Coronavirus: What’s the latest

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Photo by Christopher Oldcorn

During the March 9th City Council meeting, Algoma Public Health (APH) briefed Council about the state of the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 in Sault Ste. Marie and the wider Algoma region. COVID-19 has caused a global panic about the possibility of a widespread pandemic.

Dr. Jennifer Loo, Associate Medical Officer of Health for APH, gave an update during her presentation to Council. The APH is in the “pandemic preparedness” phase. APH is taking proactive steps to “minimize the spread of serious illness” and “societal disruption.”

There has been widespread misinformation about COVID-19. Dr. Loo mentioned Twitter being the wrong place to find out accurate information. She said there’s been an “infodemic” of COVID-19 information with most being incorrect. Twitter messages spread so fast with no check on the accuracy. 

People have been mistakingly thinking the virus is related to ethnicity since the pandemic started in China. Dr. Loo reiterated that the “risk is travel not ethnicity.” Eating in a Chinese restaurant does not increase the chance of contracting COVID-19. Travelling to China would increase the chance. 

Dr. Loo was concerned about people stocking up on masks, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. She said, “healthy people don’t need masks unless they are taking care of someone.” For hand sanitizer, she suggested using at least 70% alcohol or higher.

There is no vaccine available. Dr. Loo said a vaccine would still be 12-18 months away (or longer) and would not be ready to help with this pandemic. However, a vaccine would assist with future outbreaks.

Sault College and Algoma University have foreign students with some from affected countries and regions. Also, professors travel to conferences and speaking engagements. APH works closely with both schools to ensure the student and faculty are protected and not potentially spreading the COVID-19 virus. The concern is if the virus takes hold, we could see what is known as “community transmission.” That is where the virus spreads from one person to another with the recipient never travelling to any of the major infected countries. 

In Canada, there are 72 presumed or confirmed cases with 34 Ontario cases. On Monday, the first Canadian death from COVID-19 happened at a North Vancouver long-tern care home. British Columbia’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told a news conference that, “He was a man in his 80s and he had a number of underlying health conditions, unfortunately, so (he was) in that risk group for people who are more likely to have severe disease with this.”

Dr. Loo said there was some good news. China is on the downside of the pandemic with fewer new cases each day. They are the only country without an increase in new cases each day with 99% of new cases outside of China. Which provides some hope that they can control the pandemic. Late Monday, Italy locked down the entire country affecting 60 million people. 

Dr. Loo asked the public to do the following:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm running water, or use hand sanitizer
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your arm, not your hand
  • Stay home is you are sick
  • Avoid close contact with those who are sick

If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms such as a fever, cough, and/or difficulty breathing. Please contact a healthcare provider to warn them before you go. This allows the provider (hospital, doctor, nurse practitioner) to be ready for your arrival with the proper protocols in place.

Dr. Teresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, said, “Today the Public Health Agency of Canada is recommending that Canadians avoid all cruise ship travel due to COVID-19.” Please check travel.gc.ca before travelling.