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Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you make the most of staying home.
Visit the hub

June 4 at 7:30 p.m.: Masks, testing and COVID-19 pandemic social etiquette

'When will physical schools reopen?': André Picard answered your questions on reopening society

'When is this going to end?': André Picard answered that and more on Instagram Live on April 17

We’ve tried to provide answers to some of the most common (and occasionally obscure) questions.

Face masks

Navigate to a question: Who do masks protect?How do I make a face mask at home? Are masks with valves better?Do face shields offer better protection?Where do I buy a mask?What do experts think about mandatory universal masking?Why don’t governments provide masks for everyone?

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Who do masks protect: the wearer or other people?

Masks principally protect other people, not the wearer. Coronavirus is spread by respiratory droplets from an infected person. If you wear a mask, you are less likely to spread the virus when you cough, sneeze or talk, and less likely to leave germs on surfaces. As the saying goes: “Your mask protects me, my mask protects you.”

How do I make a face mask at home? Has the Canadian government provided instructions?

Do-it-yourself cloth face masks can be made fairly simply. You don’t need to be a couturier. The Public Health Agency provides instructions for making three variety of masks: One that requires fabric and sewing; using an old T-shirt and no sewing; and a bandana-style mask.

Are masks with valves better?

While valves make a mask look more sophisticated, they are actually worse than a cloth mask. The filter – which often isn’t medical grade – filters air coming in but usually allows you to exhale unfiltered air. In other words, it doesn’t protect those around you. If you’re doing renovations and don’t want to breathe in sawdust, wear a filtered mask; if you’re going shopping, wear a cloth mask.

Because there are so many variations of homemade fabric masks, do face shields offer better protection?

There are advantages and disadvantages to face shields. They tend to be more comfortable, and are more easily cleaned, but are more expensive than masks. Shields also allow us to see a person’s facial expressions and lip movements, which is particularly important for people who are hearing-impaired. Cloth masks do not filter 100 per cent of the virus so, theoretically, a hard shield would be more effective. However, there is no definitive research demonstrating superiority. Like masks, face shields must be worn properly to be effective. A mask needs to cover the mouth and nose completely, and be snug. A shield needs to extend from the forehead to below the chin. And whatever face covering you use, it must be cleaned regularly.

Where do I buy a mask?

It is virtually impossible to go on social media and not be bombarded by advertisements for companies selling masks, everything from designer brands on down. Because you can’t try them on, you risk purchasing something that’s uncomfortable or ill-fitting. Masks can also be expensive - $25 or more for piece of cloth with an elastic. The DIY ones work just as well and, with some fiddling you can custom fit your mask(s).

What do experts think about mandatory universal masking in public places?

There is a growing scientific and political consensus that wearing a mask is desirable in health care settings, on public transit, grocery stores, restaurants, shopping centres and other crowded places with poor ventilation. Doing so is recommended by public health officials and, as the economy opens up, many stores are making face-covering a condition of entering. Masks are mandatory in 31 U.S. states and a number of European and Asian countries. So far, there is no indication the federal or provincial governments intend to make masks mandatory. It is seen more an act of civic engagement than a legal obligation.

How can masks be required when they just aren’t available and why does the government not provide masks for everyone?

Well, businesses can require you to wear shoes and a shirt, and they don’t have to provide those. Increasingly, masks are becoming a standard part of our wardrobe. We can expect workplaces to supply them to employees if they are mandatory. Governments are also getting in on the act. Alberta, for example, is going to make 20 million masks available free in a partnership with fast-food stores that have drive-thrus.

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The second wave

Navigate to a question: What is the expected source of the second wave?

What is the expected source of the second wave of the virus as we open things up?

The public health measures taken to date are designed to slow the spread of coronavirus and they are working. However, there are still an unknown number of people in the community who are infected. The more we open up the economy, the greater the risk of those people infecting others. The analogy that is often used is that there are embers in the forest and, with the right conditions, they could grow into a fire. The fear is that, in the fall, when we start spending more time indoors, and the regular soup of respiratory viruses like colds and flu take hold, it will create ideal conditions for the coronavirus to spread widely again. Historians warn that, during the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, the second wave was much more deadly than the first, in large part because people were more complacent.


