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Health unit issues Section 22 order, expands testing to contain COVID-19 outbreaks

The Thunder bay District Health Unit has issued a Section 22 order requiring individuals considered to be high-risk contacts released from the Thunder Bay District Jail to self-isolate, while also increasing testing and outreach to contain an outbreak in the homeless population.
Thunder Bay District Jail
An outbreak at the Thunder Bay District Jail was declared in January. (File).

THUNDER BAY - The Thunder Bay District Health Unit is actively working to contain several outbreaks of COVID-19 with expanded surveillance testing and a new order that will require individuals released from custody to self-isolate.

On Wednesday, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit declared an outbreak of COVID-19 in the homeless population in the city after a small but significant spike in cases. This is in addition to two ongoing outbreaks at the Thunder Bay District Jail and the Thunder Bay Correctional Centre.

In an effort to contain these outbreaks, the health unit is implementing new measures to allow for more follow-up, testing, and requiring high-risk contacts to self-isolate.  

Dr. Janet DeMille, medical officer of health with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, issued a Class Section 22 order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act directed at individuals released from custody at the Thunder Bay District Jail.

The order requires anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is considered a high-risk contact to self-isolate.  

“We were working with the jail to make sure when people are released, we are able to do a public health assessment on them,” DeMille said.

Since the outbreak was declared at the Thunder Bay District Jail in January, high-risk contacts have been released who then needed to be tracked down by the health unit for follow-up and contact tracing.

“Now that we are navigating this outbreak, we have people being released on a frequent basis,” DeMille said.

“We needed to refine the process that when someone is being released we are aware of that. There were still be some individuals falling through the gaps or some individuals who weren’t necessarily following the public health direction.”

“The Section 22 order does allow me to be very clear with individuals, whether it’s an individual or groups of individuals of what’s expected of them. We had a very specific process to ensure that public health can follow up with them.”

Earlier this month, the city declared a state of emergency due to the outbreaks in the correctional institutions and concerns about outbreaks in shelter settings for vulnerable individuals in the city.

According to DeMille, there has been a lot of work done to expand supports for individuals released from custody who are considered high-risk contact. However, the order was only issued recently because the supports were not in place earlier.

“I can’t write an order like that unless the supports are in place for that individual to be able to fulfill the requirements of that order,” she said. “There was a lot of work done following the city’s emergency’s declaration that brought resources to bear that could enforce those orders. The order was issued when the order was placed for the individuals to be able to comply.”

An individual found guilty of an offence under the Health Protection and Promotion Act can be subject to a fine of no more than $5,000 for every day or part of the day the offence occurs.

To contain the outbreak in the homeless population in the city, the health unit is working closely with existing partners to conduct additional testing and contact tracing.

DeMille said the health unit has worked closely with the population in the past, including an outbreak of tuberculosis, and it has a street nursing program and harm reduction program already in place.

“We actually have a strong foundation that we are working from to be able to manage this COVID-19 situation,” she said. “The reason we declared the outbreak now is we have been doing a lot of expanded testing in neighbourhoods or at the shelter or places we know people at risk may be staying.”

DeMille added the health unit is engaging with the population to make sure individuals are aware of the situation and conducting additional tests.

“There were a lot of negative tests, but there were some positive ones,” DeMille said. “We do have that good connection with them. We can get information we need and follow up and we are working with them the same we can with other individuals.”

Doug Diaczuk

About the Author: Doug Diaczuk

Doug Diaczuk is a reporter and award-winning author from Thunder Bay. He has a master’s degree in English from Lakehead University
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