The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift in our day-to-day lives. We used to travel to the grocery store without a second thought, and meeting friends for dinner or coffee was a weekly ritual. As we self-isolate and practice physical distancing, many of us are unsure how long this pandemic will last, and are looking for answers around how to protect ourselves and our families in the midst of such uncertainty.

There is much we don’t know about the novel coronavirus. This new mutation hasn’t been exposed to humans, and this means that it is highly contagious, as we have not developed immunity. What we know about the virus constantly evolves. To provide some answers about what we do know, in collaboration with our colleagues at Medisys, we have compiled a FAQ sheet based on the most frequently asked questions we receive from clients.

Read below for some commonly asked questions about COVID-19. Please note, these answers are subject to change, and this FAQ sheet will be updated regularly. This information, including updates on antibody testing and diagnostic testing are current as of May 20th 2020.

Are COVID-19 tests widely available?

Please note the separate protocol for Alberta and British Columbia.

In British Columbia, COVID-19 testing is available for all those feeling ill, or showing respiratory symptoms. COVID-19 testing is typically performed after referral from your physician, however, many walk-in testing sites allow for non-referral tests. Upon arriving at a testing location, healthcare professionals will appropriately screen for symptoms, and determine whether a test is necessary.

In Alberta, all testing is done by Alberta Health Services. If you think you may be displaying symptoms of COVID-19, you must visit the AHS website and complete a screening test. If the screening test determines you are eligible for a COVID-19 swab, you will be asked to submit your contact information to the AHS and you will be given instructions on how to complete your swab test. There are no walk-in clinics, or physician referrals for COVID-19 tests in AB. The process must be completed through Alberta Health Services.

It’s important to know that false negatives can result from these tests, especially if diagnostic viral testing is done too early, or too late in the illness process. The ideal time to get tested is 4-6 days from the start of symptoms.

Is antibody testing available?

Antibody, or serological testing, refers to a blood test that checks for past immune exposure (antibodies) to the coronavirus. At this time, antibody testing is not recommended or used for individual clinical decision-making in the community, and the World Health Organization does not recommend the use of antibody tests for patient care. In Canada, antibody testing is mainly in the research phase, as the false positive rates for current tests remain high.

In the event that a Health Canada approved test is offered by a reputable Canadian lab for use in the community setting, Copeman Healthcare will evaluate whether our clinics will follow suit.

Is my Copeman Healthcare Centre open?

Please understand that Copeman Healthcare continues to follow Federal and Provincial guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic and this has affected the availability of services. Until we are able to return to regular operations, our clinical team is always available for ongoing care 24/7 through telephone and virtual care visits .

Reduced clinical teams in our Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton Centres are still seeing patients for urgent care. Further, we are working hard to develop services that can be delivered through alternative platforms. Virtual appointments and phone consultations with your kinesiologist and dietitian are available. Please stay tuned for more information on this in the days and weeks ahead. Your care is important to us and we will continue to look for ways to better serve you during this difficult time

If I think I am sick, I would usually call my Copeman Healthcare physician. What should I do if I feel sick at this time?

If you feel sick, please call your Copeman Healthcare clinic. If it is outside of regular hours you may wish to make use of our after-hours line or our virtual care platform, Medisys On-Demand. More information on Medisys On-Demand can be found here.

What should I do if I feel sick and I cannot call my Copeman Healthcare physician because it is after hours?

Depending upon the severity of your situation you have multiple options available to you. If your symptoms are severe, please call 911 immediately. If your symptoms are worrisome, but not severe, you can use Medisys On-Demand or call the Copeman Healthcare doctor on call. If your symptoms are mild, it may be better to wait until the morning to call.

What pre-existing medical conditions make a person more susceptible to developing complications if he or she tests positive for COVID-19?  

The following people are at higher risk of suffering from complications of COVID-19:

  • Older adults (defined as age 60+) and in particular, those with pre-existing medical conditions including the ones listed below
  • Women in the third trimester of pregnancy
  • Those with underlying medical conditions such as:
    • Diabetes
    • Heart disease
    • Active cancer
    • History of stroke
    • Asthma
    • COPD
    • A condition requiring dialysis
    • Immunosuppression

Are there any medications that can cause complications and therefore should be stopped or not taken if you test positive for COVID-19? 

