Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Being prepared
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The World Health Organization (WHO) has assessed COVID-19 as a pandemic. The assessment by the WHO is not unexpected.
In Canada, our health system is prepared for this situation. Since the outset, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), along with public health authorities at all levels of government across the country, have been working together to ensure that our preparedness and response measures are appropriate and adaptable, based on the latest science.
COVID-19 is a serious health threat, and the situation is evolving daily. The risk will vary between and within communities, but given the increasing number of cases in Canada, the risk to Canadians is considered high.
This does not mean that all Canadians will get the disease. It means that there is already a significant impact on our health care system. If we do not flatten the epidemic curve now, the increase of COVID-19 cases could impact health care resources available to Canadians.
There is an increased risk of more severe outcomes for Canadians:
- aged 65 and over
- with compromised immune systems
- with underlying medical conditions
Our public health efforts will continue to focus on containment to delay the onset of community spread by rapidly identifying cases, meticulously finding close contacts and using tried and true public health measures such as isolation and social distancing.
In the event of community transmission, these actions will continue as long as feasible to interrupt chains of transmission in the community and to delay and reduce an outbreak where possible.
In order to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, everyone has a role to play. It takes more than governments and action from the health sector to protect the health and safety of Canadians. Each of us can help our country be prepared in the event of an emergency by understanding how coronavirus spreads and how to prevent illness.
Canadians should continue to think ahead about the actions that they can take to stay healthy and prevent the spread of any illness, especially respiratory infections.
Now and always during cold and flu season, stay home if you are sick. Encourage those you know are sick to stay home until they no longer have symptoms.
Since respiratory viruses, such as the one that causes COVID-19, are spread through contact, change how you greet one another. Instead of a handshake, a kiss or a hug, a friendly wave or elbow bump is less likely to expose you to respiratory viruses.
These are the most important ways that you can protect yourself and your family from respiratory illness, including COVID-19.
Make a plan
If COVID-19 becomes common in your community, you will want to have thought about how to change your behaviours and routines to reduce the risk of infection.
Your plan should include how you can change your regular habits to reduce your exposure to crowded places. For example, you may:
- do your grocery shopping at off-peak hours
- commute by public transit outside of the busy rush hour
- opt to exercise outdoors instead of in an indoor fitness class
Your plan should also include what you will do if you become sick. If you are a caregiver of children or other dependents, you will want to have thought ahead to engage backup caregivers.
You should also think about what you will do if a member of your family becomes sick and needs care. Talk to your employer about working from home if you are needed to care for a family member at home.
If you, yourself, become ill, stay home until you are no longer showing symptoms. Employers should not require a sick leave note as that will put added pressure on limited health care services.
Your plan should include shopping for supplies that you should have on hand at all times. This will ensure you do not need to leave your home while you are sick or busy caring for an ill family member.
Your plan should build on the kits you have prepared for other potential emergencies. For more information on how to prepare yourself and your family in the event of an emergency, please visit GetPrepared.ca.
Fill your prescriptions
Refill your prescriptions now so that you do not have to go to a busy pharmacy if you do become sick. Consider seeing your health care provider to renew your prescriptions ahead of time.
Stock up on essentials but avoid panic buying
At this time, it makes sense to fill your cupboards with non-perishable food items, so that you do not need to go shopping if you become sick.
It is easier on the supply chain if people gradually build up their household stores instead of making large-scale purchases all at once. To do this, you can add a few extra items to your grocery cart every time you shop. Good options are easy-to-prepare foods like:
- dried pasta and sauce
- prepared canned soups
- canned vegetables and beans
It is also a good idea to have extra stores of:
- pet food
- toilet paper
- facial tissue
- feminine hygiene products
- diapers (if you have children who use them)
The reason for stocking up on these items is not necessarily because you will need to self-isolate. Having these supplies on hand will ensure you do not need to leave your home at the peak of the outbreak or if you become ill.
How to care for those who are ill
If you or a member of your family become ill with COVID-19, there are precautions that should be taken in the home. Your health care provider will advise you if hospital care is more appropriate.
To prepare for this potential situation, you should have on hand:
- facial tissue
- paper towels
- alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- household cleaning products
- regular detergents for washing dishes and doing laundry
- fever-reducing medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- this includes products for children if you are a parent or caregiver
- plastic garbage bags for containing soiled tissues and other waste
- household bleach for creating a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water to disinfect surfaces
Get reliable information
Make sure that you get high-quality information about COVID-19 from reliable sources. The Public Health Agency of Canada is a reliable source of information, as are provincial and territorial public health authorities.
If you are finding that the news media is making you feel anxious, take a break from it.
Communicate with family, friends and neighbours
Let your family, friends and neighbours know that you are making plans to prepare for COVID-19. Share your plan with them, as this might motivate them to make their own.
Talk to them about a buddy system in which you agree to check in on each other and run essential errands if you become sick.
Physical distancing measures are a way to reduce COVID-19 transmission in the community by minimizing close contact with others, especially people who are at high risk for severe illness during the peak of the outbreak.
Some of the physical distancing measures need extensive preparation. Community planners should prepare for:
- interruptions in social supports
- reduction in public services like transit and access to community centres
- financial consequences from the reduction of services or cancelled events
Planners, administrators and employers must work together to put into effect community-based measures to protect:
- the general population
Respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 spread quickly in crowded spaces. Avoiding crowds can reduce the spread of infection. This type of precaution could have a significant impact on how a community functions.
