“We are ice cold,” says Dr. Catherine Bélanger, the COVID-19 coordinator for the Haut-Saint-Laurent local health network. “We have been really lucky so far,” she says, acknowledging the Valley has up to now managed to avoid the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The temporary designated evaluation clinic (DEC) that was opened at the Ormstown recreation centre to see patients exhibiting potential symptoms of COVID-19 was officially closed on May 1. “We had almost no patients,” Bélanger says of the DEC, while suggesting it was the same for the other local healthcare services as well. “We had a week where we were seeing more people in the ER, but it didn’t pan out,” she explains, confirming that the area does not have a large number of cases and that to date there are no confirmed cases in any of the CHSLDs. At press time, there were a total of 19 cases in the MRC du Haut-Saint-Laurent and 56 in the MRC des Jardins-de-Napierville.
“My feeling is that because we are a rural community and there is not that much contact between people, that this protected us,” Bélanger says, noting it may also have helped that the Barrie Memorial Hospital was designated as a non-COVID hospital.
The fact the number of confirmed cases remains low does not mean the local doctors are starting to relax. “We are definitely still worried now that [schools and businesses] are starting to open up,” she says, noting there is still a relatively high number of cases in the region surrounding the Valley. There is also the possibility that warmer weather and the relatively high number of campgrounds and cottages in the region could export the virus from more urban areas as people begin to move about more freely.
“It is scary because it is a first step,” she says, referring to the reopening of schools, retail stores and businesses after weeks of confinement. “But that’s why the doctors in the healthcare system are constantly getting ready. We are not at capacity and we are finding ways to keep people out of the hospitals,” insists Bélanger, suggesting that if a second wave should happen, the system will be able to handle it. Nevertheless, she adds, “I don’t think anyone is able to predict how things will go. We try to be prepared.”
For Bélanger, the doctors working in North America are fortunate in that they have been able to benefit from information coming from other countries. This includes the studies now emerging that detail some unsettling findings about the virus, including the potential to cause clots and strokes in younger patients and rare inflammatory syndromes associated with the virus in children. “These are things we are noticing,” she says, suggesting there is still very little to no information on how frequently these consequences are occurring. “Because of the unknown, fear is natural. You just have to act rationally and trust that the government knows what it is doing. I feel we are well prepared from what we know already. We are far from helpless.”
As such, Bélanger maintains the most important thing to remember now is that even if the numbers look good, this is not the time to stop social distancing or meticulously washing your hands. The medical centres locally are still in contact with patients primarily over the phone, and anyone can call and make an appointment, event those without a registered family doctor. Anyone who does present at the ER or the clinic with symptoms of the virus will now be asked to go to Valleyfield in order to be evaluated in person by a doctor.