Statement from the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health: Working with Canadians on the ongoing management of COVID-19 in the months ahead
As Canada’s Chief Medical Officers of Health and the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, we are committed to protecting the health and safety of all Canadians. Since receiving the first signal of COVID-19 on December 31, 2019, we have been working closely together on every aspect of the Canadian response.
In the early days, across the board measures made sense. No matter where we were in the country, we all faced the same uncertainties and put in place measures based on what we knew at the time. Nine months have passed and both the pandemic and the science surrounding it have evolved. We have gained knowledge at a speed we have never seen before.
We have also learned who is most likely to have severe illness from COVID-19 infection: older adults, especially those over sixty years of age, or individuals with immune compromising or chronic medical conditions. Although people of any age can have severe or prolonged illness due to COVID-19 infection, the overwhelming majority of children, youth, and healthy adults have a mild illness but can still spread the virus to others.
While we have worked together across Canada over many months to flatten the curve, the social, health and economic impacts of the spring’s restrictions were difficult for all Canadians. Now, with the advantage of learning what works, new knowledge and strengthened capacity, we can take a more nuanced approach in our responses. We anticipate that vaccines and therapies will form an important part of a long-term public health strategy. In the meantime, we have tools that help reduce spread, protect those most at risk and support communities in managing COVID-19 while safely returning to functioning, as much and as soon as possible
The goals of Canada’s COVID-19 pandemic response are to minimize serious illness and overall deaths, while minimizing societal disruption. Our aim in the months ahead is to carefully balance the risks associated with spread of COVID-19 with the broader social, health and economic consequences of restrictive measures. While working to limit the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must attend to other important determinants of health such as social connections, education, work and economic stability. This is a complex task, and, as all things based in science, it involves adjusting as new evidence becomes available.
As each part of the country is experiencing the pandemic differently, public health measures are tailored to the needs of each region based on what is known at the time. While this might seem confusing, it is the right thing to do. Measures will continue to be different across our country, given that the transmission patterns of COVID-19 and the local context and circumstances vary from community to community. It is important to follow the advice of local public health for prevention measures in your community. That said, our core personal preventive and public health measures – what we are asking all Canadians, organizations and communities to continue to do to protect themselves and those most at risk – are the same across the country:
- Take extra precautions if you develop symptoms of COVID-19, even if mild. To prevent spreading the infection to others, stay home and away from others, especially from those most at risk, and follow public health advice on getting tested and quarantining or isolating as appropriate.
- Use the screening tool provided by schools and child care establishments in your area daily to determine whether children can attend.
- Follow personal preventive practices recommended by your local public health authority, such as: limiting close contacts and social gatherings; physically distancing; using a non-medical mask or face covering when it is difficult to maintain physical distancing or as required by local public health orders; and practicing good hand hygiene and cough etiquette.
- Avoiding crowded places, close-contact settings as well as confined and enclosed spaces where there are no public health measures and policies in place to reduce the risk of spread.
- Follow the safety plans of your place of work or school.
- If you have been diagnosed with or are a contact of someone with COVID-19, follow the advice of public health to protect others, including participating in contact tracing.
- If you are at high risk of severe disease from COVID-19 due to age or chronic medical conditions, take as many preventive measures, as often as you can, to protect yourself.
- If you are a person at lower risk of serious illness, take measures to shield those in your family, friends or community who are at higher risk from COVID-19.
- Reduce or avoid unnecessary domestic travel to higher risk regions domestically, and avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada. Visit Government of Canada or provincial/territorial government COVID-19 web pages for the latest information on current risk of transmission. Visit travel.gc.ca for the latest international travel health information.
Organizations and Communities
- Follow local public health advice on community prevention measures that can reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19: regular disinfection of shared spaces, surfaces, and objects; physical distancing and use of physical barriers; wearing of non-medical masks or face coverings; and increased ventilation through the use of air exchange systems and/or by opening up windows and doors when practical or feasible.
- Develop policies and procedures that support employees and students to stay at home when experiencing symptoms, but also allow them to participate safely in person when they are well.
- Develop, communicate, evaluate and adjust safety plans that enable the implementation of personal preventive practices.
- Work with your local public health authorities to respond to cases, clusters and outbreaks of COVID-19.
- At this challenging time, ensure your organization supports the mental health and overall well-being of your employees, students or community members.
Learning to manage and live with COVID-19 is a long road. We need to adopt prevention strategies that are sustainable in the longer term, and support all factors that influence health. Let’s work together on the ongoing management of COVID-19 by committing to proven prevention measures, and to continuing to adapt as our understanding of the pandemic evolves, to avoid surges that would overwhelm our health system and to keep our families and communities healthy and safe in the months ahead.
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