Testing and coronavirus antibodies

Navigate to a question: Who can get tested and where?Once you’ve had, are you immune?When will we have a comprehensive testing strategy?When will we see routine testing for antibodies?

Who can get tested? And where?

Most provinces have assessment and testing centres and some even have mobile clinics. (The locations are on public health websites, or you can call 811.) The rules about who can be tested differ a bit depending on which province you live in but, essentially, anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 can and should be tested. In the hardest hit provinces, Quebec and Ontario, there are also “targeted campaigns” in community hot spots, and among high-risk groups like frontline health care workers, residents of long-term care homes, shelter residents, jail guards and inmates, farm workers and some retail workers. While there are calls for “everyone” to be tested it’s worth remembering that current tests do a poor job of detecting asymptomatic cases (people who are infected but have few symptoms.)

Once you’ve had coronavirus, are you immune?

In theory, once a person is infected and recovers, they should develop antibodies that make them immune to reinfection. However, with coronavirus, there are many unanswered questions about how immunity develops, how strong it is and how long it lasts.

When can Canada expect to have a comprehensive antibody testing strategy?

Canada has created a COVID-19 Immunity Task Force to develop a testing strategy. One of the priorities will be trying to figure out how many people in the general population have actually been infected because, in theory, everyone without immunity is at risk of infection.

When can we expect to see routine testing of people for COVID-19 antibodies or the virus itself?

In some jurisdictions – for example in German schools – testing for coronavirus is are already being done broadly to try and ensure the infected are caught quickly. At this point, antibodies testing done largely to get a sense of how widely the virus has circulated in the community. But the technology is not good enough yet to, for example, grant ‘immunity passports’ to some knowing they will not be reinfected. (There are also legal/ethical issue with the passport approach.)


What is coronavirus?

Navigate to a question: What is coronavirus?What are the symptoms?Can someone without symptoms spread the virus?Can you be infected more than once? • When will we be able to say coronavirus is “over”?

What is coronavirus?

The new illness that emerged last December in China – officially called COVID-19 – is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. The coronavirus that is making global headlines, SARS-CoV-2, is “novel” because it has never been seen in humans, meaning everyone is susceptible to infection.

  • COVID-19 has a higher mortality rate than the flu: About 3.4 per cent by recent estimates, which is lower than SARS (10 per cent) but much higher than seasonal influenza (0.1 per cent).
  • On average, it takes about five days for people infected with COVID-19 to show symptoms, according to a U.S.-based team’s estimates published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The incubation period for SARS was much longer, about 10 days.

In recent years, we have seen two other novel coronaviruses emerge – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012. There are four other coronaviruses that circulate routinely – OC43, 229E, HKU1, NL63 – which generally cause colds.

How is it different from other viruses?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. The coronavirus that is making global headlines, SARS-CoV-2, is “novel” because it has never been seen in humans, meaning everyone is susceptible to infection. In recent years, we have seen two other novel coronaviruses emerge – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012. There are four other coronaviruses that circulate routinely – OC43, 229E, HKU1, NL63 – which generally cause colds.

What are the symptoms?

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 can cause an illness known as COVID-19. The symptoms include fever and dry cough.

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Unlike a common cold, people with COVID-19 generally do not have a runny nose or a sore throat.

According to a large study in China, the vast majority of those infected with the novel coronavirus:

  • 81 per cent of patients have mild symptoms
  • 14 per cent of patients had severe symptoms, including trouble breathing
  • Just under 5 per cent of patients suffered critical illness, meaning they needed to be on a respirator

It is not yet clear how deadly COVID-19 is because many mild cases have likely gone undetected. The treatment is the same – you treat the symptoms with fever-reducing medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and bed rest. You should not treat fever with ASA-based painkillers such as Aspirin, especially in children. Antibiotics do not help; they only work for bacterial illnesses.

Can someone without symptoms spread the virus?

There is a lot of debate about the role of so-called asymptomatic carriers. There is no question that some people can be infected, have no obvious symptoms and still infect others. What is unclear is how big a risk this poses. It’s important to keep these technical debates in perspective and remember that infected people can definitely infect you, so focus on keeping your distance from people who have symptoms such as a dry cough and fever.

Can you be infected with coronavirus more than once?

