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Local Public Health unit has spent $1M on COVID-19 so far

Increase in testing important as economy opens up, says Dr. Nicola Mercer, Medical Officer of Health
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The local public health agency says $1 million is the price tag so for combating COVID-19 in the area.

“The costs were substantial over the first approximately eight weeks, primarily due to staffing costs,” said Dr. Nicola Mercer, Medical Officer of Health and CEO of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, in a recent phone interview. “We were extraordinary busy in public health and required significant manpower to manage this outbreak, not just from our staff but from additional staff.”

Of the $1 million spent so far by public health, about $800,000 was on staffing, while the other $200,000 went toward supplies.

Mercer said those costs are not expected to continue being that high.

“Moving forward those costs have substantially declined, they are not zero but we have adjusted our volumes and our staffing to be appropriate to the circumstances,” said Mercer.

The $1 million figure represents the dollars spent so far by public health and does not include spending by other agencies and organizations, including hospitals.

One of the increases in costs came as a result of public health expanding its contact tracing efforts from a core team of about 15 to about three times that number

Mercer said contact tracing is one of the fundamental things public health agencies do. 

“Whether we get a sexually-transmitted disease, an infectious disease, a blood borne disease, that’s the job of public health and we ramp that up and ramp that down depending on the circumstances,” said Mercer. Before we had a smaller team, now at any one time we have 45 people or sometimes more doing case and contact management in order to ensure we get in contact with people quickly and all of their contacts quickly.”

Contact tracing begins after a person has tested positive with COVID-19 at one the region’s assessment clinic.

The COVID-19 assessment clinic in Guelph is currently seeing about three to four times the number of people daily as it did just a few weeks ago prior to the premier calling for an increase in testing.

Mercer said the clinic went from testing about 75 people a day to about 250.

“I think the increase in testing is important as we open up our community, to allow the economic activity to proceed,” said Mercer. “What we want are people who are nervous they have been exposed or may have not been physically distant or have visited family and are worried. What we want are those individuals to go get tested.”

“It’s very important that anyone with even a mild symptom at this time go get tested, keep others safe and keep your self safe.”

The assessment clinic is staffed by members of the Guelph Family Health Team and Guelph General Hospital.

“The assessment centre has been truly remarkable in how it has responded. They bring in additional staff when they need to as they work through the volumes,” said Mercer.

So far, Mercer said there isn’t a shortage of testing kits, despite the increase in testing.

“We seem to be keeping up and locally we have always received what we need.We will see as we continue to increase our testing,” said Mercer.

She anticipates there will be a requirement for an assessment clinic well into the fall and potentially for much longer, as both influenza and COVID-19 are expected to be coming back in the fall in greater numbers. 

She said the assessment centres may continue to be a reality until a vaccine for COVID-19 is created and distributed.

“Do we know when we will get a vaccine? No, not really. We are hearing rumours of people thinking there will be a vaccine by January — well, maybe and maybe not — if we do have a vaccine in January that doesn’t mean we necessarily have the capability to manufacture it by January, then you have to distribute it,” said Mercer. “There are many variables on the whole vaccine issue and until we have a vaccine, we need the ability to test to find out who has it and who doesn’t.”

External testing was also completed in the area long term care and retirement homes and in June, all long term care homes are being asked by the province to test their staff twice.

Mercer said an effort is underway to test in what she called the congregate settings, like group homes, homes for people with disabilities and other places where people live together, like shelters.

“Those are the kinds of settings we wanted to check and make sure those individuals are safe,” said Mercer.