Local medical professionals weigh in on COVID-19 with Rotary Club of Picton

TALKING COVID- Dr. Sarah LeBlanc, lead at a local Covid-19 assessment centre, joined other local medical professionals to discuss the pandemic with Rotarians. Sarah Williams/Gazette Staff)



With a seemingly unending stream of information about Covid-19 on the the national and global level, this week’s Rotary Club of Picton meeting zeroed in on some local voices from the medical field with an update on what’s being done in Prince Edward County with regards to testing and why we still need to be cautious.

Speaking to Rotarians was Drs. Anne Nancekievill and Sarah LeBlanc, along with Executive Director of the Prince Edward Family Health Team, Debbie Korzienowski.

Apart from being a doctor with the Prince Edward Family Health Team (PEFHT), Nancekievill has run a sexual health clinic for 15 years, is the Medical Director at H.J. McFarland Home and is currently also the physician advisor for the Maternal/Infant Child Program.

LeBlanc is also a family doctor, as well as being Medical Director of Kentwood Nursing Home and the lead for on a local Covid-19 assessment centre.

Korzienowski has 20 years experience in health care. Her work experience includes working for Cancer Care Ontario and with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care.

Nancekievill began by reminding the audience she and her fellow speakers are primary care physicians, not infectious disease experts.

“We are, essentially, front line workers,” she said.

With Covid-19 having been first identified last December in Wuhan, China, the world has learned a lot about this insidious virus. The world has also surpassed several grim milestones in this past year.

“As of last night, more than 33 million cases were reported worldwide and over one million deaths,” said Nancekievill.

She further explained how the disease is currently understood to spread.

“This disease spreads most often when people are physically close to each other, primarily through small droplets or particulars such as aerosols that are produced when an infected person speaks, coughs, laughs etc. The coronavirus can also be transmitted through contaminated surfaces,” explained Nancekievill.

Infected people can spread the virus for up to two days prior to the onset of symptoms, she stated, and they can remain infectious for up to two weeks, with the most common symptoms being fever, cough, shortness of breath and loss of smell.

Nancekievill was careful to note that, although there are many vaccine candidates, none have been completed in terms of stage three clinical trials to prove efficacy and safety.

“We only treat the symptoms right now,” she said. “We have learned a lot and are doing better to treat those symptoms but there is no known cure. Fortunately, after this past six months even though we don’t have a cure, we’re learning not just about how to treat the symptoms but more about testing and how to reduce transmission,” she stated.

Despite the onslaught of the pandemic, chronic and other health conditions continue to persist and pop up.

“I want to remind people not to ignore them,” said Nancekievill. “Doctors are available and able to manage other chronic health conditions.”

Korzienowski noted there are 23 family health team doctors in the County, along with a variety of medical professionals, including nurses and nurse practitioners, registered dietitians, mental health counsellors etc.

“Covid has changed how we offer services. “There are a few programs where we continue to see people in person,” said Korzienowski. “The key program is the Coordinator Care Program run by nurse practitioners. They will come to the home of a patient who may be elevated in age and have multiple health problems.”

Korzienowski noted the Maternal/Infant Child Program has also kept operating.

“We have a dedicated clinic space for prenatal care and new babies,” she said. “That was very much appreciated. We were given free rent for the first six months.”

She also noted that having a separate space for this program has enabled them to reduce exposure of Covid-19 and maintain breastfeeding clinics and important immunizations.

Though some programs and appointments are still conducted in person, many have become virtual or telephone appointments.

“On behalf of our physicians and my team of 40, we’re very grateful for the support of the community,” said Korzienowski. “It can be hard to get communication out but we really have never shut our doors. People can still call in and talk to us and we will try to connect them to the appropriate services.”

Leblanc explained the two roles of the testing centre as being a place where people with symptoms can be assessed and also a place where those who require regular testing, or perhaps testing to return to school, can do so.

The drive-through design of the testing centre allows physical distancing and an alternative to being tested at a hospital or doctors office, thereby reducing Covid-19 exposure.

“Our drive-through design allows physical distancing and we have a supply of personal protective equipment essential to keep our healthcare workers safe,” said LeBlanc.

When necessary, they can conduct a thorough examination from the patient’s car. These patients are either referred from a doctor or triage nurse.

LeBlanc also pointed out that, in the past couple of weeks the number of tests being conducted have quadrupled.

“A major contributor has been children returning to school who develop cold-like symptoms and require a negative swab to return to school,” she said.

Meanwhile, those without symptoms, or who have not come in contact with a person who has Covid-19, are no longer able to be tested.

Currently, the wait time for test results is four to five days.

“Our staff have learned to accommodate these high volumes. We’re hoping to see self swabbing come down the pipes,” she said. “If we could facilitate patients doing their own swabbing it would reduce our use of PPE and contact.”

With the end of September upon us, LeBlanc acknowledged testing outside would be difficult, which is why they’re working on protocols to move people inside the community centre for testing.

“We will be staying outside for at least the next few weeks,” she added.

Reporting from the Hastings and Prince Edward Public Health website, LeBlanc noted there are currently two regional, active cases located in Belleville.

“We have no active cases in the County,” she confirmed. “That doesn’t mean we can stop being vigilant. We still need to ensure we follow public health guidelines for physical distancing.

Hoping to avoid what has been coined a “twindemic” Dr. Nancekievill urged everyone to get their flu shot this year in order to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system.

“Influenza can be serious and spread easily. It has been known to put a strain on our emergency departments, as well as hospitals. If we add Covid to that, it could take over our ability to cope medically. Getting the flu shot is something we do for ourselves, our loved ones and our community,” said Nancekievill.

The first round of flu shots will be available to those who are high risk, for example anyone over age 65. They will be available October 7th.

The general population is advised to get their flu shot anytime beginning October 26th.

“Our public health authorities and medical community cannot do this alone,” stated Nancekievill. “We all have a chance to prevent further escalation of the pandemic. We need to keep our social bubbles a small as possible and to maintain physical distancing.”

Nancekievill also advised wearing a mask when not at home and unable to physically distance, stating if you wear a mask and have the virus, you’re far less likely to spread it. And, if you wear a mask properly, there is evidence to suggest you could be protected as well.

“Avoid unnecessary travel,” she urged. “And, finally, be kind to each other.”