If You Have Coronavirus Symptoms in Canada, Here's What You Should Do

From avoiding face masks, travel, and racism to calling your doctor, here is every step you need to take if and when Canada experiences a COVID-19 outbreak.
March 5, 2020, 5:35pm
TTC employees wiping down transit vehicle
TTC employees wipe down transit vehicles to mitigate germ spread. Photo by Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

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.

What will happen if I am diagnosed with the coronavirus?

If you do test positive for COVID-19, you’ll be encouraged to live in quarantine until your symptoms completely disappear. If your case is on the severe end, doctors will determine whether you require hospital care, but as of now, there is no coronavirus-specific treatment in Canada. Most cases clear up on their own. A patient is no longer considered infectious after having two negative COVID-19 test results within 24 hours.

I'm living in self-isolation. How do I get by?

It’s not easy to stay indoors for 14 days. If you have the means to stock up on non-perishable food—peanut butter, canned goods, dry beans, rice—then do that soon, just in case, several Canadian officials have advised. That way you’re prepared to eat reasonably if a quarantine is called. Some Costco stores announced this week that products like toilet paper, canned tomatoes, hand sanitizer, and bottled water were selling out fast.

Other important tips include setting up phone check-ups with your doctor, establishing routines, exercising, and putting together a list of books and TV shows that will help you pass the time.

What if I'm in close contact with someone who has it?

According to Toronto Public Health, people need to avoid contact with their sick friends, relatives, and colleagues. If you live with someone who thinks they have the coronavirus, avoid using the same items, don’t touch anything your roommate or relative has touched, and stay in a separate room, if possible.

If you live with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus, unfortunately you will also have to remain in isolation for up to 14 days.

If I'm not sick, should I change my daily habits, just in case?

No. Simply wash your hands frequently, stop touching your face, and take sick days the minute you think you’re coming down with something—if you’re lucky enough to have a job that offers paid sick days. Despite ongoing calls for ill people to take sick days, Ontario Premier Doug Ford is refusing to increase the number of government-mandated sick days in the province.

Also, fear-mongering doesn’t help anyone. Don’t avoid public spaces or city transit unless you, yourself, have COVID-19 symptoms.

Since the virus has spread through countries like China and Iran, should I avoid Chinatown and Iranian restaurants?

No. Stop being racist.

Should I still go on spring break?

Since the virus is extending its global reach rapidly, Public Health Canada is continuously updating its travel advisory site. Currently, Canadians are asked to avoid “non-essential” travel to China, Italy, and Egypt. The government has also strongly urged Canadians to avoid all travel to Iran. Air Canada also temporarily cancelled flights from Canada to China earlier this month. Keep in mind two Canadian travel insurance providers, TuGo and Manulife, have said they will no longer reimburse flight cancellations related to COVID-19 because it’s a “known issue.” Other insurance companies are expected to follow suit.

Tam said Canadians should also think long and hard about travel anywhere; it’s up to Canadians to determine whether their destination has a high COVID-19 risk and whether their vacation is worth it. Some high schools have opted to cancel their trips to Japan for spring break, and many employers are limiting their employees’ travel.

If you do get on a plane, take steps to limit your contact with germs. Research suggests that passengers who sit in a window seat are less likely to get sick. Also, disinfect hard surfaces like your tray table and arm rests when you first sit down. Experts are urging people not to panic. Safe travel can still take place if people take safety precautions and plan ahead.

Who is in charge of Canada's response to the coronavirus?

Canada’s public health response plan for biological events has been activated, meaning provincial, territorial, and federal governments are working in unison to manage virus spread. It’s up to the provinces and territories to keep Canada’s public health agency updated and ensure they have the resources necessary to cope with the virus—surgical masks and gloves, for instance. Ottawa has said it will jump in and provide emergency resources if a provincial or territorial situation is so dire that it warrants support.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also announced he is also forming a federal cabinet committee that’ll monitor the health and economic consequences of the virus. The committee will complement the work being done by Trudeau’s Incident Response Group, which he says has been following the situation.

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