COVID-19 moves north: How Sudbury is coping with the pandemic

The city reported its first case of the novel coronavirus last week and a second case on Sunday. Here’s what we know about Sudbury’s response
By Nick Dunne - Published on Mar 16, 2020
Public Health Sudbury and Districts announced a second confirmed case of COVID-19 on Sunday. (wikipedia.org/P199)

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SUDBURY — Sudbury’s first COVID-19 patient began self-isolation late Tuesday. Since his diagnosis, the city and its businesses, schools, and hospitals have been adapting to a new reality — and working to prepare for a wider outbreak. On Sunday, Public Health Sudbury and Districts announced a second confirmed case.

The working theory, according to Sudbury Public Health, is that the first patient, a man in his fifties, likely contracted the virus while attending the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference, which was held in Toronto from March 1 to 4 and hosted nearly 25,000 people from 130 countries. (He was reportedly not infectious during his time at the conference.) The second patient, a woman in her sixties, was in direct contact with the first.

In response to COVID-19’s presence in Sudbury, Health Sciences North opened an assessment centre Friday at 56 Walford Road to ease pressure on the emergency room. The centre is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week, and accessible by appointment only. To be eligible, you must have a fever and have travelled either internationally or to an affected area such as PDAC — or come into contact with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 or someone exhibiting symptoms who has travelled internationally. So far, HSN has yet to admit a patient to hospital.

While all public facilities are still open and services, such as GOVA transit, are running, the city says that “enhanced cleaning and personal hygiene protocols are in place at all municipal facilities” — on March 14, it indicated that Public Health had recommended the suspension of all events involving more than 250 people. Pioneer Manor, the city’s long-term-care home, is allowing visitors only for those residents who are ill or dying. Sudbury's provincial court will be adjourning cases between March 16 and April 3.

Among the swiftest reactions came from Laurentian University, which on Wednesday became the first public university in the country to suspend classes, labs, and all events in favour of online teaching. The first patient, an employee for the Ministry of Mines and Northern Development, worked out of the Willet Green Miller Centre on campus, which was disinfected and then reopened. Laurentian president Robert Haché said in a March 11 press conference that the administration is working on plans for alternatives — take-home exams, for example — in case the suspension runs into exam season. “Laurentian University’s foremost concern is for the health and well-being of its students, faculty, and staff and to our wider community. We are further committed to ensuring our students have an opportunity to finish their studies without any disruption,” said Haché. “We are not closing campus…. The objective is limiting gatherings of large groups of people.”

Cambrian College has suspended classes starting March 16. Remote classes will begin March 23, and labs will be re-introduced on the same day. “Students, I recognize that you are living through a new and stressful situation,” president Bill Best said in a special statement. “We remain committed to you and to your studies, and continue to have supports available.” Collège Boréal will be suspending classes from March 16 to March 20; public activities on campus will be suspended through April.

Sudbury’s COVID-19 patient was far from the only person in the region to have been at the PDAC conference. Laurentian estimates that around 60 students and 40 staff and faculty were in attendance. Sudbury mayor Brian Bigger, one of many politicians in Canada who was there, went into self-isolation and will work from home; he recently tested negative. Employees from a number of Sudbury companies, including Vale and Glencore, made the trip to Toronto — and have been told to self-isolate for two weeks. “Most companies in Sudbury right now are asking self-isolation of people who were there,” says Sudbury Chamber of Commerce chair Bryan Welsh. “I would say, for the most part, the mining world here, there’s a tremendous amount of people who attended PDAC. Each company is doing their thing to make sure that they’re eliminating the spread of this disease.”

Welsh says that he is pleased that companies responded swiftly following Toronto Public Health guidelines on the conference. 

A major economic driver for the downtown has also called a halt to operations. The Sudbury Wolves, an OHL team, initially indicated that events would be cancelled and autographs and fist bumps prohibited — the Canadian Hockey League suspended the seasons of all its leagues on Thursday. Though the regular season was nearly over, the Wolves were slated to enter the playoffs. The Sudbury Five, of National Basketball League of Canada, have also suspended their season. On Fridays and weekends, downtown Sudbury is usually flooded with fans and spectators seeking food and drink. “It’s definitely going to impact businesses downtown,” Welsh says. “But by getting ahead of this, the impact might be a lot slower than it could’ve been.”

Sudbury’s main two malls, the Rainbow Centre, located downtown, and the New Sudbury Centre, in New Sudbury, have remained open, but both have implemented more rigorous cleaning measures. “I am watching the [attendance] numbers we have. It’s still in the range of some of our fluctuation, so it hasn’t been a big change as of yet,” says Rainbow Centre property manager Robert Green. “As we know, week to week, day to day, things could potentially change.” He noted that no mall or major shopping centre in the country has closed yet.

Around half of the facilities at the Rainbow Centre are commercial real estate, but Green says that the retail half may face challenges if things continue to escalate. “The largest draws on the mall side are the gym and the cinema,” he says. “That’ll be up to the public to decide  — do you want to go to a gym, or do you want to go to the cinema?”

This is one in a series of stories about issues affecting northeastern Ontario. It's brought to you with the assistance of Laurentian University.

Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.


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