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Elliot Lake mayor frustrated by vagueness of Algoma's COVID-19 case information

Dan Marchisella said during a televised information session that he has been 'ignored' by senior Algoma Public Health management
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Algoma Public Health file photo. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Elliot Lake Mayor Dan Marchisella found himself somewhat at odds with Elliot Lake Family Health Team member Dr. Cathy Groh Monday night during a televised and live streamed public information session at City Hall.

Mayor Marchisella was the only council member in the room. He was joined by Dr. Groh; executive director of the Counselling Centre of East Algoma, Shelly Watt Proulx; and Elliot Lake's CAO, Daniel Gagnon.

The mayor said he was unhappy that Algoma Public Health, based in Sault Ste. Marie, has been ignoring his and others' queries about how many Elliot Lakers have tested positive for COVID-19.

"Many questions about Agoma Public Health this past week. Our Algoma Public Health nurses are absolutely great and helpful. But to be blunt and honest, Public Health communications have been unreliable, weak, late to the table, and frankly, not forthcoming at all," he noted.

"Algoma District spans a distance of nearly 700 kilometres across, so telling us how many cases in the district does not help local agencies and government in preparation and planning. I'm very thankful to our local Family Health Team and the hospital for helping to keep us informed. But thus far for Algoma (Public Health), I have been ignored by their senior management from the Sault for over a week now, and that's not acceptable," he added. "I'm not the only one facing this issue."

As for enforcement of distancing regulations, the mayor stated that Elliot Lake Council has unanimously passed a by-law to promote and regulate social distancing in the community along with adding to the compliment of by-law enforcement measures and staffing over this last week.

"I've heard many irrational statements and seen irresponsible actions of many in our community, which leads us to the need as a municipality to take more extreme measures. If this continues to spread in our community, we will continue to take more extreme measures to protect our residents. And, no, this is not a global hoax. It is a global emergency affecting 208 countries world-wide with almost a 1.5 million infected as of this afternoon. No one is safe and we have a duty to protect each other," he said.

"We're also recommending that you wear masks or bandanas when you are out in the public. If you wear gloves, you need to wash and sanitize your hands often. Drink lots of liquids. Wash your clothing that you have worn in the public, one person per household to go out shopping. Try to use debit or credit card only – cash is extremely dirty. Reduce your outings for essential shopping to once a week if you can. Take the effort to wash your groceries. If you need a delivery, you can call the Age Friendly Delivers at 705-849-0970. Yes, you can go out for walks, but again, practice social distancing. Stop all non-essential travel to and from Elliott Lake."

Algoma Public Health has released only basic information about the people so far identified as positive in the district.

The Elliot Lake Family Health team has confirmed that three of Algoma's nine COVID-19 cases are in Elliot Lake.

Typically, APH news releases state whether the patient is male or female, their approximate age, and a brief explanation of travel history (if any), how they were exposed to the virus, and the date of positivity or medical assessment.

Marchisella said APH has not been consistent in providing specific community identification information for the reported COVID-19 cases.

Algoma Public Health did not respond to ElliotLakeToday's requests for comment on the COVID-19 case information it is releasing.

In response to his concerns, Dr. Groh told the mayor that no one should be critical of someone who contracts COVID-19. She defended APH policies, noting that by using even non-identifying background information, people can sometimes piece details together and reason out who the person is.

"I know Algoma Public Health had a lot of concern about releasing information about people who tested positive because they were very concerned that there might be some backlash," she said. "I did, unfortunately, on Facebook witness some sort of backlash towards people who they didn't even know, who had tested positive."

"First of all, there's no reason when someone tests positive to make any sort of negative comments about that person. That's very important that we don't do that. We do realize that when we release information about somebody testing positive and we don't use names, that we need to keep the amount of information we release about the patient to a minimum. Because it's important that we protect people's confidentiality. People do try to put information together, they look at age and they look at whatever else and say, 'Oh, can I figure it out'," Dr. Groh added.

"And we want to encourage people to go for testing. If they have symptoms, if they think they might have the virus. We don't want to discourage people from going for testing because if people feel that there'll be a negative backlash From the community," she continued.

Dr. Groh said the Family Health Team has been limited in the number of tests for COVID-19 it has conducted locally. To date, only 50 tests have been done using nose swabs. She said doctors want to do more tests.

What has improved, said Dr. Groh, is the time frame for turning around test results from one week only days ago, to 24 to 48 hours as of Monday.