There is some evidence that people can be reinfected. We don’t know yet if the coronavirus will mutate, making people susceptible in the future, as happens with influenza. But that’s the least of your worries. We should focus on not getting infected in the first place, by practising good hygiene and physical distancing.

When will we be able to say coronavirus is “over”?

The World Health Organization declared coronavirus to be a pandemic on March 15. At some point – and that could be a couple of years from now – it will be declared “over.” This happens essentially when a disease has run its course and there are only sporadic cases or no cases, or when the disease becomes endemic.


How does it spread?

Navigate to a question: Where has coronavirus been reported?Can you contract it Antarctica?Is food delivery safe?Is money a risk?

Where has coronavirus been reported? How many cases are in each province, country and region?

The number of reported and confirmed cases changes rapidly. Consult the Globe’s guide to to provincial, national, and worldwide numbers for updates.

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Each province and territory has a different website where they list how many cases they’ve detected or tests they’ve performed:

Can you contract coronavirus in Antarctica?

Oddly, several people have asked this question.

Coronavirus needs a human host, so it can spread person-to-person anywhere in the world. However, Antarctica has not permanent settlements; the only residents are in scientific bases so there is little opportunity for large gatherings.

Also implied in the question is whether coronavirus can spread where it’s cold. It can, in fact. Respiratory viruses spread more easily in winter conditions because people tend to huddle outdoors. But, so, far, Antarctica is the only continent where there are no COVID-19 cases.

I’m trying to stay inside but I need to eat. Is food delivery safe?

Coronavirus can live on surfaces, including the packaging used by food delivery surfaces but, again, the risk is relatively small. Some people wipe down the outer layer of packaging, like the pizza box.

Gig economy workers who can’t work from home push for benefits, sick leave amid coronavirus outbreak

“A bit of a middle-class bias to all the interventions”: What the pandemic reveals about Canada’s class divide

Companies such as Foodora and Door Dash are also experimenting with “contactless delivery” – where they leave your order at a set spot so you don’t interact with the delivery person (some apps allow you to send a photo of the precise location).

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Remember that food-delivery people are low-wage workers who are being run off their feet during the pandemic. Tip generously.

Is money a risk?

Coronavirus is spread by droplets - the spittle when you cough. It can live on surfaces like money but, relatively speaking, the risk is low.

You should probably be more worried about all the germs left behind by people who punch the keys on the card reader. Use tap if you can. And, hopefully, the café wipes down its card reader regularly.


What can be done to stay safe?

Navigate to a question: How can I protect myself?I’ve close contact someone infected; what do I do?Is expired hand sanitizer effective?How often should I wash my hands?Should I carry anti-bacterial wipes?Should I be taking extra precaution around pregnant women?Should I be stocking up?

How can I protect myself against the virus?

The best way to protect yourself against coronavirus infection is to follow the age-old advice of mothers around the world: Keep your fingers out of your mouth and nose, your hands off your face and cover your mouth when you cough. And, of course, wash your hands, frequently and thoroughly.

This is the single most effective way to stop the spread of disease

You can also practice physical distancing – keeping at least two metres from someone with a cough. The “Wuhan shake” (tapping feet) and the elbow bump are also displacing handshakes and cheek kisses.

What should I do if I had close contact with someone who has been infected?

If you have had close contact with someone who has been infected with coronavirus, public health officials urge you to limit your contact with others by self-isolating, and to get tested.

If you have symptoms (dry cough, fever, but not a runny nose or sneezing) and think you may be infected you should seek medical assistance. However, don’t go directly to the emergency room or a medical clinic, because you risk infecting others.

Call public health authorities by dialing 8-1-1 in most provinces (1-866-797-0000 in Ontario). Depending on the severity of your symptoms, they will send a nurse to your home to do testing, or an ambulance to bring you to hospital. The test is simple – a cotton swab in your nose, and the results will come back quickly. Several provinces are also creating testing facilities that will be off-site from hospitals.

There’s no hand sanitizer anywhere! I have a bottle from 2012—is it still effective?

There is nothing in sanitizer that can go bad, so it won’t harm you. The important ingredient is alcohol and it can lose its potency a bit over time. So old sanitizer is better than no sanitizer.

You can also easily make your own sanitizer with rubbing alcohol and aloe vera gel.

