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Health unit bracing for more COVID-19 cases 'in the near future'

'We have the one, but as time progresses, it is likely we will see more in our region,' says official; Assessment centre expected to open in Barrie soon

The lone confirmed case of COVID-19 remains the only one in the region, but an official with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit believes it's only a matter of time before there are more.

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Dr. Charles Gardner, the health unit's medical officer of health, announced that a Barrie man in his 40s was the first positive case of COVID-19 in the region.

After a trip to Germany and Spain, the Barrie man became ill and checked into Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) where he was tested on Monday, March 9.

Gardner said that the man’s history has been checked and he posed no threat to the public.

“If it turned out he had been symptomatic when he was out, we would release a statement alerting the public, but that is not the case,” said Gardner. “He has been self-quarantined and all is well there.”

As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to climb - it's at 101 in Ontario - Gardner expects to see a similar increase in this area.

“I think certainly we expect to have a few more in the near future,” said Gardner. “We have the one but as time progresses, it is likely we will see more in our region. We encourage everyone to just take all the precautions that the medical field has set out and pay attention to local media for updates as they become available.

It was announced on Friday that Guelph will open a COVID-19 assessment centre this coming Tuesday. The centre will be for assessing people and not for conducting actual tests for the coronavirus.

BarrieToday has learned Barrie is also getting a centre, but Gardner is hesitant to say where until it is ready to open.

“We are working on one for Barrie and that will be announced very soon,” said Gardner. “I wouldn’t want to say the location just yet as I don't want people showing up until it is ready to be accessed.”

On Friday, Ontario Health suggested that any events of 250 people or more be postponed or cancelled until further notice. The province also announced all elementary and secondary schools will be closed until April 5.

Gardner knows there are people who feel many of these steps are exaggerated, but he insists they are necessary.

“This is a very serious situation throughout the world and it definitely needs to be contained as best as possible,” said Gardner. “I think the majority of the public is responding well, but we all need to be vigilant and take all precautions.”

Tests being done will require people to get swabs of their throat and back of the nose. The protocol for anyone who tests positive is for them to remain in isolation until they've had two negative tests for the virus.

For more information about COVID-19 and precautions, visit the health unit's website.

The Ontario Ministry of Health is asking people not to visit assessment centres or emergency rooms unless they have symptoms, and not to call 911 unless it is an emergency. 

The Ministry also asks Ontarians to contact Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or your local public health unit if you’re experiencing symptoms of the 2019 novel coronavirus.