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How to protect yourself and others from infection as COVID-19 cases increase

Answers to the important coronavirus questions

March 27, 2020
The Canadian Press

Canada has confirmed more than 4,000 cases of COVID-19 as of March 26, 2020. (Getty Images)

COVID-19 is now impacting the lives of Canadians on many levels and people across the country are seeking answers to numerous important questions they have about the novel coronavirus.

Below is a summary:

What are the symptoms?

Health Canada says those who are infected with COVID-19 may have few, if any symptoms, or may not know they’re infected because symptoms of the novel coronavirus are similar to a cold or flu.

Those symptoms have included fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

Other symptoms can include fatigue, mucus production, muscle or joint pain, sore throat, headache and chills. COVID-19 can sometimes escalate to pneumonia.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 78 per cent of the people confirmed to have COVID-19 in this country have developed a cough, 49 per cent a fever, and 51 per cent have experienced chills.

Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to COVID-19. Health officials are still trying to determine whether the virus can be transmitted to others if someone is not showing symptoms. While experts believe this is possible, it’s considered to be rare.

What should I do if I think I have symptoms?

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, even if they’re mild, stay at home and follow local health authorities’ instructions to self-isolate.

If you feel sick and must visit a health-care professional, Health Canada says you should call ahead or tell them when you arrive that you have a respiratory illness. You may be asked to wear a mask while waiting for or receiving treatment to prevent the spread of the illness.

Tell them your symptoms and travel history and let them know whether you’ve had direct contact with animals or a sick person, especially if they’ve had symptoms.

How sick will I get?

Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover.

However, for some, especially older adults and those with pre-existing conditions, it can cause more severe illness, such as pneumonia. In some cases, it can be fatal.

As of March 26, six per cent of Canadian cases have required hospitalization, with two per cent of cases requiring admission to the ICU.

The World Health Organization has found that among patients in China, 80 per cent suffered mild cough and fever symptoms while 14 per cent suffered severe symptoms requiring treatment, including being placed on ventilators. A further one per cent lapsed into critical condition with symptoms that could include respiratory failure, septic shock and organ failure or dysfunction.

How do I know if I should be tested for COVID-19?

The best way to determine if you should go to a testing centre is to call your doctor or local public health office.

Canada’s chief public health officer Theresa Tam has said tests are prioritized for certain types of cases: travellers who have symptoms; those with severe respiratory illness, regardless of whether they’ve travelled; people in long-term care facilities with influenza-like illness; and hospital-related illness, including health-care workers who are sick.

She emphasized, however, clinicians at assessment centres that are opening up across the country still have the ability to make their own judgement on who gets tested.

Several provinces and the federal government have created online self-assessment tools that will advise you what to do.

What about travel?

The government has closed the border with the U.S. for non-essential travel, and strongly advises Canadians to avoid travelling anywhere as many countries impose movement bans, quarantines, and airlines ground flights.

All Canadian travellers returning from abroad are told they must self-isolate for 14 days after their arrival, regardless of whether they show symptoms, and monitor their health.

How do I self-isolate?

Ideally, self-isolation means halting all contact with others, and setting up a space dedicated solely to the person being isolated.

Those who live with others should try to segregate parts of the home. Do not use common spaces at the same time; stay out of the kitchen; dedicate a separate washroom to that person if possible, and don’t share towels or toiletries. Clean spaces where that individual has been and do not touch surfaces that person has touched before cleaning.

Only leave the home if it’s absolutely necessary, such as to seek medical care.

If you have to interact with others, keep it brief. Try to maintain a safe distance and wear a mask, the agency says. Avoid people with chronic conditions, compromised immune systems and older adults.

What is social distancing and how can I practise it?

Social distancing involves taking steps to increase the physical space between people to prevent the virus from spreading. Public health officials say this is key to reducing the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Officials insist people stay home as much as possible, and those who must go out should stay two metres away from others.

Other tips include avoiding crowds and going to public places during off-peak hours. If you are sick, stay home.

What household items should I have in case I need to isolate?

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu has suggested that people gather enough food and other essentials, such as medicines and toiletries to last them through a two-week quarantine if needed.

However, Hajdu and other public officials, including Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliot, are also urging people not to stockpile or hoard these items, insisting it’s not necessary.

The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 outbreak has led to many stores being cleared of items such as toilet paper, disinfectant wipes and certain non-perishable foods.

How are Canadian officials responding to COVID-19?

Public health officials are working hard to identify and contain cases of community transmission.

Many provincial governments are taking extraordinary measures such as prohibiting large gatherings, closing schools and shuttering restaurants, gyms and theatres.

Several provinces have declared states of public emergency in response to the pandemic.