Will the coronavirus affect Albertans and MRU students?
By Christian Kindrachuk, Contributor
With the outbreak of the coronavirus people around the world have started to take precautions due to the nature of the new virus. However, in terms of an outbreak, this is nothing new.
On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) qualifies as a public health emergency of international concern.
“That is because they see the increasing numbers of the coronavirus and are impressed by the ability of this virus to potentially spread through the entire world,” says infectious disease specialist Chris Mody from the University of Calgary. “What that declaration does, is it coordinates the world’s efforts in terms of reporting, screening and trying to prevent other citizens in the world from acquiring it.”
Risk to Canadians
The situation is being monitored closely by the WHO and countries alike. Currently the WHO is issuing daily situation reports on their website about the virus. As of Feb. 11, seven cases of the virus have been confirmed in Canada — three being in Ontario and four being in British Columbia, according to the Government of Canada website on the current situation.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has assessed Canada’s level of risk as low, and will continue to reassess as new information is available. The Canadian government recommends avoiding all non-essential travel to China and all travel to Hubei province, China, including Wuhan city.
While the actual risk does remain low according to officials, this has not stopped people from worrying about the contagious nature of the virus. The virus itself is technically a part of the family
of cold viruses.
“They cause upper respiratory tract symptoms, runny nose, runny eyes, sore throat, the things that you associate with having a cold. This novel coronavirus has more features of pneumonia, so it’s also in the respiratory tract, but it’s basically in the lungs,” says Mody. “The cases that have been reported — about 80 per cent of them have pneumonia-like symptoms where only five per cent have cold like symptoms.”
Mody notes that the current coronavirus is harder to detect because of its nature. “In Alberta, it’s still much more likely to experience a respiratory infection caused by a common virus, such as the flu,” according to Tom McMillan of Alberta Health in an email correspondence.
The virus itself is in the same family as SARS, says Mody. Recent developments have shown that the current mortality rate from the novel coronavirus has surpassed SARS. Currently Alberta Health is monitoring the situation closely as a safety measure.
“There are no probable or confirmed cases in Alberta at this time. The risk to Albertans is still low at this time, but we have taken the necessary steps to ensure Alberta’s health system is prepared,” says McMillan.
“Anyone with specific questions or concerns about their health is encouraged to call Health Link at 811 for assessment and health advice,” he says. As well, individuals are encouraged to visit: www.alberta.ca/coronavirus for updates.
Alberta Health and Mody say it is helpful to employ basic flu practices to avoid getting sick and spreading it to other people.
“The best protection against respiratory illnesses, including the novel coronavirus, is to use good hygiene practices. This includes frequent hand-washing and covering coughs and sneezes. Also, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands,” says McMillain.
MRU is also watching the situation because of the traction it has been getting around the world. To proactively inform students, an email was sent out to students and faculty on Jan. 31.
“There’s been a lot of mention of it and I think people were feeling a little bit nervous,” says Rachelle McGrath, director of Wellness Services. “We were getting inquiries as to what we were doing or what might be happening on campus.”
The physicians from Wellness Services are affiliated with primary care networks like Calgary West Central and adhere to their professional responsibility and regulations within the network, says McGrath.
McGrath says the physicians within Wellness Services receive updates and direction from Alberta Medical Association and coordinate from there. However, when asked if MRU has a “pandemic policy,” McGrath was unaware of one.
“It would be within their [primary care networks] realm rather than necessarily within Mount Royal’s realm to have a policy or procedure related to if there might be an infectious disease on campus,” says McGrath.
Mody says they are currently updating their pandemic preparedness plan as a precaution at the UofC, which expands on what the responsibilities of the university and students are, should an outbreak occur.
“I think it’s important for us to start that conversation, not to panic about it, but just to say, ‘So what are we going to do?’ It’s that kind of conversation that I think is very helpful and then hopefully, we will never have to use any of those measures.