Editorial Archive

Message from the Chief Safety Officer

2/21/20 6:00 PM

Safety Notice #5: COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak

The Safety and Environment Department recently hosted the Medical Officer of Health and medical specialists from Toronto Public Health to discuss COVID-19. What were the main discussion points?

Current situation in Ontario

Toronto Public Health continues to monitor two confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (now named COVID-19) in Toronto. The individuals recently travelled to Wuhan together. One individual has been discharged home from the hospital and the other has been in self-isolation since returning to Toronto. Toronto Public Health continues to monitor the situation and provide updates.

The risk to Toronto residents remains low.

Public health response to COVID-19

This situation and the associated uncertainties can be stressful for many people. However, it is important to remember that the novel coronavirus was only identified a little over a month ago. The science on this matter is quickly unfolding, and it is being updated and shared with health experts expeditiously.

Toronto Public Health expects that the situation will continue to change as we learn more. As new, verified data emerges, local, provincial and federal partners adapt their approach to follow the best available evidence. These efforts are ongoing and these agencies continually look for opportunities to refine and strengthen the public health response. At this time, the risk to our community remains low. The Medical Officer of Health will let us know directly if this changes.

COVID-19 transmission

Generally, coronaviruses can spread through droplets when a person who has the virus coughs or sneezes. This is similar to how the flu and other respiratory illnesses are spread. In general, while these droplets are small to the human eye they are large from an infectious disease perspective, and fall out of the air within seconds. Typically, the viruses can live on a surface for several hours.

Some viruses are highly contagious, while other viruses are less so. It’s not clear yet how easily the COVID-19 spreads from person-to-person.

How you can protect yourself

Everyday preventive actions can help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:
> Get a yearly flu vaccination, available from clinics and pharmacies. This is the best way to prevent influenza infection.
> Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
> Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
> Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
> Stay home when you are sick.
> Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
> Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
> If you have a fever, cough and/or difficulty breathing, seek medical care early and share your recent travel history with your health care provider.

Effectiveness of masks or respirators

Guidance regarding the use of masks and respirators should be informed using the best available scientific literature. The best evidence indicates that personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, is effective for healthcare workers taking care of sick patients when the equipment is used properly.

The second area where there is some reasonable evidence of effectiveness is where someone who has a respiratory disease wears a mask to limit the spread of the disease to other people they may contact.

There is no evidence of the effectiveness of masks in protecting the general public from infectious diseases. However, there is some evidence it may be counter productive. Some theories as to why this may be the case include:
> The mask provides a false sense of security and people subsequently don’t wash their hands enough.
> The masks are designed for specific, short-duration scenarios like health care procedures. Sometimes the general public wear them for longer than they were designed to be worn.
> They aren’t used properly (e.g., taking the mask on or off improperly or wearing the mask only on the chin area).

Travel to Hubei province or mainland China

If you have travelled to Hubei province in the last 14 days, limit your contact with others for a total of 14 days from the date that you left Hubei. This means self-isolate and stay at home. In addition, contact the local public health authority in your area within 24 hours of arriving in Canada.

All travellers from mainland China are advised to monitor themselves for symptoms and to contact the local public health authority in their area if they feel sick. Should a fever, cough, difficulty breathing or any other symptom arise within 14 days after returning to Canada, seek medical attention immediately. Inform your health care provider or local health authority about symptoms and travel history.

Credible sources of information

There are many sources of misinformation regarding COVID-19. The best way to protect ourselves, our families, colleagues and neighbours is to ensure we are using evidence-based facts, especially as the situation evolves. Toronto Public Health updates their website frequently as new facts are confirmed. They also have a hotline where you can speak with a health professional for any questions you may have. Translation is available in many languages.

Need more information?

The TTC Safety and Environment Department has posted a number of information/resource documents on their home page. See the link on the TTC Intranet homepage or the Safety and Environment Department website (internal).

More information about coronavirus is also available from Toronto Public Health at:
https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/health-wellness-care/diseases-medications-vaccines/coronavirus/.
Health Canada has also prepared “New Corona Virus, Frequently Asked Questions” at:
https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/frequently-asked-questions.html.

Questions?

If you have any questions, please contact the Occupational Hygiene and Environment Section at 416-393-3320. If you have any questions related to your personal health, please contact your family doctor or Telehealth at 1-866-797-0000. Toronto Public Health has also set up a coronavirus hotline that provides the public with a place to get information, ask questions about this virus and connect with a health professional at 416-338-7600.

Betty Hasserjian
Chief Safety Officer (acting)
Safety and Environment Department
February 21, 2020

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