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But avoid the expensive “essential oil” products. They may smell good, but don’t contain anything that kills viruses so they don’t work. Soap and water is still your best bet.

Small-batch distillers are using their alcohol to make disinfectant and sanitizer

How often should I wash my hands? Do I really need to wash them for 20 seconds?

There is no set number of times you should wash your hands. Rather, it depends on your activities.

You should wash your hands after:

  • blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing;
  • after using the bathroom;
  • before eating and cooking;
  • after cleaning around the house;
  • after social or work activities that include lots of interaction or touching of public surfaces (i.e. taking the subway);
  • after touching animals, including family pets;
  • before and after visiting or taking care of any sick friends or relatives.

The 20-second hand-washing rule is to ensure you have time to adequately scrub surfaces, and under the nails, where germs accumulate. There are many videos online that demonstrate proper technique.

A common trick is to sing a song while you wash your hands, to make it less tedious, like Happy Birthday or the chorus of Another Brick In The Wall.

Should I carry anti-bacterial wipes everywhere?

Wiping down surfaces is useful for minimizing the spread of germs. But coronavirus is a virus, not a bacterium, so you don’t need anti-bacterial products. Look for alcohol-based products. Baby wipes don’t contain alcohol. Neither do popular products such as Wet Ones. Lysol and Clorox wipes do contain alcohol.

Should I be taking extra precaution around pregnant women?

Pregnant women experience changes to their immune systems that can make them more susceptible to viral respiratory infections, including COVID-19. Women who have been infected with other coronaviruses, like SARS and MERS, have slightly higher rates of miscarriage and stillbirth. It is not clear if the fetus is at greater risk if a woman is infected with COVID-19 but it is established that high fevers during the first trimester of pregnancy can increase the risk of certain birth defects. There is no evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted via breast milk.

In short, it is always a good idea to not expose pregnant women (and other with compromised immune systems) to infectious illnesses, and this is especially true during flu (and coronavirus) season.


Testing and coronavirus antibodies?

Navigate to a question: How long does the test for coronavirus take?Can I know if I have the virus without being tested?Why don’t we test everyone?

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I got tested for coronavirus but I never got results. How long does it take?

The test is simple – a swab in the nose – and it takes only a few hours to get results, in theory. However, despite operating seven days a week, labs are slammed, especially as provinces try to ramp up testing dramatically.

While awaiting results you should act as if you are infected, meaning remain in isolation – no contact with other people. In most provinces, you will only get a call if you have positive test result, and it will come within 24-48 hours.

The “don’t call us, we’ll call you” approach is not ideal. Some provinces have established a “negative results line” to confirm your test is negative, but you have to wait at least 72 hours because the paperwork takes time.

Can I know if I have coronavirus without being tested?

If you are infected, you will likely develop symptoms such as dry cough, fever and shortness of breath, two to 14 days after exposure.

Public-health officials recommend that you call 811 (or 1-866-797-0000 in Ontario) where you will be asked some screening questions and told if you should be tested or not.

Keep in mind, however, that the testing guidelines are changing rapidly, especially now that tests are running low. 811 lines are overwhelmed. You may get a busy signal or wait hours for a call back.

Use self-assessment tools to avoid making unnecessary calls. Some provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, have online self-assessments to help you determine your next steps.

Depending on your answers to a series of questions, these assessments can tell you whether you require emergency medical care (this is only if you experience any of the following: severe difficulty breathing, severe chest pain, a very difficult time waking up, confusion, loss of consciousness).

Online self-assessments tool can also tell you whether to call 811 (or 1-866-797-0000 in Ontario, 1-888-315-9257 in Manitoba, 867-975-5771 in Nunavut) and wait until someone is available to answer, or whether you need to be tested at all.

I think I have symptoms of COVID-19. What should I do?

If you have symptoms such as serious shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, the inability to be aroused, or bluish lips or face (signs of oxygen deprivation), you should call 911 immediately.

Emergency numbers to call:

Here are the local numbers for public-health authorities across Canada.

