TORONTO, ONT — The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) released a paper – Reopening Ontario to a ‘New Normal’: Five Public Health Pillars for a Safe Return – that sets out a series of increased public health measures it recommends be put in place for the province to re-open safely.
“There is going to be a new normal in the health-care system as well as the world at large,” says OMA CEO Allan O’Dette. “The OMA is committed to working collaboratively with the government and other partners to ensure that the health system’s recovery in the post-pandemic environment is managed in the most efficient and effective manner for patients and providers alike.”
Among measures that need to be taken at least until a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is developed, the OMA is recommending:
- Continuing personal protective measures, including wearing masks, physical distancing, influenza vaccination and hygiene practices.
- People should wear masks in public spaces to protect themselves – not just protect others. Those who can continue to work from home. Employers should stagger shifts, be flexible and provide separate workspaces for staff who need to return to a physical workplace.
- Continuing necessary testing with investment in and uptake of innovative testing solutions, as well as serology testing (antibody testing) and immunity research.
- Ontario must have sufficient fast and accessible testing capacity for all COVID cases, close contacts, essential workers and vulnerable people, and this capacity must be sustainable. The province should also explore innovative solutions such as point-of-care testing, drive-through testing and test pooling.
- Creating capacity to trace all case contacts, and enforce and support contact isolation.
- Thorough and sustainable contact tracing must be feasible for all cases, which may require hiring more contact tracers. Ontario should use innovative technology solutions such as Bluetooth applications to support existing time-consuming interviews and identify unknown contacts. The benefits of digital contact tracing must be balanced with protecting people’s privacy.
- Protecting all populations — targeted approaches to protecting children and vulnerable populations.
- Decision-makers need to take a nuanced approach to decisions about reopening schools and childcare facilities considering the unique needs of children, particularly their social and emotional development during prolonged isolation. Vulnerable populations, such as seniors and those with existing medical conditions, will need to move through transition phases slower than the general public.
- Balancing public trust in and public compliance with the other public health pillars to safely reopen Ontario.
- Education and communication to the public will be key to ensure continued compliance with public health measures and that the public has confidence and trust that it is safe to return.
Ontario has managed to successfully flatten the peak of its pandemic curve over the past several weeks through an unprecedented shutdown and rigorous physical distancing measures to decrease exposure. However, without a vaccine or treatment, the risk of a surge remains ever-present.
“What we have learned, from the experiences of other countries, and historically from other viruses and pandemics is that we should not rush,” says OMA President Dr Samantha Hill. “Reopening the province needs to occur in a phased and gradual manner to safely balance the need to restart the economy and ramp up deferred services while continuing to protect everyone from the risk of exposure and preserving system capacity to respond to another outbreak or surge in cases.”
This is the first of a series of white papers that the OMA intends to release over the coming year on important health topics.
“The OMA and its members have an important role to play in using our expertise to provide thought leadership on issues that impact our health-care system,” adds Dr Hill, “I hope that this paper will help the government and businesses reopen safely.”