SARNIA, ONT. -- There are strong words from the mayor of Sarnia, Ont. as the community of about 80,000 people, including neighbouring Point Edward, comes to grips with its fourth COVID-19-related death, and a growing list of positive cases.

“It’s been a real shock to the community,” says Mike Bradley. “Everyone will know someone who has either got the virus or has passed away."

As of Tuesday, there were 39 confirmed cases in Sarnia-Lambton. Three of the COVID-19-related deaths were of residents of the Landmark Village retirement home.

Officials at Lambton Public Health say the numbers are linked to three factors in particular - a group trip to Europe, community faith gatherings and occupational settings.

Bradley is pleading with residents to follow safety guidelines.

“There’s two options. If you don’t follow them, you’re dead. And that to me is a very strong message, a harsh message, but it’s the reality of what we’re facing. Too many people have brushed off this virus and not taken it seriously.”

Bluewater Health Chief of Staff Dr. Michel Haddad said the hospital has been busy preparing for an onslaught of COVID-19 patients since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic earlier this month.

“Over the past couple of weeks we’ve dropped our occupancy from over 90 per cent to 59 percent now to make sure we have enough beds. We've also looked at our inventory of ventilators, and staff to actually staff the ventilators. We’ve gone over clinical pathways from the ER and ICU for example to ensure that everything is being done every time in the same manner to protect our staff.”

Bradley says he applauds senior governments for the measures they’ve taken to date, but he believes they could go further.

“As much as I don’t like going in this direction, that it’s going to have to be done by law. That for a week or two we shut down the country except for essential services, and try to diminish what’s happening where people are dying by the hour.”

Lambton Public Health is now trying to get in touch with anyone who may have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.