planning outings so that all can be done in one trip.

Medical services still available

The way in which Valley residents are able to access medical care has changed as a result of the pandemic. In an effort to make this change as easy to understand as possible, the doctors have produced a graphic that clearly explains what to do when you think you need medical help, whether it has to do with symptoms of the virus or general health issues. “It is all about prevention,” Wight says of the graphic now widely circulating. “It is about knowing who to call if you are concerned about your health,” he adds, suggesting he understand that people might be hesitant right now about seeking medical help.
“If you have an emergency, you need to go to the hospital,” Wight says, noting there is no reason to fear the hospital. “Patients with a medical condition, should seek care,” he adds. Anyone who is not comfortable going straight to the hospital at this time should not hesitate to call the medical centres and speak with a doctor over the phone. They will decide whether you need to be seen in person, and where you should go. “Despite COVID, medical emergencies still happen. You can’t be scared of going to the hospital,” says Wight. “And, you can call us,” adds Bélanger, repeating once again that medical care is still available and is just as efficient in the Valley.

 

CHART courtesy of Dr. Catherine Bélanger

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