Toronto reported 191 new COVID-19 cases and 19 more deaths on Thursday. There are now 5,551 cases of the virus in the city.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, stop by CP24 to answer viewer COVID-19 questions.
CP24: Ontario Premier Doug Ford talked about flattening the curve and getting businesses pumped up about reopening. Do you feel this is in step with how you see things proceeding here in the city?
De Villa: There are many of us here in this city that are looking forward to moving from COVID response to COVID recovery. I think that the comments and the actions being taken by the premier and the provincial government are in line with that kind of thinking. So, they have released a framework. They've talked about the kind of things that need to be seen. We want to see more control of the disease. We want to make sure that there's healthcare and public health capacity and that we have appropriate surveillance and testing mechanisms in place before we move definitively towards recovery.
I think that we're trying to offer hope and a way forward for the city of Toronto and, in the case of the premier, the entire province.
CP24: Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health talked about looking for that two-week countdown. Are we in a countdown phase?
De Villa: I don't know if I would call it a countdown phase, but we're always monitoring. That's part of our job in public health to make sure that we understand what's happening in respect of cases and what kind of impact we are seeing that the disease is having on our community. That's regular work in public health. So, we're constantly monitoring.
CP24 Viewer: We know that cats and tigers could get COVID-19. We have a 12-week old dog, and we are supposed to socialize him. However, we are not sure if we can. Can dogs get COVID-19, and can they transmit it to us?
De Villa: I will admit that animal health is not my strong suit, but from what I have seen and read, they're, they're quite right. I've heard about cats and ferrets being susceptible to COVID-19. I have not heard as much about dogs.
I think that there are good practices that people should be using all the time when it comes to pets. Washing your hands well right after touching your pet and making sure that you're using good practice and certainly, tidying up after your pet when it does its business, is certainly part of that. Washing your hands after that is a key component of good hygiene when it comes to pets.
CP24: If I am asymptomatic, how long can I be that way?
De Villa: The hard thing about being asymptomatic means that you don't have any symptoms, so you don't even know that you're sick.
So how can you tell the difference between not being sick and being sick but without symptoms? Very complicated questions that we are still trying to understand. I'm going to remind everybody that the virus that causes COVID-19 was only discovered in January. So, it's only been something that we've been able to study, observe and try to understand for the last few months. So still lots of study ongoing right now. And I think we're going to have to continue to pay attention to what our scientists are doing to understand better how this disease is transmitted and therefore what we can do to control its spread.
CP24: There have been cases of the virus that have been displayed through COVID toes. Does this indicate that the virus is changing or mutating and if so, should we be more worried that we are less informed on what it looks like?
De Villa: I don't think that that's a sign of the virus necessarily mutating or changing in any way, shape or form. We have been hearing about COVID toes. I realized that that's made more of an appearance in the media lately. But we have heard of those stories for several weeks now, and it appears to be a way in which disease shows itself or a symptom of disease, but particularly amongst young people, which is an interesting presentation. But as I said with the previous question, the thing is that this is a new virus. So, we are still very much in the learning phase, understanding how the virus transmits and what are the many ways in which it can present, whether we're talking about how it presents in young people, kids, teens and people in their twenties. COVID toes seem to be a presentation amongst that younger set and what it looks like and how that differs in older populations.
There we see more of the typical respiratory virus symptoms, cough, difficulty breathing, fever. But you know, this is still very much a question of learning and stuff that scientists are still trying to understand. So, I think I would tell people, stay tuned. Still much more study to happen in respect of this virus.
CP24: Does it concern you that the CDC issued six new symptoms associated with COVID-19 this week?
De Villa: Well, I wouldn't say for me that that's a sign of concern for me. That's a sign that we're learning more. We're putting that information out for people so that they can understand what COVID-19 might present like and how it can be quite different from person to person. So, I see that as a sign of hope and a sign that we're learning more about the virus in pretty a super-fast time, I would say.
CP24: It appears that the WHO will investigate the risk of grandparents hugging their grandchildren. What are your thoughts relating to this action and the requirement of social distancing? Do grandchildren pose a significant covert 19 health risk?
De Villa: We know right now, though that people who are at age 70 and older seem to have more severe forms of the disease. They tend to get sicker; they are more likely to be hospitalized, and unfortunately, they are more likely to die if they become infected with COVID-19. On the other hand, when we look at young people, grandchildren, for example, tend to have relatively mild forms of illness. That's not to say that they can't have a severe version of it, but from what we can see, they tend to have milder forms of illness and may even have more asymptomatic or that sort of subclinical infection we were talking about.
