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Coronavirus: We asked an expert your unanswered questions

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COVID-19: We asked an infectious disease expert your coronavirus questions – Mar 4, 2020

COVID-19, the disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus, is currently sweeping across the globe, with new cases being reported daily.

As of March 5, Canada had reported 34 COVID-19 cases, with a further 95,000 cases spread in about 80 countries around the world, according to a live map created by Johns Hopkins University.

We asked the Global News social media audience what they want to know about the new coronavirus.

READ MORE: We sent your unanswered coronavirus questions to an expert — and we have answers

Steven Hoffman, a professor of global health, law and political science at York University, and Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s Humber River Hospital, were able to shed some light on the latest concerns.

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Should I cancel future travel plans? 

Asked by: @KiaraBrost

With spring break approaching, many people are left wondering if they should cancel their travel plans.

Gardam says that as of now, it comes down to “how willing are you to have your travel plans disrupted and how comfortable would you be using the health services in the country you are travelling to.”

With China issuing mandatory quarantines in some cities and the sudden closure of public transit in northern Italy, Hoffman says you are at the mercy of containment measures taking place in the area to which you are travelling.

Visiting the government of Canada’s website and reading travel advisories posted for each country to which you plan to travel is recommended.

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Why is Canada still accepting planes from highly infected areas?

Asked by: @KyleBryanPittmanPlume 

“It’s a real misconception that we can somehow close our borders,” said Gardam.

With the world being so interconnected and most of Canada’s goods and services coming in from other countries, closing the borders is not an option, says Hoffman.

Hoffman says that if the borders were to close, people would still find ways to travel.

“What’s best is when people travel through official channels so that if they do get the virus, they can be isolated and that those who come into contact with them can be identified,” said Hoffman.

Do Canadian airports check passengers’ temperature upon arrival, especially those from coronavirus hot spots?

Asked by: @RayChan

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Screening temperatures at airports is not necessarily helpful in stopping the spread of the virus, says Gardam.

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“That’s not going to be useful because people can take Advil and Tylenol and not have a temperature,” he said.

He says it’s more useful to remind travellers of the symptoms of the virus and provide contact information of who to call if they do get sick.

Who do you contact if you become infected?

Asked by: @VanJump

“I think the important thing is if people know that if they are sick, they should be contacting their health-care provider,” said Hoffman.

He further recommended that if you do not have a public health-care provider, you can contact your local public health facility to get the information you need.

“The important takeaway is that if you have travelled abroad and are experiencing flu-like symptoms, that doesn’t mean you have COVID-19. Many viruses cause similar symptoms,” said Hoffman.

He says if you have travelled to an area experiencing an outbreak and are feeling ill, you should get in touch with a health-care provider.

If the symptoms you are experiencing are dry cough and fever, the best thing you can do is stay home, he says.

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The government of Canada’s website advises those who are ill to only visit a hospital if they have a history of medical problems or their symptoms become severe.

Steven Hoffman is a professor of global health, law and political science at York University
Steven Hoffman is a professor of global health, law and political science at York University. Courtesy Steven Hoffman

Is testing available at every doctor’s office in Canada?

Asked by: @BritaFoler

In Canada, testing is available from coast to coast, says Hoffman.

“We’re very lucky with the fantastic system for public health that ensures that when there is a need for testing Canadians, they are all able to benefit from it,” said Hoffman.

He warns, however, that if the spread gets significantly worse and is beyond the capacity of provinces, people may be asked to address any respiratory illness as if it is COVID-19, even if it is not, and self-isolate.

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“Right now, there’s a lot of work going on to ensure that the testing can be done more widely,” said Gardam.

Hoffman also says everyone is talking about the novel coronavirus, since it is a new virus, but Hoffman stresses that there are many viruses going around at any given time that are much more likely to kill you than the one that causes COVID-19.

READ MORE: Canada could move to more active surveillance of COVID-19. Here’s what that means.

Is a vaccine being created?

Asked by: @KristalHartnell

“Vaccines take time and are huge investments,” said Hoffman.

Due to the severe nature of the outbreak, scientists across the globe are investing time and governments are providing resources to get a vaccine out as soon as possible.

“At the very best, it will take six months to get a vaccine developed and then quite a few more months for the vaccine to be manufactured and available to the public,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman says there are other ways to address infectious diseases in the absence of a vaccine.

“The No. 1 way to prevent infection is to wash one’s hands frequently,” said Hoffman.

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READ MORE: Possible coronavirus vaccine by U.S. drugmaker ready for testing

If you catch it once, what are the risks involved with catching it again?

Asked by: @PeelJennifer

“There have been no confirmed reports of people who caught the virus more than once as the outbreak is so recent,” said Hoffman.

If the coronavirus mimics most viruses, Hoffman says that once we get it, our bodies develop an immune response, so if we are exposed again, it won’t affect us as severely.

“This is the most common and likely situation,” said Hoffman.

How long can the virus live on a surface?

Asked by: @TaraMac

Hoffman says there is no exact answer to this question, as it can depend on the surface as well as the surrounding climate.

This time period could range anywhere from minutes to a matter of days.

“What we should be focusing on is washing our hands whenever we are in a place where we are exposed to germs,” said Hoffman.

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In regards to ordering packages from high-risk areas, Hoffman says that it is very unlikely that a virus can survive the time it takes to ship a product from another continent.

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Are there projections of how fast/far it will spread? Has it peaked yet?

Asked by: @MilesBohmer

“We are still at the beginning of the beginning here,” said Gardam.

As of now, the virus has infected less than one per cent of the world’s population, but Gardam says some mathematical models show the virus could infect 75 per cent of the world’s population.

He does not believe the virus has peaked and predicts a slow spread to many countries over the next several months.

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READ MORE: The coronavirus outbreak will end eventually — the question is how

Why has the global mortality percentage risen from one to three per cent? 

Asked by: @JordanMiller

While it seems like the global mortality rate is rising, the numbers show us that this is, in fact, not the case, says Hoffman.

“What we can confirm is that the coronavirus has a higher death rate than seasonal flu, with those numbers being a percentage of a per cent while coronavirus is hovering between one and three per cent,” says Hoffman.

He explains that in the initial stages of an outbreak, only those with most serious cases are identified as having the virus, and these cases have an increased risk of death, but as testing gets more widespread, those numbers begin to decrease.

The risk to those under the age of 50 is very similar to the seasonal flu.

If you have any questions that you have not had answered, reach out to us via the contact form below, or email us yourquestions@globalnews.ca.

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