The recent surge of COVID-19 cases in Chatham-Kent Low German speaking communities is responsible for “more than 50 of the current 55 active cases” in the municipality.
Those numbers have been confirmed by CK Public Health and Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Colby.
Dr. Colby says the Low German spread locally is part of a larger surge that spans across much of Southwestern Ontario.
“This is only the manifestation in Chatham-Kent of a much larger surge across many health unit jurisdictions. This goes all the way from Windsor to Haldimand-Norfolk. This is a much broader problem,” says Dr. Colby.
The health unit has reason to believe the original source of these cases may be connected to agricultural workplace infections in the Windsor-Essex region, potentially related to agricultural workplace outbreaks.
Dr. Colby says the local health unit is working diligently to take care of this surge in the same way they have contained prior surges including Community Living and Greenhill Produce outbreaks.
The Medical Officer of Health says it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific local geographic location of the Low German communities affected in Chatham-Kent, as cases are spread throughout the area and the region. Given the belief of the original source coming from Windsor-Essex, Colby says there’s a slightly higher case load in western C-K.
“If there is any sort of geographic disposition you would see a slightly greater incidence in the western parts of Chatham-Kent, but it’s not really geographic. It’s not centred around one particular community,” he says.
The doc also squashed online rumours that Merlin is being hit hard with this caseload. Despite discussion about the market and park being closed in Merlin, Dr. Colby says the current cases and statistics do not support that.
“We have not directed (Merlin) to do any of those things,” says Dr. Colby. “I have no idea why the market was closed or why the park was closed. But that was certainly not the direction of any staff at the health unit. This may be based on a perception or rumours in the community.”
99.1 has received communication from members of the local Low German population who are worried about public backlash, feeling their community is being painted with a broad brush in this situation.
Dr. Colby agrees and is sympathetic with that view, but feels the high number of incidences grants public knowledge.
“I’m (also) worried about the potential for backlash,” adds Dr. Colby. “I considered this a public health issue that was important to tell the community about.”
Colby and CK Public Health first began to notice a slow increase in cases connected to members of the Low German group a couple of weeks ago. Dr. Colby reminds residents anything being reported currently reflects the reality of what was happening a couple of weeks ago, given the time needed for test results and typical 10-14 day infection period.
“As we started to notice more and more new cases, I reached out to some of the community leaders,” says Dr. Colby. “We noticed there was this increase and we are always in communication with our colleagues in adjacent health units and on a provincial basis across the board. We discussed these things and we noticed this was a large increase.”
Although the current active case load and the new case totals have been drastically higher than any time throughout the pandemic outside of the outbreak at Greenhill Produce, Dr. Colby still feels the infections are well contained.
“This virus spreads really easily and readily among close contacts,” he says. “The demographics of what we’re noticing is that it is close and family contacts that are turning up positive. Most of our positives are people that we have advised to isolate already and asked to be tested. Then they get tested and it confirms our suspicions that they are positive. It really IS spreading among close and family contacts all the way through.”
As an example, Dr. Colby points to the recent increase of 15 new cases over a weekend. Seven of those cases were within one household.
Colby says “community spread” with unknown transmission is still a very rare occurrence in Chatham-Kent.
“What would really concern me would be if I start seeing cases where a contact can not be identified and a source can not be identified,” adds Dr. Colby. “Since the beginning we have had very, very few of those in Chatham-Kent.”
On Wednesday, Public Health issued a press release to inform residents of the spread among Low German speaking communities. Health units across the region are working with the Low German speaking communities to manage cases, contacts and to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“CK Public Health is doing everything possible to help our Low German speaking citizens, who have been so severely affected by this pandemic,” said Dr. Colby.
According to the Municipal website, Low German people initially moved to Chatham-Kent in the mid-1980’s and continue to immigrate from Mexico and Bolivia. Low German refers to the specific dialect of the German language, not a connection with status. Many Low German families live in rural areas of Chatham-Kent, working in the agricultural sector as they have done for several centuries in Mexico, Canada, Ukraine, Russia and Poland.