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As more people begin to travel, it's vital to reduce the risks: Top doc

Manage the risk, and live with the virus advises Dr. Charles Gardner
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Though COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere, people are.

Business owners worried about preventing out-of-towners from travelling to the region should instead focus on reducing risk but living with the visitors, says the region’s medical officer of health.

“At the end of the day, people will actually travel,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. “We need to learn to live with this virus and that means managing risk related to this travel.”

With Toronto and GTA regions behind the rest of the province on what restrictions have been lifted, there is some fear people from regions with higher incidence rates of COVID-19 will start travelling to areas with low incidence rates and therefore spread the coronavirus.

The province has also lifted restrictions on rentals, allowing people to book cottages, bed and breakfasts, and more.

Restaurants in Orillia have considered serving residents only on their newly reopened patios.

Dr. Gardner suggested such a decision was up to restaurants, but a move to pick their patrons could be seen as discriminatory.

Gardner said the best way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is to maintain physical distancing, wash your hands, and clean surfaces in public places.

“It’s a combination of what municipalities need to be doing, what businesses need to be doing, and what health units need to be doing to support all that, and what individuals need to do to protect themselves and others,” said Gardner. “We’ve all got to work on this together.”

Dr. Gardner and a health unit colleague, Dr. Steve Rebellato will be presenting a webinar later this week for businesses and workplaces that have or are reopening. The two will offer advice on how to do so safely and minimize risk to customers and staff.

The health unit also has several resources posted to its website for reopening and operating a business safely.

Another important factor for mitigating the risks associated with an influx of visitors is proper management of public spaces.

Gardner said things like painting circles on grass and putting up signs to remind people of physical distancing will help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

He also recommends wearing a homemade face mask in places where you may not be able to maintain a two-metre separation between yourself and other people at all times.

“Wearing a face shield alone has become a bit vogue as a practice, but at this point it’s unclear how protective it is,” said Gardner. “Research suggests it wouldn’t be as protective for breathed in droplets in the same way as a mask would.”

The health unit has posted recommendations and guidelines for infection control and safety at locations such as community gardens, cooling shelters, and public spaces on its website. There are also sign templates provided for municipalities or business owners to print and display.