How risky is going home for the holidays amid coronavirus? There’s a tool for that

Click to play video: 'New self-assessment tool helps determine COVID-19 risk'
New self-assessment tool helps determine COVID-19 risk
WATCH: New self-assessment tool helps determine COVID-19 risk – Nov 23, 2020

Going home for the holidays will be a tough decision for many Canadians as the country struggles to contain a resurgence of novel coronavirus cases. With heightened community spread of COVID-19, the federal government is urging Canadians to follow public health guidelines while celebrating this year.

The official stance from the federal government is that the safest way to celebrate the holidays this year is “with members of your immediate household,” defining that as “anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your housing unit,” according to a statement from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Click to play video: 'Can we safely host family gatherings over the holidays this year?'
Can we safely host family gatherings over the holidays this year?

Those looking to celebrate with people outside of their immediate household are asked to check with public local health authorities to see what each province’s official guidelines are.

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For many, a choice will have to be made between accepting the possible health risks that come with seeing family and loved ones or staying home. But what if there was a tool that could help?

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“What we’re seeing, especially amongst younger populations compared to older people, is that a lot of loneliness, a lot of social isolation is being felt by people across the generations,” said Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics at Mount Sinai and brains behind the operation.

“Sometimes we can visit each other using the telephone or or through through the magic of video chats and so on, but there are times when we actually do want to and feel it’s necessary to visit with another person. And of course, this is where so many of us get nervous.”

This is where Ryerson University’s new visitor assessment aid comes in.

The myCOVID19VisitRisk Decision Aid is a new tool developed in collaboration with the university’s National Institute on Ageing that can help users identify and calculate the risks involved in visiting other people during the pandemic. It launched on Monday.

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The app invites users to input health criteria such as age, sex, pre-existing health conditions and the nature of each visit into a questionnaire . In exchange, it provides a risk assessment of either low, moderate or high that is scored from 1-100.

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The questionnaire also includes reminders on public health measures such as distancing, mask-wearing and outdoor visits, while encouraging virtual visits.

The results can be emailed to each user for future reference, and are accompanied by educational and informational guidance collected from 19 infectious disease, epidemiology and occupational health experts on how the app came to that decision, known risks and how to make that visit safer.

“The goal of our Decision Aid is really to help anybody of any age and any state of health determine who else they want to visit and how they can judge whether that’s safe,” Dr. Sinha said.

“Obviously, it’s very helpful especially for high-risk populations, whether or not that person is the visitor or the visitee… because it helps people understand what are the different factors that increase the risk of getting COVID and dying from COVID.”

Dr. Sinha said he hopes people will use the aid as a learning device to make visiting others a safer experience.

“We don’t want people to stop visiting when when they can visit. We just want to use this tool so that people can actually learn how they can actually make their visits with one another, with one another as safe as possible,” he said.


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