‘We’re in this really unstable phase of the pandemic,’ Canadian infectious disease expert says.
|This story has been updated to reflect a new travel warning by the Canadian government.|
|Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Get the latest information from the Public Health Agency of Canada about COVID-19. PHAC|
With a deluge of news about cancelled events together with conflicting information about what to do — or not do — the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is causing confusion, uncertainty and worry among many Canadians.
Health workers themselves are trying to navigate a virus they’ve never seen before and deal with constantly evolving information too, said Dr. Allison McGeer, a microbiologist and infectious disease expert at Sinai Health in Toronto, and a researcher funded by the federal government to study how the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads.
“The problem is that we’re in this really unstable phase of the pandemic where new cases are appearing, public health officials are uncertain about what the right interventions are to try to slow this down and spread this out so that we can manage health care,” McGeer told Dr. Brian Goldman, host of CBC health podcast The Dose.
“Things are changing so quickly [that] …the right decision today and the right decision tomorrow might be two different things.”At this moment, though, here are the answers McGeer and other health experts have for some of the top questions on people’s minds:
|It’s March Break next week. Should Canadians travel?|
|Not outside of Canada.
In a news conference on Friday, the federal government warned against all international travel and is limiting inbound flights, as part of a series of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
|What about travel to the U.S.?|
|The federal government’s advisory includes the U.S.
Travel to the U.S. is currently “unpredictable,” McGeer said.
“They still aren’t doing much testing, so it is hard to tell what is going on,” she said.
At a time when health authorities are trying to slow the rise of coronavirus in Canada, people bringing back any new infections during a peak travel period is a worry.
If 50,000 people travel for March Break and 0.5 per cent of them become infected, that would add up to 250 new cases in Canada, McGeer said.
|Dr. Allison McGeer, one of Canada’s top infectious disease specialists, joins host Dr. Brian Goldman to give you the most up-to-date information on the new coronavirus, a reality check on travel bans and quarantines and what you can do to protect yourself and the most vulnerable people around you. 30:54 CBC News|
|On Thursday, the government of Ontario — the province that currently has the highest number of COVID-19 cases — announced it is opening dedicated assessment centres at some hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area and Ottawa to do coronavirus testing, and will add more across the province in the coming weeks.
That’s expected to take the load off emergency departments that have seen a jump in people coming in for COVID-19 testing — and also help separate possibly infected people from other patients.
You should self-isolate while waiting for test results. If you do test positive for COVID-19, you’ll need to be quarantined for 14 days.
It’s important remember that the majority of people who get COVID-19 will only have mild to moderate symptoms, health experts say. For others, especially people who are elderly or have compromised immune systems, COVID-19 is life-threatening.
That’s why it’s critical that anyone with a cough, fever, shortness of breath — or anyone feeling unwell — stay home and not go to work until they are feeling better, McGeer said, and avoid taking any chances of spreading COVID-19.
Spreading out infections that require hospitalization is also vital to ensuring patients requiring intensive care — whether they have COVID-19 or something else — are able to get it.
“This outbreak is going to be very hard on our health care system,” she said. “It’s intensive care unit beds and ventilators that are the real challenge for Canada because we don’t run with a lot of spares of either.”
The impact on long-term care homes is also a big area of concern, she said, because that’s where an outbreak could be “catastrophic.”
As of Thursday, Canada’s only COVID-19 death to date was an elderly man who lived in a British Columbia long-term care home.
On Wednesday, B.C.’s Henry said there have also been positive outcomes where seniors who became infected have recovered.
But she also emphasized the need to ramp up protection for people living in long-term care facilities — including measures such as restricting visitors and screening workers in the facility to make sure they’re not ill.
|Is banning large gatherings the right move?|
|The NBA has suspended its season after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for COVID-19. Concerts and events — including this weekend’s Juno Awards — have been cancelled. And some businesses are telling employees to work from home — even when there hasn’t been an infection.
How much that will help slow the spread of the virus is unclear at this point, McGeer said.
“We haven’t had COVID-19 before,” she said.
So these efforts are “by necessity based on uncertainty, because this is a new virus.”
“It’s this balancing act,” McGeer said. People are trying to make responsible decisions to do whatever they can that might help, while weighing the downsides of what they have to give up.
“I think the answer is we’re going to know afterwards,” she said. “I don’t think we have enough information to be really confident about which measures are most important and how effective they are.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada has issued guidelines to help people make “risk-informed” decisions about group events.
|How long will this last?|
|COVID-19 could become a new reality — like influenza — experts say.
But it’s likely to come in rounds, McGeer said, and this first one will likely be at least four months.
Infectious disease specialists are hoping COVID-19 will behave like other respiratory illnesses and decline during the summer — so it’s possible we may get a reprieve, but no one knows for sure.
“We do not know how this is going to play out,” McGeer said.
|How to listen to The Dose|
|Listen for free on CBC Listen or on your favourite podcast app — including Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. If you’re new to podcasts entirely, start here.|
|About the author|
|Nicole Ireland is a CBC News journalist with a special interest in health and social justice stories. Based in Toronto, she has lived and worked in Thunder Bay, Ont.; Iqaluit, Nunavut; and Beirut, Lebanon. @nicireland_news|
Source CBC News
|Dr. W. Ian Lipkin Breaks Down Coronavirus | Amanpour and Company. Dr. W. Ian Lipkin is an infectious disease expert at Columbia University who is fresh out of quarantine after traveling to China, where he was studying the coronavirus outbreak. The virus has now infected nearly 94,000 people around the world with more than 3,000 deaths. Today, Italy closed all schools as the country’s death toll reached 107. In 2003 Dr. Lipkin helped Chinese authorities to combat SARS. He was also an adviser on the film Contagion — a thriller inspired by epidemics. Dr. Lipkin spoke to our Walter Isaacson. Originally aired on March 4, 2020. Posted on Youtube Mar 4, 2020|
|Critical Care Utilization for the COVID-19 Outbreak in Lombardy Italy: Experience and Forecast During an Emergency Response, Grasselli G, Pesenti A, Cecconi M. JAMA. Published online March 13, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.4031
From Containment to Mitigation of COVID-19 in the US, Parodi SM, Liu VX. JAMA. Published online March 13, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.3882
Supporting the Health Care Workforce During the COVID-19 Global Epidemic, Adams JG, Walls RM. JAMA. Published online March 12, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.3972
Closures, cancellations and more: What you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Friday, March 13 in CBC News
How do we protect ourselves from COVID-19? in White Coat, Black Art, CBC Radio
Looking For Answers After Coronavirus Contact? Welcome To The Gray Zone in Kaiser Health News
So You Have a COVID-19 Patient, How Do You Treat Them? in Medscape
A Wuhan Doctor on the Front Lines: ‘Fear to the First Degree in Medscape
Chinese billionaire Jack Ma offers US virus test kits, masks in Medical Xpress