What you need to know about COVID-19 in Ottawa

We answer some questions you may have about the novel coronavirus after Ottawa Public Health reports the first positive case in the capital.

What are the symptoms and what should you be doing?

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 novel coronavirus. (The Canadian Press)

What are the novel coronavirus and COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe respiratory problems, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) were both examples of coronaviruses.

The most recent novel (or new in humans) coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2, was discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019.

SARS-CoV-2 causes a respiratory disease called COVID-19. There is no vaccine and no drugs to treat it.

Coronaviruses primarily spread through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. They can also spread through close, prolonged contact, such as touching or shaking hands.

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What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms range from a very mild, cold-like illness to a severe lung infection.

The most common symptoms include fever, fatigue, and a dry cough, according to the WHO.

Some patients also experience aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually.

Most people recover from the disease without requiring any medical treatment and some people who are infected don't develop any symptoms at all.

The WHO says about one out of every six people who contract COVID-19 become seriously ill and develop difficulty breathing.

Older people, those with compromised immune systems, and those with underlying medical problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes are more likely to develop serious illness. 

The experience in Italy and China suggests as many as 10 per cent of people infected can require critical care.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the health risk associated with COVID-19 is low for the general population in Canada, but that this could change rapidly.

When should I watch for symptoms?

People returning from travel abroad to Hubei, China and Iran are advised to self-isolate for 14 days and contact Ottawa Public Health.

All other travellers returning from outside Canada are advised to monitor their health for two weeks upon returning and to contact Ottawa Public Health (OPH) at 613-580-6744 if they start developing symptoms.

If they start feeling symptoms, get away from other people as quickly as possible and call your doctor or OPH.

Only people who have travelled abroad are asked to avoid crowded public spaces and areas where they cannot easily get themselves away from others if they start feeling symptoms. 

Ottawa's medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said there is currently no evidence of community transmission in the area, which occurs when the virus doesn't come from a known source such as travelling to a region with positive cases.

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What should I do if I have symptoms?

OPH recommends people with mild symptoms should call their health care provider or a walk-in clinic prior to visiting them in person.

People with severe symptoms should contact their health care provider first — and if they're unavailable, go to the hospital's emergency department and look for special signs.

As of Thursday, March 12, OPH was reporting "significant call volumes" at its 613-580-6744 number and said its priority was to hear from:

  • Health care providers reporting information.
  • Residents who've travelled to Iran or China's Hubei province.
  • Residents who've travelled outside Canada and are experiencing symptoms like fever, coughing and breathing difficulties.
  • Residents who've been in close contact with someone who's travelled abroad and are beginning to experience those same symptoms.

Anyone else should first read through their coronavirus website or phone TeleHealth at 1-866-797-0000.

For western Quebec residents, Info-Santé 811 was also reporting "technical difficulties" Thursday and said people may have problems reaching someone on the other end.

What is the current situation in Ottawa?

The province reported Ottawa's first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Wednesday, March 11.

It's a man in his 40s who tested positive after returning from a vacation to Austria.

He is currently in self-isolation, according to the city's medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, and Ottawa Public Health is following up with a small number of people who had close contact with him.

He did not take public transit.

A second case was confirmed March 12, a woman in her 40s who had been to Italy.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau has tested positive after attending an event in the U.K. The Prime Minister is in self-isolation as a precaution.

There have also been also cases in Trenton, Ont., and Mont-Laurier, Que.

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    What is Ottawa Public Health doing?

    Its focus remains on detecting any cases that result from international travel and encouraging people to take measures to help prevent the spread of the virus within the community.

    Health officials are currently testing 10 to 20 people per day, Etches said, and there are plans to ramp up testing in the coming days.

    There have been more than 150 negative tests in Ottawa since January.

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    The city will open up a number of community assessment centres that will become hubs for testing and information about coronavirus, in an effort to take pressure off of hospital emergency rooms. 

    The first assessment centre will open at Brewer Park near Carleton University.

    The Queensway Carleton Hospital has opened a drive-thru testing zone for people who have been told to go there to be checked.

    What if I have travel plans?

    Public Health officials are encouraging people with travel plans to research what is happening in their particular destination before making a decision about whether to go.

    Travel advice from the federal government can be found on Global Affairs Canada's website. It includes not taking a cruise.

    Global Affairs Canada has issued COVID-19-related travel notices for China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Spain.

    Several U.S. states, including New York, Washington, and Florida, have declared states of emergency because of COVID-19.

    At a press conference Wednesday, Ontario's associate chief medical officer, Barbara Yaffe, said there is no yes-or-no answer to the question of whether to cancel travel plans.

    "Think about how important is it that you go? If it's a work-related thing, can it be done virtually?" said Yaffe.

    "Is there some way of doing it without going there? And if you are going there, what are you going to be doing there? Are you going to be around a lot of people?

    How do I protect myself?

    Public health officials say there is no reason to wear a mask if you are well because there is little evidence showing that wearing a mask in public prevents healthy people from becoming infected.

    As stated above, the general public does not need to avoid crowds at this time.

    Ottawa Public Health advises people to take the following measures to reduce the risk:

    • Get a yearly flu vaccination.
    • Clean your hands frequently with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
    • Stay at home if you are sick, which includes not visiting others in hospital or a care home.
    • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze.
    • If you don't have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve or arm.

    In Canada (and elsewhere) large events are being cancelled, some people are being told to work from home, and some students will be taking courses online for a few weeks.

    It's a temporary public health strategy aimed at slowing the potential spread of COVID-19 and buying time.

    For more information