Risk remains low: Hand washing, supporting each other and keeping calm will get us through COVID-19

There are 34 cases of the novel coronavirus in the Ontario but Dr. Vera Etches says it’s important to remember that the risk of spread is still low.  

“We’re certainly grateful that we are not seeing cases for instance in young people, children and youth,” says Ottawa’s top doctor. “That’s also reassuring.” 

Dr. Etches has been active on social media, offering the public tips to avoid the spread of COVID-19 but also trying to calm any panic coming from residents in the city. 

In a recent tweet she suggested simple steps like avoiding handshakes and regular hand-washing. 

On the matter of hand-washing, she says she understands it’s become a hot topic for public discourse.  

“Ideally people are taking 20 seconds, at least, to wash their hands, to get between the fingers, do the fronts and backs of the hands, wash your thumbs, rub your fingernails in the palm of your hands,” she says. “Some people think it’s too complicated to do all of those steps but that’s what’s most effective.” 

Dr. Etches says with young children at home she understands parents worry their children may not be properly washing their hands. She says singing 20 seconds of a favourite song can make a difference.  

Working together to keep residents healthy  

Dr. Etches has been working with her federal and provincial counterparts through regular communication. 

“All of the provincial chief medical officers of health meet with the federal public health officer for Canada so then they are aligning and informing each other of their response,” she says. 

Dr. Etches says Ontario’s top doctor has teleconferences multiple times a week for local stakeholders, including groups like nursing associations. In the province, responses are being determined by region.  

“We are wanting to be consistent but have to adapt at that local level,” she says. The plans need to make sense for each location depending on the need.  

A large portion of that work includes timely information the public can access to prevent the spread of misinformation. 

A few key sources include: 

Jet-setting during the outbreak  

Dr. Etches says she feels for individuals who have invested in trips and are now wondering if it is safe to travel.  

“It’s a dilemma,” she says. But Dr. Etches stresses the decision is personal. 

There are situations where the risk is much higher, like countries that are currently experiencing a widespread transmission. In those cases, she says individuals should consider not travelling to the area.  She mentions the government has suggested no non-essential travel to China. In other countries, the federal government is suggesting travelers take precautions. 

“It’s hard because the situation is changing very quickly,” she says. “The status could change from week to week.” Dr. Etches says monitoring the Government of Canada’s website can help make informed decisions. 

She also suggests factoring in one’s own health. Older adults and people with chronic illness are most likely to suffer negative outcomes from a transmission, she says. 

A time for community to come together 

Fear can bring out ugly behaviour but Dr. Etches says the best way to get through the outbreak is as a community. 

Last week she joined Mayor Jim Watson and other city officials on a tour of Chinatown after the community said it’s experiencing the financial impacts of racist attitudes stemming from the novel coronavirus. 

“This is a real test of our morality and our culture,” she says. “Now is the time to really support each other and think about people as part of the same human species that’s all at risk.” 

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