With at least 36 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) in Canada—and many more expected—health authorities are providing frequent updates to ensure residents know exactly what to do if they suspect they’ve contracted the disease.
COVID-19, which first broke out in Wuhan, a city in China’s Wubei province, is spreading rapidly around the world. As of March 4, global cases surpassed 96,000 with more than 3,300 fatalities—a 3.4 percent death rate, primarily affecting the elderly and already ill. (That’s compared to the flu’s mortality rate, which sits below 1 percent.) And you, regular citizen of the world who is reading this article, have a key role to play in preventing COVID-19 spread, especially since it’s up to you to self-report if you think you’re sick. Here are the steps you need to take if you live in Canada and suspect you have the coronavirus.
Where is the coronavirus being spread in Canada?
So far, all Canadian cases are directly or indirectly linked to travel outside of the country, but that will likely change soon. At the time of this article’s publication, only three provinces have confirmed cases: One in Quebec’s Montreal region, 13 in British Columbia’s Vancouver Coastal Health region, and 22 in Ontario, 10 of which are in Toronto. On Thursday, Quebec reported a second presumptive case. But other provinces and territories say they’re ready for the virus as well. Alberta, for example, is “in daily contact with our national partners to assess health risks,” a spokesperson for Alberta Health told VICE. No Canadians have died from the disease.
What are COVID-19 symptoms?
The new coronavirus causes the COVID-19 disease. COVID-19 symptoms mirror mild to severe respiratory illness symptoms, including fever, cough, aching muscles, fatigue, and labored breathing. Some patients have reported a sore throat, headache, and even diarrhea.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms and have travelled to China, Iran, South Korea, Japan, or Singapore—or have been in close contact with someone else who has—call your doctor or local public health agency immediately. A quick search on Google for your province’s public health team will provide you with a number to a government hotline that’ll connect you with an expert.
How does the coronavirus spread?
Experts don’t know yet—that’s the problem. While current patterns suggest people tend to pass the virus on when they already have symptoms, it’s still possible it can be spread from a person who isn’t experiencing symptoms. COVID-19 has an incubation period of two to 14 days.
That’s why professionals are saying those who believe they have the virus should self-isolate, self-isolate, self-isolate. And then, self-isolate.
Should I wear a surgical mask?
Only if you’re already sick.The mask doesn’t prevent people from contracting the new coronavirus; it helps people who are already sick keep their germs to themselves (like covering a sneeze or a cough). Considering we’re already seeing a shortage of medical supplies around the world, avoid buying masks, so that there are more available for those who need them: nurses, doctors, the ill.
How about a flu shot?
The flu vaccine will not protect you from COVID-19! Yes, Canada Public Health still wants you to get a flu shot, but that’s to stop the spread of influenza. For now, there is no COVID-19 vaccine.
I have COVID-19 symptoms. What next?
Avoid contact with others and, again, call your doctor or local public health agency. If your symptoms are so severe that you end up in the hospital or a local clinic, make sure you tell staff that you’re worried about COVID-19 and ask for immediate isolation, advises Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Theresa Tam.
It’s up to the discretion of medical doctors to determine whether a patient’s symptoms warrant a COVID-19 test, Tam said. That’s because local testing isn’t possible yet; after a sample is taken, it’s sent to two labs—one provincial and one national—where medical professionals can confirm whether COVID-19 is present. When determining whether a patient needs to get a test, doctors weigh several factors, including symptoms, travel history, and proximity to other travelers.
According to Toronto Public Health, people who are sick should treat COVID-19 symptoms like they would treat any illness: drink plenty of liquids, rest and sleep a lot, and try a humidifier or hot shower to alleviate symptoms.
There’s a good chance the virus started in bats and jumped species before hitting humans, prompting health experts to try and determine whether COVID-19 can be spread from people to animals. In the meantime, Canadians are encouraged to avoid close contact with their pets. That means Canadians should avoid snuggling and kissing their furry housemates, need to wash their hands before doling out food, and should limit their pets’ contact with other people.
What should I do while I’m waiting for results?
Chances are your doctor will tell you to—you guessed it—self-isolate until your results come in, unless you’re so sick you require round-the-clock medical care at a hospital. If your test comes back negative, then you’re good to go; avoid getting sick in the future by taking steps like washing your hands frequently.