Communities should plan ahead and consider:
- whether to shut down public transit
- if public transit is shut down, ensure transportation remains available for:
- critical infrastructure workers
- emergency medical services or treatments like dialysis and chemotherapy
- if public transit is shut down, ensure transportation remains available for:
- working with employers and businesses to put into effect staggered work hours
- this reduces crowding on public transit during peak commuting hours and in large workplaces during normal workday hours
- voluntary quarantine of a community based on a risk assessment
- whether to ask individuals, organizations and businesses to cancel or postpone mass gatherings, such as:
- religious services
- concerts, conferences, sporting events and other forms of entertainment
- requiring people to stay home from school, work or other community settings, such as shopping centres and movie theatres
Mass gatherings can have the potential for serious public health consequences if they are not planned and managed carefully. They can increase the spread of infectious diseases and cause additional strain on the health care system when held during outbreaks.
Infections can also be transmitted during transit to and from an event, and in participants' home communities upon return.
Organizers need to consider the COVID-19 outbreak in their event planning and follow recommendations to cancel or postpone gatherings of 50 people or more. This number may be lower in some jurisdictions. Organizers should consult their local public health authorities who may set other criteria depending on specific circumstances.
Aside from cancelling or postponing an event, other measures to reduce infection risks during mass gatherings include:
- avoiding shaking hands
- practising proper hygiene
- avoiding common sleeping areas
- discouraging attendees from sharing food or drinks
- increasing physical distance between others (ideally to 2 metres) by:
- broadcasting events
- offering virtual participation
- moving the venue from indoors to outdoors
- eliminating self-serve buffet style eating at social or religious gatherings
- encouraging ill people and people who are at risk for severe illness not to attend gatherings
- supporting hand hygiene by providing hand sanitizers dispensers in prominent locations
- ensuring event organizers have arrangements in place to safely isolate and transport people who become ill onsite
- communicating clearly to attendees about the risks and directing them to our advice on reducing the spread of illness
For more information, refer to our COVID-19 guidance on risk-informed decision making for mass gatherings.
Remote and isolated communities
Communities that are remote or isolated should consider stocking up on needed supplies like food and medicine. The supply chain may be interrupted or become unreliable.
Additional challenges should be taken into account. For example, some remote communities may have limited access to clean running water for frequent hand hygiene.
For Indigenous communities
Refer to coronaviruses in Indigenous communities for more information on preparing for an outbreak of COVID-19.
Organizations who serve those experiencing homelessness
Those who experience homelessness may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or developing complications due to COVID-19. This is because they may not be able to access and use traditional services and standard resources.
Organizations, community health workers and volunteers play an important role in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those who experience homelessness. For more information, refer to our guidance on homelessness in the context of COVID-19.
For schools and daycares
School and daycare measures can range from simple (like increasing distancing between desks) to more extensive (like closures).
Widespread school closures as a control measure tend to have a high economic and social cost. This is because school closures impact the many families that have one or both parents working outside of the home.
Public health measures for schools and daycare are intended to provide a safer school environment by encouraging:
- personal protective measures
- communication to teachers and parents
- regularly cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces and objects like door handles, toilets and toys
The following measures are alternatives to school or day care closures.
- Restrict access to common areas.
- Divide classes into smaller groups.
- Cancel or postpone after-school events.
- Increase desk distance between students.
- Be flexible with attendance policies for students and staff.
- Students and staff who show symptoms of COVID-19 should stay at home.
- Separate children on school busses by 2 metres where possible.
- Cancel classes that bring students together from multiple classrooms.
- Stagger the school schedule (lunch breaks and recess) to limit the number of students and children in attendance at one time.
Across Canada, we are changing the way we work to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For some workplaces, this may mean changing hours of operation, closing for a period of time or working from home. Others continue to go to work because their jobs are essential to keeping Canada functioning during this outbreak.
Essential workers are considered critical to preserving life, health and basic societal functioning. This includes, but is not limited to:
- first responders
- health care workers
- hydro and natural gas
- critical infrastructure workers
- workers who are essential for supplying society with critical goods such as food and medicines
All employees should understand and comply with the infection prevention policies and practices in place in their workplaces. Employers should use the risk-informed decision-making guidelines for workplaces and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employers and employees will need to work together to protect their own health and their clients’ health, as well as deliver essential services.
- Increase awareness about COVID-19 through communication with staff.
- Evaluate the workplace for areas where people have frequent contact with each other and shared objects.
- Increase the distance between desks and workstations as well as employees and customers (ideally 2 metres).
- A physical barrier like a cubicle or Plexiglas window also works to increase distance between people.
More information is available related to COVID-19 in the workplace for employers, employees and essential service workers (including work-related travel).
- Encourage frequent hand hygiene, sneeze and cough etiquette, and staying home when ill.
- If COVID-19 symptoms develop, the employee should immediately be isolated from others and sent home without using public transit, if possible.
- Ensure frequent cleaning, with particular attention to high-touch surfaces, such as:
- cash registers
- elevator buttons
- restaurant tables and menus
- Provide access to handwashing areas and place hand sanitizers in prominent locations throughout the workplace, if possible.
Flexible work arrangements and sick leave
- Where feasible, adjust policies to reduce social contact, such as:
- flexible hours
- staggering start times
- teleworking arrangements
- using email and teleconferencing
- Relax sick leave policies to support employees in staying home when ill or monitoring symptoms.
- This includes suspending the need for medical notes to reduce the burden on an already stressed health care system.
- Prepare for increases in absenteeism due to illness among employees and their families or possibly school closures.
- Access your business continuity plan for how to maintain key business functions if faced with high absenteeism.
- Consider the need for cross-training personnel to function in key positions.
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