As COVID-19 continues to spread, health officials are urging British Columbians to ensure they take the proper steps to get tested while also not spreading the virus to others.
“Now is the time to put some distance between us to keep our germs to ourselves,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said earlier this week, reiterating crucial steps of prevention she has noted since mid-February.
The virus has spread rapidly in B.C. over the past few weeks. There have been at least 46 cases and one death. Globally, there have been more than 118,00 confirmed cases and 4,300 deaths, the majority of them in China, Italy and Iran.
That includes at least four cases of community transmission, which means it remains unclear how those cases were contracted but were not from travelling.
So how do you know if you have the novel coronavirus? How can you tell if it is COVID-19 and not the flu or cold? And most importantly: What do you do if you are, in fact, infected?
Symptoms of COVID-19:
The symptoms of the novel coronavirus are similar to a common cold or flu, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
That includes a fever and cough but most importantly difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. In severe cases, symptoms can include severe lung infections.
Health officials have warned that it can take up to 14 days, or two weeks, for symptoms to appear and can range from mild to severe. Seniors and those with underlying medical conditions are most at-risk of seeing adverse impacts if they contract the virus.
Out of precaution, health officials have made it clear: if you feel sick, stay home.
"Now is the time to put some distance between us to keep our germs to ourselves," Henry says. #COVIDー19— Ashley Wadhwani (@ashwadhwani) March 7, 2020
The B.C. government has now added an online assesment tool for those who think they may have the disease, and what steps they need to take based off their symptoms.
How the virus spreads:
Coronavirus is transmitted through larger liquid droplets – such as when a person coughs or sneezes. That means the virus can enter a second person’s system through their eyes, nose or throat if in close contact.
While the virus is not known to be airborne, or transmitted through the particles floating in the air, and it is not something that comes in through the skin, it can be spread by touch if a person has used their hands to cover their mouth or nose when they cough.
Health officials recommend to always cough or sneeze into the arm and wash your hands regularly. People should also avoid handshaking and hugs.
A good rule of thumb: Stay at least six feet away from another person.
How to get tested:
Anyone who thinks they may have the virus is being urged not to panic, and most importantly to stay home.
Anyone in B.C. who develops symptoms should first call HealthLink BC, by dialing 811, to talk to a health care worker and determine the most appropriate next steps.
The nurses at HealthLink BC will complete an exposure risk assessment of callers with compatible symptoms, such as cough or influenza-like symptoms. In some cases, nurses may suggest a caller go see a health care provider for assessment and testing, either at an urgent primary care centre or walk-in clinic.
Our 811 navigators and nurses are doing an incredible job with record high call volumes - providing support to 3291 callers yesterday. We are adding more staff and more phone lines to resolve the intermittent busy signals some people have experienced. @TeamPAL #COVID19— Adrian Dix (@adriandix) March 12, 2020
It is highly recommend that anyone who may have COVID-19 call ahead to tell the clinicians that they are coming.
COVID-19 testing is done through a nasopharyngeal swab or throat swab.
Anyone who is tested may be told to self-isolate until the tests can be analyzed in a laboratory. Test results can be found by calling the B.C. Centre for Disease Control coronavirus hotline at 1-833-707-2792.
What happens if you have COVID-19:
Anyone with COVID-19 is being placed in quarantine, at their home or in the hospital, for at least 14 days. In order to be released from quarantine, an infected person must have two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
The BC CDC suggests that if you are sharing your home to stay and sleep in a room with good airflow that is away from others. Other precautions include using a separate bathroom, if you can, avoid sharing household items, flush the toilet with the lid down, and clean and disinfect common areas once a day.
Is there a cure?
At this time, there is no vaccine for this particular coronavirus, and health officials say it could take many years to create.
There is no specific treatment, but many of the symptoms can be managed with home treatment such as drinking plenty of fluids, rest and using a humidifier or hot shower to ease a cough or sore throat, according to HealthLink BC.
Most people recover from coronaviruses on their own, however for people with more serious illness, supportive care in or out of hospital may be needed.