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Home Health Community spread in Sydney poses challenges for health-care system, local businesses

Community spread in Sydney poses challenges for health-care system, local businesses

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A Cape Breton doctor is expressing concern that some people are letting safety measures slip as Public Health investigates community spread of COVID-19 in Sydney.

Dr. Margaret Fraser said some people might be tempted to ease off on precautions given the island’s track record up until now.

“We’ve been very lucky,” she said. “We had very few cases and most of those cases were contained relatively quickly.”

Fraser said being vaccinated against COVID-19 is not a licence to socialize.

“I’ve been hearing stories about people gathering at the golf course, in the parking lot, people gathering at Tim Hortons,” she said.

“Just because you’re vaccinated does not mean that you cannot become infected…. you may spread that to somebody who is not vaccinated, for whatever reason, and you might kill them.”

Community spread confirmed

The province confirmed community spread in Sydney on Wednesday as it announced 19 new cases of COVID-19 in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the majority of the Sydney cases are in the 20- to 30-year-old range, which is concerning since the province hasn’t seen this type of local transmission in other areas.

Fraser is a physician at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

Fraser said she isn’t surprised the bulk of community cases are among a younger population. She said people in that age group are naturally social and often meet groups of new people. 

As the region’s caseload increases, the more challenges it poses to the area’s health-care system, she said.

“The higher the chance there is that someone will end up requiring either hospitalization or hospitalization in the ICU, so this is a very concerning development,” said Fraser, a physician at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital.

The ICU in the hospital has taken over space in the cardiac unit, and an immediate care ward for people who are not sick enough for intensive care has closed. Beds in that unit are now being used by heart patients.

“Essentially we’ve done a little bed moving,” said Fraser.

‘Sincerely concerned for our community’

As of Thursday, there were 113 active cases throughout the eastern health zone, which includes the CBRM.

A local business owner described the past few days as an emotional roller-coaster. 

“I’m sincerely concerned for our community, and there have been moments where I feel like there is a lack of messaging directed towards our community from Public Health or a messaging that’s not reaching folks,” said Alison Uhma, co-owner of On Paper Books, which opened in Sydney during the pandemic. 

She said she’d like to get a better picture of what’s happening in her community “just for self-preservation.”

Uhma said her shop is pivoting from in-store sales to online shopping with curbside pickup and delivery. But she understands not all businesses can adapt so quickly. 

“And so, even though there’s the small grant for businesses, I do wonder if there are enough supports in place,” she said. “I don’t really think that there are.”

Cases tied to hockey games

Strang said the clusters of cases are likely tied to a hockey tournament in Membertou several weeks ago. 

On Thursday, he compared the infection rate in the eastern health zone to that of the central zone where the majority of the province’s 1,143 active cases have been reported.

“In the Halifax area, it’s coming under control, but we had very widespread across all age groups,” he told CBC Radio’s Information Morning Cape Breton

“In Sydney, it’s much more limited, it’s really less spread, and confined mostly to a … single age group, so I think we have a much better chance of bringing this under control really quickly.”

Amanda McDougall is mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Mayor Amanda McDougall said residents of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality have every right to feel worried.

But she said if everyone does their part, cases will drop and restrictions will ease. 

“There are signals of hope,” she said. “This virus … unfortunately has taken hold again. And we can get rid of it again.”

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