There are some reports of links between Advil/ibuprofen and more severe infection, but there are no clear answers yet. Please speak with your personal healthcare provider to review any concerns before discontinuing any medication for chronic conditions.

What is the role of azithromycin and hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of COVID-19?

Please know there is currently no role for hydroxychloroquine (with or without azithromycin) in the treatment of coronavirus. These medications are also not without risk.

This has been in the media recently as a result of some small studies. The combination of drugs is possibly being tried on a compassionate basis at affected seniors homes. It has also been used on a very small number of patients in Wuhan, China. These were the sickest patients and, at this time, there is little reported benefit from the use of these medications. There is also a potential study of the drugs underway in the United States, again, in an intensive care setting.

The incubation period has been maintained at 14 days. Is this for everyone, mostly everyone, or can the disease be in incubation beyond 14 days?

COVID-19’s incubation period is currently understood to be 5-6 days, with symptoms usually appearing within 2-14 days.

What is the recovery period for someone who has tested positive for COVID-19?

Recovery from COVID-19 varies upon case severity. Someone who has tested positive needs to self-isolate for at least 14 days and until the symptoms resolve.

If I have symptoms, and feel unwell, at what point should I seek assistance?

If you are short of breath and are having difficulty breathing, you should seek medical assistance.

I think I had COVID-19 earlier this year. Can I catch it again? Can I be tested to see if I have had it?

It is unlikely that you will get COVID-19 again if you have had it previously, as people who have recovered from COVID-19 demonstrate a short period of immunity. However, if you think you had COVID-19 previously, do not assume you have immunity. In regards to antibody testing, Health Canada has approved one antibody test, which should be available to the public within the next 2-6 weeks.

How many people are hospitalized with COVID-19?

As of May 15th, there have been 475 people hospitalized in BC with COVID-19, of 2,407 confirmed cases. The hospitalization rate is around 20% in BC. Of the 2,407 confirmed cases, 140 people have died, and 1908 people have recovered. Please refer to the BC CDC for more information on COVID-19 statistics.

As of May 18th, in Alberta there have been 6,683 cases of COVID-19, with 5,519 recovered and 128 deaths. Please visit the Alberta Ministry of Health’s website for more detailed COVID-19 statistics.

People working in the hospital are considered to be more at risk of getting infected. What extra precautions, if any, should their family members take to limit the exposure risks?   

In case of close contact with someone who has increased risk of exposure, individuals should be especially vigilant about practicing safe hygiene measures, cleaning shared surfaces often, and practicing social distancing.

In the case of healthcare workers, please follow instructions from the hospital. Wash clothes regularly in warm water, and consider having “work clothes” that are taken off in a dedicated area of the house before washing your hands and changing into “house clothes.”

What precautions can a person take during the COVID-19 outbreak if he or she is visiting a clinic or hospital for other medical reasons?

At this time, all clinic and hospital visits should be avoided as much as possible. Please use virtual care, via a mobile app (such as Medisys On-Demand) or a phone or video call with your doctor, as the preferred option.

Does COVID-19 spread easily through contact with infected surfaces just as easily as human-human transmission?            

Precautions need to be taken against both droplets and contact transmission. It is probable that direct contact is more likely to transmit the disease, but in terms of actual numbers, contact with infected surfaces may account for more transmissions as the virus can last several days on surfaces.

How long does the virus reside on surfaces?

A recent study found that viable viruses can be detected in aerosols (suspension of particles in air) for up to three hours post-aerosolization. Viable viruses have been found up to four hours on copper surfaces, 24 hours on cardboard surfaces, and 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces. Wash, or disinfect surfaces you are concerned might be infected. Packages can be left outside, or in the basement for 24 hours to ensure they are safe.

How should people handle items coming from outside the home, such as mail?

It would be best to allow mail to remain outside the home for 3-4 hours and to ensure you wash your hands after handling to ensure that you mitigate the risk of spread.

