“I’m not telling people not to go to the States,” said Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of the division of infectious diseases at Queen’s University. “But I am telling them that if they’ve returned from the United States and they are ill, that they need to consider that as a potential issue around COVID-19.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. has 423 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 19 deaths. Several states and cities have declared states of emergency.
Some states have confirmed community spread of the virus, including Washington, California and Oregon.
It’s likely that there are more cases than reported, because of problems with U.S. testing, said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital.
“There are known hotspots, but just because some place has not reported disease activity, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have that infection presently,” he said.
So far, Canada has over 70 cases and one death as of Monday.
All travellers, including those from the United States, should be aware of COVID-19, said Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, at a press conference Monday.
“Everyone who comes back into Canada should self-monitor for symptoms,” she said.
On its travel advisories website, the federal government does note that it is monitoring the COVID-19 situation in the U.S., but it doesn’t say not to go. That doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a travel advisory someday, though, according to Minister of Foreign Affairs, François-Philippe Champagne.
“It’s science first,” he said.
Bogoch doesn’t think people should avoid the U.S., but they should take appropriate precautions.
People should check advisories and consider their travel plans carefully in light of the risks, he said. Whether you’re travelling by air, train or bus, you’re likely going to be in “high-contact settings” and should take precautions like frequently washing your hands and avoiding crowded venues like concerts, he said.
And whether you catch COVID-19 or something else, “Travel insurance and health insurance is a must,” he said.
“That also can be cancellation insurance for hotels or other reservations.”
Ultimately, the decision to travel is a personal one, he said.
“If you’re travelling for pleasure and you’re going to be miserable because you’re so worried about COVID-19, then don’t go.”
It’s possible that the U.S. could continue to export more cases to the rest of the world, he said. So far, at least two Canadian cases are in people who appear to have caught it on a U.S. trip.
But as more countries report COVID-19 cases, the question of “hot spots” might become less relevant, he said.
“I really think we’re in a transition period now. As we’re watching this epidemic march around the world, it’s harder and harder to have a list of countries that we would say is a ‘hotspot’ because day by day, more countries are being affected.”
It’s also possible that Canada could look more like the U.S. in a little while, he said.
“If we fast forward a few weeks, we will have a similar relative number of cases that they do.”