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  • British Columbia: 811
  • Alberta: 811
  • Saskatchewan: 811
  • Manitoba: 1-888-315-9257
  • Ontario: 1-866-797-0000
  • Quebec: 811
  • New Brunswick: 811
  • Nova Scotia: 811
  • Prince Edward Island: 811
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 811 or 1-888-709-2929
  • Nunavut: 867-975-5771
  • Northwest Territories: 911
  • Yukon: 811

Why don’t we just test everyone?

Two reasons: We don’t have an unlimited number of tests or laboratory capacity, and secondly the test is not effective in people who don’t have symptoms. For now, public-health officials are concentrating on testing those at greatest risk of suffering harm, people with symptoms, especially if they are in high-risk groups such as the frail elderly or those with chronic health conditions.


How does coronavirus affect children?

Navigate to a question: What do I tell my kids?Can I arrange playdates?My kids are home: how do I keep them busy?Can I drop my child off at daycare?Are kids immune? Are they carriers?

My children are asking about coronavirus. What should I tell them?

The virus can be scary or confusing for young children, so it’s important to keep it simple.

  • Explain to them that the coronavirus is a germ, and because it is a new germ people are trying to learn more about it and are taking it seriously.
  • Let them know what the symptoms are and what to look out for: coughing, fevers and breathing trouble.
  • Explain that children are less vulnerable to the virus, but they still can get it – so the best thing they can do to is to wash their hands properly.

Finally, tell them that anyone can get the coronavirus. It has nothing to do with a person’s background or what they look like.

With school out, my kids are going stir crazy. Can I arrange playdates?

Sorry beleaguered parents, your snotty, noisy housemates may be distracting, especially if you’re working from home, but that’s still a hard no. Children are very hands-on when they play. You have to do the physical distancing for them. Obviously, if you have more than one child they will interact, but minimize contact with the outside world.

So how can I keep my kids entertained? Can I take them to the park?

If you are physical distancing but not in isolation (meaning you have been diagnosed with symptoms or have returned from travel abroad), you can go outside. A visit to the park might be okay, put keep your kid away from other kids. And be aware that a lot of germs accumulate on playground equipment.

Globe staff compiled suggestions for keeping kids busy. They include:
  • For kids 4-9: Implement school structure as much as possible, with outdoor time, free choice (playdough, drawing, Lego), homework, and inevitable screen time. Create obstacle course. Pull out “old” digital cameras, and give kids a scavenger hunt (a list of photos to shoot).
  • For kids 10-15: Baking or learning how to make an easy meal or two from a recipe. Check the free online resources of your local public library, and use your library card to register for Kanopy or Hoopla. Start a family jigsaw puzzle.
What experts say:
  • Create some structure to your day, with an hour of quiet time and time for physical activity
  • Ask your children to put together a performance (play or dance routine)
  • Create assignments (like planning future road trips or meal planning)

Families turn to schedules to maintain children’s routines during coronavirus outbreak

This photo scavenger hunt is helping keep kids active and engaged while schools are closed

Obviously, it’s hard to work in these circumstances so you have to make alternative work arrangements. (Telecommuting is also physical distancing measure.) In some countries, child care has been provided for parents who work in essential services.

Kim Brooks: To take care of children during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents must take care of themselves

Can I drop my child off at daycare?

This is a tough one because the recommendations are all over the map. Some provinces have closed daycares, some have closed only public daycare and some not at all. Also, families who work in essential services need daycare. If a child is going to be in care, the groups should be kept as small as possible and the children should be monitored closely (taking their temperature at least a couple of times a day).

Are children immune? Are they carriers and do they put people with compromised immune systems at risk?

Children do not seem to be getting seriously ill from coronavirus; however, that doesn’t mean they are immune – in Calgary, a child at a daycare centre tested positive for COVID-19. When children do get sick, they’ve generally experienced mild, cold-like symptoms, according to public health officials.

However, children are likely carriers and, as such, could put people with compromised immune systems at risk.

How do I care for my children during a new coronavirus outbreak?


What about older or immuno-compromised people?

Navigate to a question: Can I visit my elderly parents at home?I’m young and immuno-compromised. Should I stay inside?I’m 75 and healthyMy mom is 75. How do I keep her safe?

Can I visit my elderly parents at home?

No. It is also recommended that people older than 70, even if living independently, self-isolate. Visitors should be kept to a strict minimum, for example delivering food and medicine. It is, however, important to stay in touch – but by phone, Skype and other means.

