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COVID-19 In Quebec: Lead Microbiologist Implores Montrealers To Not Buy Masks
  • As the number of COVID-19 cases in Canada slowly climbs, public concern also continues to grow.
  • We spoke to the Scientific Director of the Laboratoire de santé publique du Québec at the CHUM to break down the myths, the truths, what we really know about the virus, and how concerned Montrealers should be.

The novel coronavirus is the water cooler conversation these days. Canada is just one of 77 countries that have reported cases of COVID-19. While Quebec was relatively unscathed just weeks ago, la belle province has two confirmed cases, with a third probable case as of today. Thirteen countries including China, Iran, Iraq, and Italy have taken serious measures by implementing nationwide school closures. But Quebec, for the most part, has been operating as business as usual as the risk of infection remains low.

That hasn't stopped people of the province from stockpiling supplies in preparation for the worst. What we all want to know is, should we be worried? Is the panic overblown or do we have cause for substantiated concern? 

Quebec is one of four provinces, including Ontario (22), British Columbia (21), and Alberta (1), which now have reported cases of COVID-19. 

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the public health risk associated with COVID-19 is assessed as low for the whole country. But that doesn't always ebb the panic a lot of people feel. 

We turned to Cécile Tremblay, Scientific Director of the Laboratoire de santé publique du Québec at the Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CRCHUM), to break down the myths, the truths, what we really know about the virus, and how concerned Montrealers should be.

What makes this virus so much more of a worry compared to other viruses?  

Because this virus has been newly introduced in the human species, its future evolution is unknown. It is quite transmissible, more than flu but less that other viruses such as measles.  

What are the first symptoms when developing COVID-19?   

Fever, cough, and more rarely, gastrointestinal symptoms.

(According to the Government of Canada, those infected with COVID-19 may have few to no symptoms. Symptoms can also take up to 14 days after exposure to appear.)

Do we know exactly how it spreads or what the incubation period is? And is it contagious during the incubation period?

It is spread by contact and droplets, which means that it can be spread from people who are in close proximity to someone (less than two meters) for a prolonged period of time. It can remain viable on surfaces for several hours, so people who touch their faces often are at risk of acquisition.

READ ALSO: The STM Is Introducing New Weekly Cleanings In Response To "Current Circumstances"

Are there certain members of the population who are more likely to catch it or be affected by it?  

Everybody is at risk of acquiring it. However, the disease seems to be more severe in elderly people, persons with pre-existing diseases, and immunosuppressed patients.  

Should we be concerned over community spread?    (Community spread means spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown.)

It could eventually spread in the community, as is now seen in the U.S. Appropriate public health interventions will be made according to the degree of spread.   

With only one confirmed case,* how worried should Montrealers be? Is an outbreak likely to occur in Quebec?  

Presently Montrealers should not be worried. They should stay alert to the evolving situation and follow public health authorities guidelines.

*UPDATE: There are now two confirmed cases in Quebec.

What are the everyday precautions we can take?  

Wash your hands frequently. Use proper respiratory hygiene (cough and sneeze using a tissue or the arm).  

Should we cease to travel completely?  

No. People should follow the recommendations posted on the PHAC site which can change rapidly.  

Do masks actually help? And if so which are the best ones?

They are not helpful for the general population. They are helpful when someone is infected to protect the people around them or the health care workers. PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BUY MASKS.   

The U.S. has been playing catch up as far as testing its citizens – how is Canada, or Quebec, prepared should there be an outbreak here?  

We have the appropriate testing capabilities. To date, everyone who needed to be tested has been. If the outbreak should expand, there are plans to increase testing capabilities. 

We've seen long lines and empty shelves at Costco across Canada as people are beginning to stockpile supplies. Should we prepare our homes in case of quarantine?   

PHAC has suggested that people be ready as they should be for any natural catastrophe. At this time, I do not believe it is necessary to do anything outside the ordinary. People with medications should make sure they have enough for a month, which is usually the case.  

At what point should someone with symptoms seek medical attention?  

Because the symptoms are so non-specific, people should phone 811 and ask for advice before seeking medical help.  The emergency rooms of hospitals and clinics are already full with the flu season. Since there is only one case in Quebec* it is extremely unlikely that the symptoms are due to coronavirus.

*UPDATE: There are now two confirmed cases in Quebec.

To learn more about health best practices and how Quebec is responding to COVID-19, click here.  

Should you be experiencing symptoms, visit Info Santé.  

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