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Paramedics looking at expanding shift coverage for COVID-19

'We had to expect this would happen eventually, and with a case being identified here in the county, it brings a bit more realism to the entire situation,' says official
2019-03-14 Ambulance RB
A Simcoe County ambulance responds to a call in Barrie in this file photo. Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

While a local case of coronavirus was to be expected given COVID-19's global pandemic status, it also reset the playing field for emergency services in the region.

Public health officials announced Thursday that a Barrie man in his 40s tested positive for the coronavirus following a trip to Germany and Spain. It marked the first confirmed case in the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit's catchment area.

The man went to Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre (RVH) in Barrie on Monday, with tests coming back positive on Thursday. The man is self-isolating and recovering at home.

"We have a heightened awareness given the COVID-19 outbreak, however our day-to-day practices remain consistent," said Andrew Robert, director and chief of County of Simcoe Paramedic Services, which includes more than 350 paramedics working across the county who respond to more than 75,000 calls annually.

Barrie police and firefighters also say they are constantly evaulating the local situation, but it also remains status quo for the most part at this time as they deal with a fluid situation that can change quickly. 

It's much the same for paramedics. 

"We are looking at the next few weeks and evaluating increasing our shift coverage and ensuring supplies are in good standing," Robert said. "We are also doing everything we can to keep our staff updated on the latest information."

According to Robert, it's not surprising to see a COVID-19 case in Barrie, but it is sobering.

"I think we had to expect this would happen eventually, and with a case being identified here in the county, it brings a bit more realism to the entire situation," he said. "It's important to remember that the vast majority of people who contract the illness have minor symptoms and recover." 

County paramedics have "robust" infection-control practices in place at all times, Robert said, adding the province has implemented a screening process at dispatch centres. As well, a second process has been activated for when local paramedics arrive at calls in consultation with ministry and public health guidelines. 

The infection-control practices and other measures implemented from the outset were done so to safeguard local paramedics, health-care workers and the public, Robert added, "and our focus is to continue to do so."

They are in constant communication with the Ministry of Health, public health officials and local hospitals to ensure the best possible information is being communicated, he noted. 

Robert urged people to follow the advice of public health officials. 

"We want to remind residents to stay calm and seek out accurate information on precautions you can take from health agencies and medical professionals," he said. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada and the Ministry of Health advise all travellers to monitor their health for fever, cough, and difficulty breathing for 14 days after arriving back in Canada from affected countries.

If symptoms develop within 14 days, returning travellers are directed to self-isolate as quickly as possible and immediately call their health-care professionals or public health to make arrangements for possible testing.

If you are very sick and planning on going to the emergency room, call ahead at 705-728-9090 and press 0.