Today feels like a momentous day. The WHO has officially declared COVID a pandemic, and for the first time in my career, I felt a little worried about a public health crisis in my backyard.
I don’t have too much to add to the conversation, except to share some (hopefully) measured and helpful advice. This is also what I’m telling my patients when they ask. PLEASE remember this is not personal medical advice and should not be construed as such. It is simply general information and is liable to be rapidly changing/evolving as we learn more. DO NOT substitute this for speaking with a medical professional if you are concerned. If you’d like to ask a question or have something to add, feel free to leave a comment!
What does Coronavirus look like? When should I be worried?
There is lots of emerging data on this, with many new articles being published daily. Most very sick patients present with
– shortness of breath
Patients might have: gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting, a sore throat, or a headache.
You should worry if you have a fever and a cough that causes difficulty breathing. In that case, you should stay at home and call your doctor’s office for guidance. If you feel that it is an emergency, of course call 9-1-1 or the appropriate emergency services in your jurisdiction.
How can I best protect my family?
Pandemic or not, I always tell my patients that you need four things to be healthy: good food, good sleep, good exercise, and a good attitude. Choose healthy things, and remember that this is not the time to over-extend yourself while surviving on coffee and mini eggs. Wash your hands regularly, and consider using hand sanitizer every hour or so while out. Avoid touching your face (it’s hard!). Avoid unnecessary exposure to crowded places or close contact (embrace the elbow tap!). Leave masks and gloves to the doctors and nurses (and other front line workers!) who need them, please.
Can I travel to Mexico/Hawaii/Europe/Florida? (It’s Spring Break!)
I have been telling my patients to avoid all non-essential travel out of the country. While I agree that many of these places are low risk, I cannot predict how quarantines or travel restrictions will evolve. Many travel insurance companies may have riders on their coverage for flu-like illnesses or quarantines. If you’re Canadian, check the Canadian Travel Advisory website for travel advice! For the love of #$& don’t get on a cruise ship.
What if we face a quarantine?
I still believe this is unlikely in Canada, though it is wise to consider. What is more likely is needing to self-isolate in case a close contact of yours is exposed. Ensure you have 2 weeks’ worth of food and medicine at home. Consider that the average family absolutely already has 2 weeks’ worth of food in one form or another- it might just mean getting creative :- ). Do NOT purchase gloves, masks, or other personal protective equipment- leave that to the health professionals. If you have kids, consider also purchasing a reasonable amount of diapers and formula (2 weeks people!).
But I will be bored/stir-crazy/lonely.
Lean into it! Maybe this is the time to paint that room you’ve been ignoring! Do some spring cleaning? Start a puzzle or art project? Tackle a novel. Consider easy at-home ways to keep little kids entertained, and think of fun ways to get everyone’s wiggles out from the comfort of your living room.
Have you seen a lot of sick patients?
No! But I have had lots of phone calls from worried people, which is a great approach. If you’re feeling sick, don’t panic, stay home, and call your doctor. A reminder that in BC, you can also call 8-1-1 to access our nurse’s line, which is a wonderful resource.
Do you have any resources?
Yes! I found this interview from Canadian WHO official Dr. Bruce Aylward very informative and practical. I also like the BCCDC updates and the Public Health Agency of Canada. Vancouver Coastal Health also has practical information. I have cautioned people against taking too much information from news sources, including large American networks. If you’re a health professional, feel free to send me a note and I can pass along some helpful resources that can be accessed online, including refreshers on critical care medicine, emerging COVID epidemiological data, and testing/infection control protocols in BC.
Is there anything you’d like to ask or add? I’m all ears.
Top photo by Jan, up on Mount Seymour- because we all need to feel a little more mountain-zen these days.