Cross Country Checkup

Halloween, COVID-19 testing and pandemic burnout: Your COVID-19 questions answered

On Sunday, Cross Country Checkup opened the phone lines to answer your questions about COVID-19 with a panel of health experts and host Ian Hanomansing.

Dr. Lynora Saxinger and epidemiologist Arjumand Siddiqi answer Checkup callers' questions

On Sunday, Canadians called into Cross Country Checkup to ask our panel of health experts their questions about COVID-19. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

As COVID-19 cases rise in many parts of the country amid the reopening of schools and the economy, many Canadians have questions about the ongoing pandemic.

On Sunday, Cross Country Checkup opened the phone lines to answer your questions about COVID-19 with a panel of health experts and host Ian Hanomansing.

Here are some of the highlights.

Should Halloween be cancelled?

With COVID-19 putting a pause on gatherings, Doris Lund in Prince Albert, Sask., asked whether it was safe for children to trick or treat this Halloween.

"I'm very worried about it. I think it might be a risk," she told Hanomansing.

Dr. Lynora Saxinger says with proper precautions, trick or treating this year could be safe. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease expert with the University of Alberta, says that trick or treating may be a safer alternative to parties that might take place.

"Because Halloween is also something kids look forward to — and kids have had a lot of disappointments this year — if we were to say no Halloween, I suspect people would still have Halloween parties of some kind," she said.

"At some level, I wonder if a Halloween party might actually be riskier than trick or treating, which is generally outdoors, and you might manage to maintain distancing."

Saxinger, who admits Halloween is her "favourite holiday," says that people might consider placing candy in a bowl outside on Oct. 31 and speak to trick or treaters through a door.

Another option could be to provide kids with some tongs to pick up candy.

Arjumand Siddiqi, an associate professor at Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and the Canada Research Chair in population health equity, agreed with Saxinger.

"It's hard to think about why kids in school is safe, but trick or treating in an outdoor space is not … in some sort of big scheme of things, this is not one of the ones that requires focus," she said, adding that masks would be an essential part of any costume.

Last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford expressed concern over trick or treating amid an uptick in the province's cases and advised that the province will "play it by ear" as the holiday approaches. 

How much confidence should I have in COVID-19 tests?

Calling from Toronto, Gwen Wren asked how accurate COVID-19 tests are, particularly when a group gets tested ahead of a gathering, such as a cottage or dinner party.

"What is the level of certainty you're going to have that you won't transmit it to each other?" she asked.

COVID-19 test is not a 'substitute' for other measures, including physical distancing and handwashing, says Saxinger. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Saxinger says that while no test is "perfect," the nasal swabs used to test for the novel coronavirus are "in the realm of 80 per cent, or better, sensitive."

"You are more likely to test positive if you have symptoms. If you don't have symptoms, you are less likely to be positive," she added.

However, Saxinger warns that if a person was exposed to COVID-19 in the previous two weeks, there's a chance they could still be incubating the infection, test negative, and develop an infection within the following two weeks.

"The test is not really something that you would want to use as a substitute for all the other practices that are important," she said, pointing to measures including physical distancing and handwashing.

How can I deal with pandemic burnout?

Feeling overloaded by the amount of information brought on by the pandemic, caller Lara Grunow wonders how best to deal with COVID-19 "burnout" — a feeling of prolonged anxiety.

"It just seems like it's every day [that] something's changing," she told Checkup.

Siddiqi says that feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic is "incredibly common."

"It's our reality right now, partly because it's an intense time and partly because the experts are making their way through the information in real time, so there aren't always clear answers," she explained.

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Rather than taking on the entirety of the pandemic each day, Siddiqi suggests focusing on things closer to you, including family and how you're directly affected by the pandemic.

"[Try] to make sure that you take any time that you can for a break from all of this, and have a space where you can relax a little bit, if possible," she said.

Saxinger also suggests reducing time spent on social media and seeking information about the pandemic from credible sources.

For those feeling overwhelmed by the pandemic, there are resources available that some might find helpful.

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Steve Howard and Kirthana Sasitharan.

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