March 26, 2003

York Region heightens response to SARS


NEWMARKET - York Region Health Services has activated a heightened level of response to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). This action is in support of the announcement today by Health Minister Tony Clement that Ontario has characterized SARS as a health emergency in the province.

The number of probable cases of SARS is increasing. New cases of SARS were reported today, with a total of 27 probable cases currently in Ontario. Three of these individuals have died. Yesterday, there were 16 probable cases reported in Ontario.

Included in the provincial total of probable SARS cases are several York Region residents. The number of York Region residents ill with the disease has now risen to seven.

Activating Ontario's emergency powers legislation gives the province the powers and information needed to contain the disease as quickly as possible.

This afternoon, York Region Health Services supported this action by activating its own health department emergency plan. This will allow an enhanced level of response to SARS, including heightened community education and communication, infection control measures, patient screening and public protection plans. Full details will be released in the days ahead.

"SARS is a very serious illness," said Dr. Hanif Kassam, Acting Commissioner of York Region Health Services and Medical Officer of Health. "The action taken today will allow York Region and its partners to respond with greater capacity to prevent and contain this serious health threat."

There is much that remains unknown about SARS. What is known, however, is that the disease is spread by very close personal contact to the respiratory secretions of an infected person. Close contact is defined as having cared for, lived with or had face-to-face contact with respiratory secretions of a person with SARS.

Those at risk include people with recent travel to China’s Guandong Province, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore, and those who have had close contact with persons diagnosed with SARS.

These people should seek medical attention if they develop a fever (over 38 degrees Celsius) and one of more of the following respiratory symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing

York Region Health Services is part of the co-ordinated response to this illness with Health Canada, the Province of Ontario, hospitals, other health units and community partners.

York Region residents who are showing signs of the SARS illness AND have recently travelled to the countries listed or have had close contact with a suspected SARS case are asked to seek medical attention. Contact:

  • Your local physician or hospital emergency department. Call ahead so necessary preparations can be made
  • York Region Health Services Health Connection at 1-800-361-5653

For after hours service, general queries about SARS or service in languages other than English, please contact:

  • Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000


For additional information on SARS, including information in Cantonese and Mandarin, and links to several important Web sites, including Health Canada, please visit the Regional Municipality of York Web site at and click on the flashing Breaking News icon.

The Regional Municipality of York is committed to providing cost-effective, quality services that respond to the needs of our rapidly growing communities.  York Region is comprised of the following nine area municipalities:  Aurora, East Gwillimbury, Georgina, King, Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and Whitchurch-Stouffville.  For more information, visit our Web site at:

Contact: Patrick Casey, Senior Media Relations Specialist, York Region

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