Should we order takeout food or delivery knowing that the virus can live on surfaces such as plastic food containers?

The best practice would be to transfer food to a plate or a bowl, and to wash your hands before eating. Refer to this article for more tips on food safety during COVID-19.

Is this disease airborne? Can the virus spread through common ventilation systems? 

COVID-19 is spread by droplets and contact, which means coughs and sneezes within a 2-metre range, as well as through touching infected surfaces and then touching mucous membranes.

Because the virus is spread through respiratory droplets, does normal exhaled air present the same risk as a cough or a sneeze?

Normal expiration of air is a much lower risk than a cough or a sneeze. You do not need to wear a mask if you are healthy, but maintain a distance of two metres from other people.

Do I need to wear a mask?

Masks are most useful for people who are expecting to be in very close contact with sick people (e.g. healthcare professionals). Masks should also be worn by people who are sick and need to go to the hospital as a way to keep germs away from others. At this time, masks in public are not required.  You have the option to wear a non-medical mask (face covering) when in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others. Read here to learn how to craft a homemade face mask.

Do you have a sample mental health strategy that you would be able to share?      

You can refer to Medisys blog articles and webinar slides for some strategies and approaches around mental health support in the context of self-isolation and social distancing. Medisys is also hosting 30-day mental health challenge that features daily tips and strategies for mental and emotional well-being. Please refer to the following articles for additional mental health content from Copeman Healthcare clinicians:

How do we grocery shop during COVID-19? What are the best practices for travelling to the store?

We suggest making a meal plan with a detailed list of ingredients you’ll need for at least two weeks. That way, when you enter the store, you know what you’re buying and you can ensure all ingredients will be used. Limit grocery trips to once a week during non-peak hours, and when shopping, maintain a two metre distance between you and other shoppers. Wash your hands before and after you travel to the store, and wash fruits and vegetables with hot water and a drop of soap. Please refer to the article food safety during COVID-19 for additional information.

What is the health risk to a senior who is going shopping at a grocery store?

Because COVID-19 has more complications for seniors, we suggest travelling to the grocery store during non-peak hours, keeping a two metre distance between you and other shoppers, and washing your hands with hot soapy water upon returning home. Additionally, grocery store delivery is a great option if you do not want to risk travelling to the grocery store.

I have a compromised immune system. Should I avoid going out at all?

Keep outings to a minimum, and aim to go at non-peak times when grocery stores and pharmacies are less crowded. 

The children have been at home for two weeks, and so have their grandparents. No one appears sick. Are children able to visit their grandparents?

We do not recommend that children visit grandparents. While symptoms of COVID-19 in children appear mild, children may still carry the virus, which carries more severe complications for the elderly. It is safest to self-isolate and stay in your home. We suggest virtual visits or phone calls with elderly relatives.

Is a person still contagious if they are coughing, but have no fever?

It is safe to assume that yes, you are still contagious, as the virus spreads through respiratory droplets. Usually after 14 days, a cough alone is not a sign of ongoing infectiousness. Coughs may persist for several weeks after an acute infection has resolved.

Can we go for runs, walks or bike rides outside?

You can, and should, try to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle! We encourage you to run, walk, and bike outside, however we also encourage you to maintain social distance between other outdoor users. This means staying two metres apart from others, and visiting areas that are less busy.

If I get COVID-19, and am living with others, what are the precautions I should take?

You should not prepare food for others if you are ill. You should self-isolate and maintain distance from those you are living with.

Should people self-isolate with simple cough or cold symptoms without a fever?

Yes. We are treating all cold or flu like symptoms as though they are from COVID-19.

If someone is asymptomatic for 10 days, and hasn’t had contact with the public, is it safe to assume he or she does not have COVID-19?

While you may not be symptomatic, at this point, it’s safest to still act as though you are carrying the virus, and continue to maintain social distancing until it is advised to do otherwise.

Please continue to do your part to lessen the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social and physical distancing. We understand that this is an uncertain period of time, and we want to do everything we can to provide you with the most updated information and resources. You can find COVID-19 updates from Copeman Healthcare on our website. Please visit our resource page for more articles with tips for healthy eating, recipes, and at home workouts.