District faces surge in asymptomatic COVID cases

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) is developing a plan to contain the spread of COVID-19 after two asymptomatic inmates tested positive in the Kenora prison. An additional symptomatic case was also reported back. The latter case is a male from Whitedog First Nation, which is north of Kenora. From the incubation period analysis, it is believed the virus was contracted during a trip to Thunder Bay.
All three individuals are now in quarantine and all those who were in contact with them are also tested and currently in isolation until the test results are back.
About three weeks ago, there were also two asymptomatic cases found in Fort Frances and Sioux Lookout. These asymptomatic cases share a striking similarity: they were all discovered by random testing procedures.
Dr. Ian Gemmill, acting medical officer of health for the NWHU, said in a press release on Monday testing was done on a voluntary basis as per the provincial routine screening program. Under this program, individuals living in close proximity to each other are encouraged to get tested.
“Asymptomatic infected persons are really problematic for us because the science around it is not yet completely clear. How long has the person been infected? Are they infections? How infectious are they? What we are obliged to do is to take a conservative approach and to treat them as though they are cases that could infect other people.”
On May 29, Premier Doug Ford announced an open criteria for those who want to get tested. This includes three branches for testing: assessment centre testing, targeted campaigns and outbreak management.
According to the provincial press release, targeted campaigns mean “detecting and containing cases by expanding asymptomatic surveillance for vulnerable populations, including in long-term care homes and other shared living spaces like shelters and group homes, as well as targeted testing of workplaces in priority sectors which work with priority populations and where it may be difficult to physically distance.”
The increase of asymptomatic cases in the northwest is making it difficult to both trace how transmission occurred and how to contain it.
“We have no illness at the jail, but we have a situation that needs to be followed up,” Gemmill said. The staff at the Kenora jail, Gemmilll said, are ensuring the isolation is done and that anybody who is in the same range as the infected person will be in quarantine for the two week period.
“There are measures in place at the Kenora jail,” Gemmill said. “We are confidant that things that need to be in place are in place. We will be working with them to make sure all the testing is completed as quickly as we possibly could get it so that people who are in quarantine know their status.”