Have you been exposed to the coronavirus yet?
Regardless of where you live in Canada, the real answer is that we don’t know yet.
The virus has finally made the jump to Toronto from the distant Chinese city of Wuhan. If you thought the city had been closed off from travel, well you are right, but not before the virus arrived earlier this week on a flight that landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
What we are relying on now are the assurances of public health officials that this new virus with a habit of killing people is being contained here, is not easily transmitted, and that we are all safe.
What we know so far is that a man in his 50s, who officials are calling the first “presumptive case” of coronavirus in Canada, had been visiting Wuhan and then boarded a flight to Wanzhou before taking off Tuesday on a flight to Toronto.
The man arrived in Canada on Wednesday.
He was transported by ambulance to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital the next day. The ambulance crew knew enough to show up in protective gear, or what most of us might call HazMat suits.
The good news is he didn’t call a cab, or walk into the emergency room, potentially infecting other people. We are also told by officials the infected man did not take public transit from the airport to home –he travelled in a private car.
The bad news is that there can be several flights a day between Wanzhou and Toronto. If you, someone you know or someone who you came in contact with was infected, then you may not know yet.
Speaking at a hastily called news conference at Queen’s Park Saturday evening, Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said the protocol for a disease like this is to identify people within three rows of the sick individual “because they would be at risk, potentially.”
Health officials said they were working with the information they had been given but that is was too early to say how many people would be at risk.
The most common flight from Wanzhou to Toronto appears to be carried out via a Boeing 777-300 — a plane that, depending on the configuration, ranges from 300 to 360 passengers.
How many of those passengers could have been infected either on the plane or in the airport waiting to board is unknown. How many people those infected could have come in contact with and where they are in Canada is also not known.
Health officials believe that this first case is someone who did not have much contact with other people once he arrived in Canada.
“The evidence to date is that this is not easily transmitted between people,” Dr. Yaffe said. “In terms of transmission it’s mostly to very close household contacts.”
“And I can assure you that any close household contacts have already been put into self-isolation and are being monitored,” she added.
Even with all these reassurances, health officials were clear this will not be the last case of coronavirus that we see in Canada.
So why are they so upbeat? Didn’t we deal with the deadly SARS epidemic years ago in Ontario?
“We are in a very, very different place than when we were responding to SARS,” said Dr. Peter Donnelly, president of Public Health Ontario. “One of the things that is very different is that we know what the virus is, we have a fast, reliable test and that really is a game changer.”
Donnelly said that test means that not only can we test those with symptoms but we can test and monitor those who have come into contact with an infected individual.
This news will obviously put many people on edge, and understandably so. So far, coronavirus has killed 56 people in China and sickened nearly 2,000 others.
We can take some comfort in knowing that local, provincial and federal officials are working closely together to detect and stop this virus.
But we need to be concerned about how many people have already been infected in Canada and make sure they get the care they need and that the rest of us take precautions.