Surge of cases in Low German-speaking communities in southwestern Ontario: public health officials

Chatham-Kent Public Health is warning of surges in cases of the novel coronavirus among Low German speakers in the region.

Ontario reported 76 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, the lowest increase within a 24-hour period since March 22, according to Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott.

Wednesday’s provincial report indicated the majority of new cases came from southwestern Ontario, with 22 cases out of Windsor-Essex and 10 out of Chatham-Kent.

Chatham-Kent Public Health issued a news release on Wednesday, stating that the “recent surge of COVID-19 cases has revealed that these cases are occurring within Low German-speaking communities, across a broad band of southwestern Ontario.” It was not clear how many of the recent cases involve members of the Low German-speaking community.

A municipal website stated that “many Low German families live in rural areas of Chatham-Kent, working in the agricultural sector” and directed the public to the Mennonite Central Committee for further cultural information.

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CKPH says health units across the region are working with those communities to manage cases and contacts and to limit the spread of the virus.

“CK Public Health is doing everything possible to help our Low German-speaking citizens, who have been so severely affected by this pandemic,” says medical officer of health Dr. David Colby.

In Middlesex County, associate medical officer of health Dr. Alex Summers says that, at this time, the region has not seen an increase in cases among Low German-speaking communities.

“We continue to monitor that closely. We recognize that our neighbours surrounding us to the north, east, south and west do have communities that may be impacted by this and are certainly part of those conversations. But it is not an active situation in our jurisdiction at this point in time.”

Summers also stressed that “kindness matters in how we treat” anyone impacted by outbreaks.

“And that includes folks within the Low German-speaking communities. Every single one of us is susceptible to COVID, and we all do our very best in order to mitigate the transmission and it is important that we support one another.”

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Global News reached out to Southwestern Public Health for comment in response to the release from CKPH. A spokesperson said that the health unit was preparing a statement and a notice was issued shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday.

However, the statement only noted that the health unit “is advising the community to continue to follow public health measures in response to a recent increase in cases across the region.”

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Joyce Lock for Southwestern Public Health, which covers Oxford and Elgin counties as well as St. Thomas, said in the statement that the team is “conducting a thorough contact tracing process to manage and contain these cases” and that existing cases “range from individuals, to households, to workplaces.”

She said the cases are not all connected to a specific event or source.

“I want to caution (against) speculation for where transmission is taking place,” Lock said.

“This virus can be anywhere. It is everyone’s collective responsibility to contain the spread of COVID-19.”

Lock continued, saying, “Southwestern Public Health has a responsibility and obligation to respect the privacy and identity of individuals. We also have a responsibility to protect the community from the spread of COVID-19.

“As such, we provide age range, gender and municipality for our cases to help inform the community about the number of cases and risks we are managing.”

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Early this month, several media outlets reported that a funeral in Aylmer, Ont., involving someone who died of COVID-19 had potentially exposed as many as 70 members of the Mennonite community to the virus.

On July 8, Southwestern Public Health told Global News that a woman in her 60s died at Tillsonburg District Memorial Hospital and was diagnosed after her death.

“We subsequently started the process of contact tracing with family and with the attendees of the funeral service that was held,” Lock said at the time.

“Funeral attendees we have contacted will self isolate for a period of 14 days to ensure they are symptom free. I issued a Health Alert to area health care providers to make them aware of this case should they have a patient impacted by the situation, and to facilitate timely access for assessment and testing,” she continued.

— with files from Global News’ Gabby Rodrigues.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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