So what does preparing for a pandemic actually mean? This is the question on so many minds these days, and one that is bound to generate reactions of doomsday scenarios for some, and quickly dismissed by others. So what’s the appropriate level of concern to take?
Fortunately, a new virus doesn’t emerge very often, and when it does, the first order of business is to learn all we can about it so we can base our response on the nature of the organism itself. COVID-19 is a coronavirus, and is not influenza. Here’s what we know so far: most cases of COVID-19 will be mild. Those who are most at risk of pneumonia and increased mortality are older adults and those with underlying medical conditions. It is rapidly spreading across the globe. Currently, it is only persons who have travelled internationally within the last 14 days that are at risk, but this is expected to change at some point, as the virus moves into the general community.
Since COVID-19 is not influenza, we don’t have a vaccine in our toolkit as readily as we would in an influenza pandemic. This means we have to rely on behaviour changes and other public health measures to stop the spread and protect our most vulnerable populations.
Here in the Peterborough area, we have a large proportion of seniors and others suffering from chronic disease who will be at higher risk of harm from COVID-19. Some of those at high risk will also face other risks such as a lack of housing, poor nutrition or not having a primary care provider. We are working with other partners now to come up with a plan that prioritizes these vulnerable populations in the weeks and months to come.
To protect ourselves, everyone should focus on their personal practices such as proper handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, not sharingwater bottles, straws, etc., and staying home when sick. This may be the time to reconsider practices like shaking hands, or attending large gatherings that may put you at risk for infection. If you are a caregiver or family member of an older adult with increased risk for severe COVID-19, you may wish to limit their visitors or large events and ensure they have hand sanitizer to encourage frequent hand washing. People who are at risk of transmitting the virus will be asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days – ensuring that the pantry is well stocked, prescriptions are filled and there is someone who can help with shopping and errands is good planning.
If you get sick with mild respiratory symptoms and think you may have COVID-19, please call Peterborough Public Health at 705-743-1000, ext. 401 or email email@example.com to consult with a nurse. We will be extending our hours soon, but this is an important time to know your personal risk for severe illness and to contact your family doctor or nurse if you need medical attention. After business hours, Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 is also able to provide advice and potential steer you in the right direction if you need testing or medical care. For more information, please read How Can I Protect Myself and My Familyon the COVID-19 webpage on www.peterboroughpublichealth.ca.
This outbreak is likely to cause disruptions to supply chains and travel plans. Many local group trips have already been cancelled, and individual travellers should visit the Government of Canada site for current travel advisories. I encourage you all to read “Preparing for a Potential Pandemic” on the COVID-19 webpage on www.peterboroughpublichealth.ca.
For businesses and organizations, now is the time to complete Continuity of Operations plans in case of high absenteeism, consider cross-training staff for essential roles, and increase cleaning of workspaces. Please read “Information for Workplaces” on our COVID-19 webpage.
The good news is local healthcare agencies and community services are already working together to prepare and it’s amazing to watch this group spring into action. I recall the incredible collaboration in our response to H1N1 ten years ago and that gives me confidence that we are approaching COVID-19 from a strong place.
By Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, Medical Officer of Health
Peterborough Public Health