Coronavirus: What to know about the 1st Canadian ‘community case’ of COVID-19

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Canada’s first apparent “community case” of coronavirus was reported Thursday, involving a Vancouver-area woman who recently caught the virus without having been out of the country.

Community cases of COVID-19 had been reported in several countries around the world — but not yet in Canada.

Here’s a look at what exactly the new case means.

What is a community case?

A community case indicates that the virus was passed within a community, rather than contracted through travel. Previously, all cases in Canada had involved individuals who recently travelled to other countries such as China, Iran, Italy or Egypt.

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Dr. Bonnie Henry, the B.C.’s health officer, said Thursday the case of the woman is of particular concern because she did not travel recently and has had no known contact with anyone else diagnosed with the coronavirus.

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“This is a community case and we are doing a detailed investigation right now to try and determine where her source of infection was,” said Henry, adding the woman was initially tested for influenza.

Henry said officials are doing “disease detective work” to determine the source of the woman’s infection.

“There’s likely at least one other person out there who has this disease or had this disease, and we need to find them,” she said.

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Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the case calls in to question whether the disease may be spreading in the community. She said she has “every confidence” that B.C. health officials would work to determine if that has occurred.

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What does that mean for Canada?

Roojin Habibi, a global health lawyer and research fellow at York University’s Global Strategy Lab, explained that news of the first reported community case is Canada likely isn’t a surprise to health officials who have been preparing for it.

“Public health officials have expected this for a while now, and it’s just a matter of deploying the resources that we have to contain it within communities,” Habibi said. “It’s just something that we have to brace for — this is going to be spreading within our communities beyond just international travel.”

Earlier this week, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said officials are trying to “contain and delay” community outbreaks in Canada, at least until after the typical flu season is over.

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When it comes to preparing for a larger outbreak, Hajdu said the federal government is working to ensure there will be “adequate personal protective equipment for front-line workers.”

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The total of confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Canada reached at least 51 on Friday. Health officials have said the risk posed by COVID-19 in this country remains low, but they are preparing for a possible outbreak similar to the ones seen in Iran, South Korea, Italy and China.

Habibi noted that the reported community case indicates there may be others in Canada.

“Some of them may be asymptomatic, so you might not even know that you have it… feel[ing] that it’s just a mild seasonal flu,” she said. “So the fact that we’re seeing a reported community case is indicative that there may be more out here.”

She noted, however, that the cases aren’t all the same and aren’t all serious. That means that Canadians should not panic, but instead continue following the same advice officials have offered for weeks.

“The best thing we can all do right now is to just take precautions. Keep your distance from people who seem sick.”

“Let the people who are sick wear masks,” she said, noting other basic hygiene practices, including hand-washing, should be followed as well.

Cases of coronavirus in B.C.

B.C. currently has 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 13 of which have connections to Iran.

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The four new ones announced in B.C. Thursday all involve people who had close household contact with previously announced cases. Those cases involve a man in his 20s, a man in his 30s, a woman in her 50s and a woman in her 60s.

B.C. is also closely watching the situation south of the border in the state of Washington, where several people have died from COVID-19.

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Henry said there are heightened concerns about the possible community transmission from the U.S., especially amid another case involving a woman from Seattle who was visiting family in B.C.’s Lower Mainland.

Health officials in B.C. and Washington state are also working to determine the woman’s contacts and movements, Henry said.

“Clearly, that is of concern with us and we are working with our neighbours to the south in Washington state to try and determine where her exposure might have been,” she said.

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—With files from The Canadian Press

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