Your top COVID-19 questions answered

With countless COVID-19 updates and developments in the media, it can be overwhelming to keep on top of the essential points.

To help, we turned to the experts at UHN to give you a concise guide to some of your most pressing COVID-19 questions. From the future of the pandemic to protecting ourselves and loved ones, our experts are providing valuable information.

When do I need to wear a mask outdoors? 

According to Dr. Alon Vaisman, Infectious Diseases, Infection Control Physician at UHN, if you’re doing an outdoor activity where you can’t reasonably expect to keep social distance from people outside your bubble (e.g., walking down a crowded street), wearing a mask is advisable.

“…if you’re playing volleyball…someone close to you is standing by, you won’t be able to keep your distance – it makes sense to wear a mask there,” Dr. Vaisman stated in a recent Q&A.

However, if you’re sitting on a beach or in the park with no one within metres of you, it’s not necessary to keep the mask on.

How long should we maintain our social circles?

For the time being, we should maintain our bubbles. The key idea of the bubbles is to minimize the chain of transmission, Dr. Vaisman explained. Keeping your bubble to 10 people means that even if one of you gets sick, you’ve minimized the number of people who could potentially be infected. Compare that to a bubble of 100 people, and you could have transmitted the disease to many more people.

The people in your bubble are the ones you can have close contact with, but you can still see people outside your social circle, as long as you maintain physical distance from them. Check out the Ontario Government’s guide here on how to safely create your social circle.

Are we close to developing a vaccine?

For this question we turned to Dr. Beate Sander, Director of Population Health Economics Research at Toronto General Hospital Research Institute. “Most of what I hear, and what I think is reasonable, is probably within the next 9 to 12 months,” says Sander, who also stressed that developing a vaccine is a lengthy process, usually taking years. There are many followup factors we need to think of if we find a vaccine that is successful in the human trials. For example: Will it be available to the entire population? Will it work across all age groups?

The good news is that there are more than 100 teams of scientists around the world that are currently working on developing a vaccine, and processes that usually takes years to complete are being done within a couple of weeks.

As of July 21, 23 vaccine candidates were in human trials. So, while Sander warns we must be cautious with our expectations, there is also an unprecedented effort by the medical community to get a vaccine as quickly, and as safely, as possible.

Has the virus evolved or changed? 

Dr. Sander and Dr. Erin O’Connor, Deputy Medical Director of the UHN Emergency Departments, noted that it is early in the scientific process for us to know a lot about this relatively new disease; however, we can make educated predictions based on past viruses. For example, we know viruses mutate over time, becoming either more benign or more severe.

Dr. O’Connor has promising insights from the frontlines, saying “from the Emergency Department perspective I haven’t seen that [change in the virus].”

Is there going to be a second wave of COVID-19? 

Even the experts can’t fully predict the future. Dr. Sander stated that we know there is usually an increase in general respiratory illnesses in the fall and winter, but in terms of COVID-19, it greatly depends on the actions we take now. Even though physical distancing measures are relaxed, we can’t let our guards down. As Dr. Sander warns, “the virus is sitting there waiting for us to relax.” We are not yet immune as a society.

“My own take on this is that it’s more likely to be several smaller to medium waves, as opposed to the very big one,” Sander said.

In the event of a second wave or spikes in cases, Dr. O’Connor says we are also much better prepared now than we were in March. “…we have plans B, C, D, and E in place and…we’re not letting our guard down, and we’re still planning and thinking, making sure we have all of our equipment and physical spaces.”

The key takeaway from all our experts? Science is a methodical process. We will need more time to fully assess how the virus will change and what that means for our society. In the meantime, being cautious is the best protection we can use. We can take control of our actions and continue to practise physical distancing, something that will affect the situation down the road. Even though it’s hard, we’re in this together.

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