I’m 34 and immuno-compromised. Should I just not leave the house?

Individuals have to make personal choices based on their own risk tolerance. But people who are immune-compromised – because of chronic illnesses, medical treatments or medications – are at much greater risk of both contracting and suffering more severe symptoms from infections, including COVID-19. Aggressive physical distancing is wise and total isolation probably a good idea, if you can tolerate it.

My mom is 75 and lives alone. She insists on going shopping even though it’s recommended that people over 70 not leave the house. How can I keep her safe?

Some people will not heed the public health pleas to practice physical distancing. If that is the case, like your mom, try and preach harm reduction. If she’s going to shop do it when the risk is lesser, when stores are less crowded – morning rather than just before dinner. Some stores, like Shopper’s Drug Mart, have set aside special hours for high-risk people, such as seniors. Finally, there are a lot of Good Samaritans offering to shop for their cooped-up neighbors, and maybe your mom would accept one of those offers.


How is coronavirus treated?

Navigate to a question: How is coronavirus treated?Why is quarantine set at 14 days?Can it be cured with chloroquine?What’s the state of a vaccine?Will warm weather stop the outbreak?

How is coronavirus treated?

There is no specific treatment for COVID-19. Only the symptoms can be treated. If you have mild symptoms such as a cough and fever, then you need rest, plenty of fluids and maybe Bubbe’s chicken soup. Fever can be treated with medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), but you should not treat fever with ASA-based painkillers such as Aspirin, especially in children. The French health minister (who is also doctor) has said that NSAIDs can worsen symptoms but, according to pharmacologist Dr. David Juurlink that claim “is not based on very much.”

Antibiotics do not help; they only work for bacterial illnesses. There are no licensed antivirals for COVID-19 but one drug, Remdesivir, is being studied and used experimentally. In more serious cases, COVID-19 patients may develop pneumonia (inflammation or fluid build-up in the lungs) and a physician may prescribe steroids. In the most severe cases, people can develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and require breathing support, a ventilator or ECMO (extracorporeal machine oxygenation). ARDS is what kills.

Why is quarantine set at 14 days?

That numbers is based on the incubation period of the virus – the time between catching the virus and beginning to have symptoms of the disease. Most estimates of the incubation period for COVID-19 range from one to 14 days, most commonly around five. In other words, if you don’t have symptoms in that two-week period, it’s highly unlikely you have COVID-19.

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Can coronavirus be cured with chloroquine?

There reports of COVID-19 being treated successfully with the anti-malaria drug chloroquine as well as with the HIV drug combo lopinavir/ritonavir (sold under the brand name Kaletra).

But anecdote is not evidence and we should always be leery of people who claim to have miracle cures, especially when their “evidence” is published in the tabloid Daily Mail and not a reputable scientific journal.

What’s the state of a vaccine for the disease?

Developing a vaccine is one of the top priorities in the coronavirus response. However, creating a vaccine is a complex, time-consuming process. There are currently no coronavirus vaccines (efforts to create vaccines against SARS and MERS have stalled) so, best-case scenario, is that a vaccine will take at least 18-24 months to be on the market.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it would take at least a year to develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 and at least 18 months before it would become “deployable.”

In other words, while multiple companies have vaccine candidates under study, a vaccine is not going to stop the pandemic spread of the disease – a least not in 2020. The best approach in the short-term is tried and true public health measures to try and limit spread and developing better treatments for those who are sick. One drug, remdesivir, has shown promise against other coronaviruses and, anecdotally, has worked well for some COVID-19 patients. Drug-maker Gilead is ramping up testing.

Will warm weather stop the outbreak of COVID-19?

Influenza and cold infections plummet in the summer, because warm, humid weather can make it harder for respiratory droplets to spread viruses. When temperatures rise, human activity also changes – we spend less time cooped up indoors. But scientists caution that we should not assume that, just because coronavirus is spread by droplets, warm weather will stop its spread. Neither SARS nor MERS – the two other novel coronaviruses to emerge in recent years – proved to be seasonal.


A glossary of coronavirus terms

Common terms: Physical distancingTemporal distancingSelf-isolationSelf-monitoringFlattening the curveCommunity spreadPandemicEndemic

What is physical distancing?

