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B.C.’s public health officer answers coronavirus questions

February 12, 2020

[Voice of Ian Hanomansing] It’s been two weeks since the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Canada. And while that number is now up to seven the risk of an outbreak here remains low. And while we’ve heard from lots of experts on The National many of you still have questions. So we asked Dr. Bonnie Henry DC’s provincial health officer to join three viewers for coffee and answers. Barbara Maude is especially worried about the risks while traveling. Monika Tam told us about the misinformation in the Chinese Canadian community. And Gregg Domville wanted to know what he needs to do to protect his young children. I’m a little bit anxious right now because I do a lot of traveling myself and I have a lot of global members that are planning to come to my big conference. So I don’t know how to gauge so it. Clearly, travel is something on a lot of people’s minds right now. And we have to be concerned about what’s happening in particularly in China right now. So the Government of Canada has advised against travel to China and we know that there’s a lot of measures being taken in China. So that travel within the country and out of the country is very restricted but here in Canada we have very few cases of this disease now. The system is working we’re picking up cases and travel that still remains very safe here. It can be kind of daunting though at airports. I was just at YVR the Vancouver Airport a
couple of days ago. There was an entire flight crew from one of the Asian airlines. And all of the flight attendants were wearing masks and you know like that kind of Can be a little bit jarring. Gregg, in your situation — you have four kids and a couple of them have respiratory issues, I guess. So that has heightened your concern. Yeah, I parent four and yet two severe asthma and so when I go out and do a job I’m shaking a hundred hands in a couple days and I come home and hug my kids hello ‘missed you guys’ And do I sanitize first? No, I have the alcohol rubs all over me, right? Yeah and you’re absolutely right you know alcohol hand rubs — Soap and water when you’re in the home is the best thing that you can do. And if your hands have any visible soil on them then using a hand wipe and alcohol or soap and water is the best you can do. But it is such a basic thing but you know we call it a motherhood thing. But mum was right. But we do it anyways as humans we should be washing our hands all the time so is this a heightened thing that we got to wash them more than normal? If we are hygienic to begin with? Well, you know what — It’s that the things that you do on a regular basis that we all do that are going to protect us from this virus. So, yes. I’m curious because we haven’t heard yet
from Monica and Greg in terms of your your state of concern or anxiety or however. And Greg, how would you describe it? Not so much anxious. I feel safe in Canada, always have. It’s what we know it’s what we’re known for in Canada. But of course you’re concerned when the more media — and sometimes media can enhance the sphere right. I saw every Google Alert. It’s on every radio station. So my concerned, no? Am I curious, absolutely, yes, it’s why I’m here. But I don’t think I’m overly concerned. I just like to know what I need to know. And right now I think the biggest message is there’s a lot of we don’t know. And for me I think — I’m also concerned but not scared to a point of hysteria. But being involved in Chinese community I think there’s also I can see in sense a lot of my friends they they have this fear as well and seems like there’s a cultural difference almost as to many of my friends wear masks and they’re very nervous about this because we’re getting different information and different news from all different platforms. Where are you getting your information from in terms of this that may help explain why as you described it in the Chinese community in British Columbia perceptions might be different? Where is the news coming from? People usually share it on Facebook and Instagram. And they use WeChat. So there’s a lot of news from China who
gets shared that way too. So as a public health officer you must be aware of that and concerned about the potential for
misinformation and how are you dealing with that in British Columbia? With let’s say the heightened concern in the Chinese community. Well, I think there’s a couple of things. Here in Canada and many of us — In many of our communities we have family, loved one, friends who are in China right now and we’re very concerned about them. And we’re watching really carefully what’s happening there. And I think this is one of the things — And this virus doesn’t know where geographically you are in the world or where you were born and it is affecting our our friends and our colleagues in our communities across the country who have friends and family there in China right now. Here in Canada we still have a very small amount of this disease here And we still are learning. And I think we’re watching very carefully the public health system. We’ve been watching from the very beginning. We have the spectre of SARS in our minds. But we are sharing information in a way that we never have before. And I think that’s helping us. But information does change and it changes as we learn more. How is this friend, what is the incubation period. Who’s most at risk ? These are all things that are really important that we’re learning more and more about. But our system in Canada is working. We are finding people who have this disease. All of them can be linked back to to the area in the epicenter in China. And so we can take some comfort in that. That we know how to detect and test and care for people here in Canada. And as we do this the best information you have is that there has not been a sort of person-to-person transmission out on the street in in British Columbia, for example yet from this. No, that’s absolutely right. And we know that there’s 20 almost 30 countries where there have been cases and it’s close contact. It’s being with somebody while they’re sick. That is how this can be transmitted. Any more questions? Yeah for I mean — Besides Tylenol or Advil for like symptomatic relief what are the treatments for infected patients in the meantime? So that is one of the things. It’s a new virus. There are no specific treatments for this virus and no vaccine right now. So that’s a challenge. We do know that most people from the data that we’re seeing around the world. Most people have a pretty mild to moderate illness and certainly here in Canada there’s seven people that we know and they’ve all been had relatively moderate to illnesses or mild illnesses which is good news. Do we know the demographic of people who are suffering severely or unfortunately passed away from this? And what we are seeing is that it’s a very mild illness particularly in young healthy people. And we see very few children who have been affected by this. So that’s good. It’s mostly older people. Although not that old — They’ve been over 55 or over 60. But the people who have died of they’re mostly older. Mostly people who have underlying illnesses like diabetes or heart disease or lung issues. It’s flu season as you mentioned earlier. And so the symptoms are relatively the same. So how do parents not freak out when your kid also has a runny nose? Yeah, well here in Canada you’re much much more likely to develop influenza and we know that because we’ve seen a spike in the last couple of weeks as well as people are very conscious about this and getting tested. Most of the people that have been tested. Even if they have come from China or affected areas they’ve tested positive for influenza and negative for coronavirus. So you’re absolutely right. That is something we need to be concerned about all the time. And we know that young people particularly — When do we take our children to the hospital to get tested. Yeah, so that is the question and it’s the same for all of the respiratory viruses. If you are concerned about cough, difficulty breathing then yes they need to be assessed and if you’re somebody who’s traveled from the affected areas particularly from Hubwai and Wuhan in China then if you have any symptoms at all we recommend that you call us in public health talk to your physician but call ahead of time and we can arrange for you to be assessed and tested if needed in a safe way. Thank you. I have a last question for you. And that is I’m close to 70, And I have had heart disease. So would you advise me to travel starting next week? It depends so much on where you’re going. Right now we know where the affected areas are but I also say that we’re watching very carefully. We’re at what we call a tipping point right now. So it will become very apparent to us in the next week to 10 days whether they see very extreme measures that are being taken in China are being effective and whether we’re going to start seeing this outbreak be controlled. So we need to be wary. We need to be careful and continue to watch. But when you are traveling we need to also make sure that we’re taking all those important precautions that we do every day so cleaning our hands covering our mouth when we’re coughing. Not touching our eyes. And if you’re sick, don’t travel and stay home and away from others. I really appreciate your taking the time and I appreciate the questions from all of you because I think your surrogates for a lot of people who are watching that have similar questions. So thanks to all of you.

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