There is no effective way to filter people for this novel coronavirus on the Canada-US border, health experts told Global News.
This includes thousands of important workers – such as nurses, doctors, truck drivers and airline crews – who are freed from Canadian restrictions on non-essential travel and who continue to move freely across the border.
“There is no magic solution to how to make our borders truly airtight,” Dr. Michael Gardam, infectious disease specialist and chief of staff at the Humber River Hospital in Toronto.
Gardam said screening measures such as those carried out on the Canadian border – where officials asked tourists if they felt sick and observed physical signs of disease – were ineffective.
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He said there were several reasons for this: people sometimes lie about their health conditions, and others may show no symptoms.
“We know from research that has been carried out over the past few months that the border screening measures are 50/50,” Gardam said. “They are not great.”
Gardam said other more invasive measures, such as checking people’s temperatures when they crossed the border or boarding a plane, might also not help in detecting the virus because common medicines, such as Advil and Tylenol, eliminate symptoms such as fever and coughing.
“People can answer questions honestly and have no temperature and then develop symptoms five minutes after they cross the border,” he said.
Cross-border travel triggers concern
According to statistics released by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), during the first full week when new border measures were implemented, around 317,000 people entered Canada. This includes key workers, such as commercial truck drivers, who account for nearly half of the 187,000 land border crossings reported by CBSA.
“There is no practical way to do full screening at the border and hope that when you go to the grocery store, food will be on the shelves,” said Windsor, Ontario, Mayor Drew Dilkens.
Dilkens is concerned about the safety of around 1,600 important health care workers who cross the border between Windsor and Detroit almost every day.
But Dilkens does not recommend closing the border completely for nurses and doctors. Doing so would be inhumane and would make people living on both sides of the border the vital health care resources they need in the fight against COVID-19, he said.
Instead of closing the border for important workers, Dilkens said public health officials and hospitals in Canada and the US must ensure staff have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and that resources are available for people to practice maintaining physical distance if possible.
“We know, as the hospital knows there, that if something happens at the border that causes it to stop, you really will have the whole hospital to close,” he said.
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On Monday, Michigan had 17,221 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 727 related deaths. About a quarter of cases and the same proportion of deaths have been recorded in Detroit.
The sudden acceleration of the virus – which has made Michigan a focal point in the spread of coronavirus in the US – worries Windsor health officials.
Wajid Ahmed, health medical officer for the Windsor-Essex District Health Unit, said he and his staff recently advised local hospitals to ask nurses and doctors who work on both sides of the border to choose whether they want to continue working in Canada or the United States.
Ahmed said the request, which was the first reported by Globe and Mail on Monday, intended to minimize risks to health workers and prevent transmission of the virus from Detroit to Windsor and vice versa. He said it was also about reducing the possibility of transmitting the virus from one health care facility to another.
“If we can reduce the number of crossings, we can reduce the risk,” he said.
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In terms of border screening, Ahmed said not much can be done to detect the virus, especially in cases where people haven’t experienced symptoms.
He said he heard talk about conducting “spot tests” at the border, which would depend on quick test results to determine whether someone who wanted to enter Canada had COVID-19, but this type of test could also cause problems because people who carry the virus will not always tested positive in the early stages of the disease.
This can, he said, lead to “false security” for people who are tested negatively and then move about the community.
Like Gardam, he believes the only effective way to stop the spread of disease among important workers is to keep them aware of social distance and to comply with other public health recommendations.
He also said prioritizing testing for health workers, conducted by Windsor-Essex, was very important to prevent the spread of the disease.
The government, meanwhile, said it had imposed strict screening measures at the border and that anyone who showed signs of illness – regardless of how they answered the screening question – would be referred to public health officials for further interrogation.
CBSA has also stepped up its operations, including observing and questioning travelers in the arrivals area at the airport, and distributing information pamphlets to anyone who enters Canada with details about mandatory personal isolation, physical distance and other precautions they must follow.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about health care workers who were forced to choose between working in Canada or the US. He said the provincial prime minister and the local mayor were asked to make “a very difficult decision” and he knew they would do it. what is right to protect their community.
He also said it was important that important medical supplies and staff were allowed to move across the border without disruption.
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