Stated simply, physical distancing means maintaining a distance between you and other people – one metre to two metres – and minimizing contact with people. In other words, assume everyone around you could be infected.

What is temporal distancing?

Physical distancing – keeping two metres apart – is now a part of our daily lexicon. Temporal distancing means spreading out contact over time rather than space. For example, a school could have half its students attend in the morning and the other half in the afternoon or in an office, instead of everyone working 9 to 5, half could work 7 to 2 and the rest 2 to 9.

What does self-isolation mean?

Self-isolation requires you to stay at home, monitor for symptoms, and avoid contact with other people for 14 days, according to the Government of Canada website.

Expectations for those who are self-isolating include:
  • Staying home from work and school;
  • Avoiding public transportation;
  • Arranging to have supplies, such as groceries, dropped off at their doors;
  • Especially avoiding elderly people and anyone with compromised immune systems or chronic conditions;
  • Keeping any unavoidable interactions with other people brief, maintaining at least two metres’ distance from them and wearing a mask.
Advice for enhanced hygiene measures for those self-isolating at home include:
  • frequent hand-washing, avoid touching their faces;
  • coughing and sneezing only into the bend of their arm;
  • and disinfecting surfaces at least once daily.

Those in self-isolation are advised to get lots of rest and eat a balanced diet. They are to monitor themselves for symptoms and immediately get in touch with their health-care provider or with public-health authorities if those symptoms worsen.

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And some tips to maintain your health and wellness:

What is self-monitoring?

According to the Government of Canada website, self-monitoring is for people who do not have symptoms but have possible exposure to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days. Self-monitoring means to monitor for one or more symptoms, but to go about your normal day while increasing space from others and avoiding crowded places.

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What does “flattening the curve” mean?

When diseases reach uninfected populations, a graph of the new infections will generally follow a curve: Infections rise, then peak, then fall.

MURAT YÜKSELIR AND JOHN SOPINSKI/THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: FONDAZIONE GIMBE (VIA M.W. FONG ET AL, CDC, EMERGING INFECTIOUS DISEASES)

Officials talk about “flattening the curve,” or preventing the peak infections from exceeding their health systems’ ability to handle them.

Who’s ‘flattening the curve’ on the coronavirus, and who isn’t? A global graphic comparison

What is community spread?

Community spread is when a sick person transmits the coronavirus to someone in the community. Community spread is more problematic than “imported” cases – meaning a traveller contracted the illness in another country and returned home sick – because cases can multiply quickly.

What is a pandemic?

On March 11, the World Health Organization’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared coronavirus a pandemic, by which point the coronavirus was in more than 110 countries.

The WHO says the new coronavirus is a pandemic. Here’s what that means

When the WHO last revised its guidelines for pandemics, it didn’t include a single, quotable definition of what a pandemic is. Instead, it described six phases from initial infections to pandemic, each giving national health authorities advice about what to do as the urgency increased:

  1. Animals are infected with a disease, but not humans.
  2. Some humans are infected with the disease.
  3. Small clusters of the disease have been reported, but not human-to-human transition.
  4. Human-to-human transmission has been verified and is able to cause sustained community-level outbreaks.
  5. The virus has caused sustained community-level outbreaks in two or more countries in one WHO region. This stage can also serve as a signal that a pandemic is imminent.
  6. Additionally to 5, the disease has caused sustained outbreaks in at least one other country or WHO region. It’s only at this stage that it can be considered a pandemic.

Later revisions to the influenza guidelines simplified and blended these stages. First there’s an interpandemic phase between outbreaks of a disease; then an alert phase, when a new disease type is observed in humans; then a pandemic phase, when the disease has spread globally; and finally a transition phase, when the global risk subsides. WHO risk-management documents acknowledge that the situation can quickly change between the stages.

Ultimately, the declaration of a pandemic is up to the WHO director-general.

What does endemic mean?

An “endemic” disease is one that is present in the community at all times but in relatively low frequency. For example, chicken pox is endemic, but very few people are infected (and they are almost all unvaccinated). Coronavirus could, theoretically, because endemic, just hang around like a number of other less harmful coronaviruses.



Need more answers? Email audience@globeandmail.com.

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