What we don't want to see is family togetherness inadvertently creating infections and disease amongst those who are most vulnerable and most susceptible to severe outcomes of disease. So, I can appreciate why the who and why other scientists might be interested in studying that very question.
CP24: Why are nurses and PSWs allowed to wear scrubs and shoes from home and then go straight to work in the long-term homes and the hospitals?
De Villa: We see a lot of this from people. And this isn't just a question right now while we're dealing with COVID-19, there are lots of good infection prevention and control practices that should be used all the time in the hospital. So, I can tell you that in our hospitals and our acute care settings, they have fantastic people working in infection prevention and control, and they have really good people as well working in occupational health and safety.
I would suggest that all people working within the context of a hospital should be speaking to their infection prevention and control practitioners and their occupational health and safety people and ensuring that they're following the appropriate policies and procedures of their institution. The best thing to do is to make sure that you keep dirty things in dirty places and clean things separated so that you don't bring anything inadvertently from the outside or frankly from the hospital back to your home. I would encourage hospital staff and those who work in all healthcare settings to make sure that they're up to speed with their local policies and procedures and follow them cause it's for their good and the good of their patients as well.
CP24: Any thoughts into the protocol and guide for the dental profession? Many dental offices are wondering not only how to survive the economic aftermath, but also how to jumpstart practices in a new world with COVID-19 in it. Any thoughts on where dental practices fit into reopening the city?
De Villa: We know that there are some really important services that are provided by dentists and all hygienists and all the other people who work with them. There are important conditions for health that are about the health of the mouth. I think we're all going to be learning how to work, uh, and live safely with COVID-19. And I think that we will likely see things like better disease control, better testing, and a better understanding of how the disease is transmitted and how we might prevent that transmission in a dental setting. These kinds of questions or answers to those questions are going to have to come forward as we try to figure out how to reopen and restart businesses, including dental practices.
CP24: Why not get each employee returning to work tested for COVID before returning rather than just taking the temperature? There are asymptomatic people out there that carry the infection that may cause spread in companies as a return to work starts.
De Villa: I think that there is some benefit to having a fair amount of testing to understand what the current state of disease spread is in the community. But the challenge, of course, is we are still trying to figure out if you've had COVID-19 once, are you protected from getting it again? And if so, for how long? So, if we do the testing and we find that you are negative today, how long can we expect that to be good for? Or if you recover from disease, are you immune and for how long? If we're looking at testing, we also have to think about how often you are going to test. What's a reasonable amount? You know, you may be negative today, but what if you get exposed tomorrow, and your next test isn't until a week or two later, what's the right frequency of testing? So, very complicated issues and questions. We have to figure out how do we reduce transmission whether or not you're regularly tested. We just need to figure out how often and who should be tested and when.
CP24: What is your advice on doing safe groceries?
De Villa: It's about hand washing. You could clean the packages as best as possible. We know that soap and water work very well against this virus, but the most important place on which to use that soap and water is your hands. Wash your hands. After coming in from outside, before you prepare food before you eat food, these are the most important things that can be done. And then otherwise, good food handling, practice keeping hot food, hot, cold food, cold washing vegetables, keeping raw foods away from cooked ones. All the standard practices. These are the best things to do to protect yourself when it comes to food prep and handling your food.
CP24: Is it still okay to go cycling while still maintaining physical distancing? Should cyclists wear a mask, and is it okay to drink directly from a bike water bottle?
De Villa: I do encourage cycling. I do think it's important that people get that opportunity to get some physical activity. It's hard to be cooped up at home. Physical distancing needs to be maintained, and I think it's okay to drink from your water bottle as long as you're cleaning it properly.
CP24: Can someone who has recovered from COVID-19 donate blood plasma to help those who are affected?
De Villa: Yes. That is something that's happening all over the world right now as one method to help people who are struggling with a COVID-19 infection.
CP24: In Sweden, officials put chicken manure all over a park to discourage people from going. Would the Swedish measure have been a little bit better than closing High Park? Why do you think it was necessary to close High Park?
De Villa: Well, I'm not going to comment on the Swedish measure. I haven't had much opportunity to understand what the rationale was and why that would work. And we know in Sweden they have done things differently. But what's interesting is that while they didn't go to lockdown, I think effectively what they did have with people stay at home. People listened without necessarily going into very specific orders or having to create specific circumstances or to close down businesses. It sounded like they did that on their own. With High Park, the cherry blossoms are absolutely beautiful, and they attract literally thousands and thousands of visitors every year. And the concern is it's hard to stay away. But that's exactly what we need people to do. Gathering in large crowds like that is just not the kind of thing we need to be doing. If we are going to protect our city as best as possible from COVID-19 and to get our city back, we need to continue right now with physical distancing.
This interview has been edited.