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

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Two women share a laugh while taking in the sunset at English Bay Beach, in Vancouver, on Saturday, March 21, 2020. The City of Vancouver asked those coming to the park and beach to maintain a distance of two metres between one another due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

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

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, difficulty breathing and pneumonia in both lungs.

Others symptoms can include fatigue, sputum production, muscle or joint pain, sore throat, headache and 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, Canada’s top doctor says.

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.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 80 per cent of the people confirmed to have COVID-19 in this country have developed a cough, 55 per cent a fever, and 26 per cent have experienced shortness of breath.

So far, less than 15 per cent have required hospitalization.

Meanwhile, 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 said Monday tests are being 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.

WHAT ABOUT TRAVEL?

The government has closed the border with the U.S. for non-essential travel.

All returning international travellers are being told to 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, says Dr. Alon Vaisman, an infectious diseases physician at Toronto General Hospital.

For those who live with others, you should try to segregate parts of the home, Vaisman says. 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, says the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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 PRACTICE 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.

Tam recommends trying to stay two metres apart from others.

Other tips include avoiding crowds and going to public places during off-peak hours. Tam also urges people to stay home if they are sick.

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.

Ontario, B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have declared states of public emergency in response to the pandemic.

WHERE CAN I FIND ADDITIONAL CREDIBLE INFORMATION?

Check government websites _ federal, provincial and municipal _ as well as the World Health Organization for the latest, credible information regarding the novel coronavirus.