As we all eagerly anticipate the day we can have our loved ones within spitting distance again, federal public health officials are stepping in with a new tool to help Canadians gauge the COVID-19-related risk levels of any kind of gathering they’re planning.
The online tool, crafted by Ryerson University’s National Institute on Ageing, is an individual risk assessment portal that allows Canadians to plug in details about their plans. The tool then tells you how COVID-19-safe your plans are, using “the best available scientific evidence and the input of leading experts in infectious diseases, public health and epidemiology.”
“This user-friendly online tool provides reliable, science-based information to help you reduce your individual risk when visiting and gathering with others,” wrote Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam in a statement issued Saturday.
The entire process is anonymous, prompting Canadians to answer queries about their age, health, and vaccination status. It also asks questions like whether people you’re visiting tend to visit others without masks and distancing, and whether COVID-19 is actively spreading in your community.
“Once you’ve answered these questions, the tool estimates the risk of your visit as low, moderate, high, or very high. It will also guide you towards resources with more information to help you make an informed decision,” Tam said.
“This way the tool can help you choose wisely and act safely, and each of our individual safe choices can ultimately allow us all to enjoy more everyday social activities.”
The public health official’s comments about the tool come amid repeated calls from Canadians for clearer guidance on what fully vaccinated people can and cannot do. As of Saturday, 75 per cent of Canadians over the age of 12 have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — and at least 20 per cent of Canadians over 12 have been fully vaccinated.
Still, despite the evidence that the vaccines slow the spread of COVID-19, public health officials are warning that it isn’t quite time to let loose on all our precautions.
“It’s not as simple as what your status is with respect to your vaccination,” said deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo, speaking Friday.
“It’s also understanding what the epidemiology is in your local community. And that’s obviously, I think, reflected by the point we always make: follow the guidance of your local public health authorities, because they know best what’s going on.”
Underpinning this discussion is the reality of provincial restrictions, which remain in place across the country. But as provinces start to lift restrictions in lockstep with the ramped up vaccination rollout, the officials said tools like these can help Canadians to navigate the parties and gathering they might find themselves soon attending.
“If you, yourself, have an underlying medical condition and you’re not sure if you’re — even with two doses — well protected because you’re immunosuppressed, then consider wearing a mask and maintaining that physical distancing or not attending if you don’t feel comfortable,” said Tam as an example.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) also released its own guidance for vaccinated Canadians on Friday, which included an infographic with a list of dos and don’ts for Canadians who have received either one or two doses of the vaccine, as well as public health guidelines for both outdoor and indoor settings.
According to that guide, Canadians who have received both doses of the vaccine will no longer have to wear masks or physically distance when outside with small groups of people from multiple households — even if those people are unvaccinated.
However, they’ll need to wait 14 days after their second shot for the protection to kick in. They’ll also have to wait for their province or territory to lift any restrictions that prevent them from gathering outdoors without masks and distancing before taking advantage of the infographic’s advice.
Still, both government and PHAC officials remain hopeful that more-normal times are on the horizon — even if they aren’t here just yet.
“We’re not quite done. We still need to be careful and vigilant, and we will for quite a while,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday.
“But things are so much better because Canadians pulled together. Thank you for everything you’ve done, for your kids, for your students, for our communities. Thank you for having their backs, as we will continue to have yours.”
— With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun