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Can my landlord charge interest on late rent? Your COVID-19 questions answered

We're breaking down what you need to know about the pandemic. Send your questions to covid@cbc.ca and we’ll answer as many as we can. We’ll publish some answers every weekday online, and we’re also putting some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network.

From overdue rent penalties, to dating during the pandemic, here's what you’re asking us today

Flyers seen Friday in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood on , call on tenants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to keep their April rent. But each city and province is dealing with the issue differently. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

We're breaking down what you need to know about the pandemic. Send your questions to covid@cbc.ca and we'll answer as many as we can. We'll publish some answers every weekday online, and we're also putting some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network.

Today we're tackling queries from overdue rent penalties to dating during the pandemic.  

I am dating someone. Are we really expected to act like we're in a long-distance relationship until this blows over?

There are new rules when it comes to dating during a pandemic. Couples who don't live under the same roof should practise physical distancing. This means no face-to-face romance.

"This actually forces relationship dynamics a bit," says infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger. She says couples who live separately are not considered a household unit, and should continue physical distancing. You can hear more of her answer in The National segment at the bottom of this article.

But there's a bright side for some couples. Carolyn Alexander, founder of Singles in the Peg, a platform for Winnipeg singles, says she and her boyfriend have been spending a lot of time playing board games and "enjoying the simpler things in life," while isolating. 

She says self-isolation is also helping her relationship get to the next level — they're also talking about getting married. Read more of her story here.

Should I wear a face mask, if I don't have COVID-19 symptoms?

We received a lot of questions about masks including one from Robin S. who wants to know whether to wear one, if one is asymptomatic. Here's what we know:

The guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and public health officials in Canada suggests masks are not necessary for healthy people, saying there's no evidence they provide effective protection against the spread of the coronavirus.

But other health officials have contradicted that advice, including the head of China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, who called the North American and European approach "a big mistake."

"You've got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth. Many people have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infections, and if they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others," said George Gao, the centre's director, in a recent Science article.

Canadian officials have expressed concern about the risk of not using masks properly, because people who touch their faces a lot can increase the spread of the coronavirus. That's one reason why masks are not recommended for the general public.

However, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Monday that Ottawa is open to reconsidering its advice. Read more about the mask debate.

My landlords have offered to defer my rent, to be repaid with interest. Is this legal? 

It's April 1, and how to pay the rent is on the minds of many including Crystal C. from Vancouver who is wondering whether her landlords can charge interest on deferred rent.

In B.C., landlords are permitted to charge some late fees when rent is not paid on time. But it also depends on the agreement tenants have with their landlords.

Will Gladman, legal advocate from the Vancouver Tenants Union, says he doesn't see why charging interest would be illegal, because parties set terms when entering a tenancy agreement.

"Nothing prohibits that kind of arrangement," he says. But he recommends tenants not enter this kind of arrangement in the first place. 

But evictions in most of Canada, including B.C., are on pause due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Tenancy laws are province specific. For example, landlords in Ontario are not able to charge late fees and must instead issue notices of eviction if payments are not made on time, says Caryma Sa'd, a landlord and tenant lawyer in Toronto. 

"So this offer out in B.C. is an interesting proposition because the landlord can't actually do anything at the moment anyways," Sa'd says. 

The situation on paying rent is changing rapidly, but here are some province-specific resources below. CBC News will also be releasing more information on this in the coming days, so check back here, and we'll post a link.

(B.C.AlbertaSaskatchewanManitobaOntarioQuebecNewfoundland and LabradorNew Brunswick, Nova ScotiaP.E.I.NunavutYukon and N.W.T.)

Can I safely cook and bake for friends?

Many have a lot more time on our hands, and that means more time in the kitchen. Maybe that's why we received an email about whether it's safe to cook and bake for friends during the COVID-19 crisis. 

While one recent study suggests the virus persists on many surfaces, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) says "there is currently no evidence that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus." 

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger in Edmonton says the bigger concern is how the food is delivered.

"To me, it's all about the plating and the handling of the packaging, not the food itself," she said, since the virus is more likely live on those surfaces, if at all. You can hear more in The National video below.

Doctors answer your questions about the coronavirus in Canada, including whether you can safely cook or bake for others while physical distancing. 4:25

Do we really know how many Canadians have COVID-19?  

Gary W. is wondering whether COVID-19 statistics can be trusted, if mild cases are not being tested?

Every day, Canadians are bombarded with fresh numbers about the pandemic from around the world. However, like most statistics, the numbers can only reveal part of the story.

As Gary suggests, not everyone is being tested. There aren't enough tests for everyone who is feeling ill, and the coronavirus can be spread by people who aren't sick enough to seek medical help. Even then, in many cases, not all sick people are being tested.

Some provinces have been testing more than others and their numbers might look higher, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have more cases. It might just mean they're testing more and identifying more cases.

Provinces are counting cases in different ways. There isn't a common definition for what is identified as a case, either.

If you expand this to a global scale, you can see how differing medical strategies and data-collection tactics make drawing international comparisons particularly challenging.

"It's extremely difficult to make these comparisons," said Saverio Stranges, chair of epidemiology and biostatistics at Western University's Schulich School.

That said, the numbers can give us a part of the story and give us trends to reflect on. Read this primer on making sense of the numbers and listen to a breakdown of down Canada's COVID-19 numbers on Front Burner

We're also answering your questions every night on The National. Last night your questions included whether doctors will have to make difficult decisions on which patients get a ventilator:

Doctors answer your questions about the coronavirus in Canada, including whether doctors will have to cherry pick which patients get a ventilator. 4:03

Tuesday we answered questions about CPAP machines and the possibility of being reinfected. Read here.

Keep your questions coming by emailing us at COVID@cbc.ca.

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