To the people of Prince Rupert,
The sky is falling. I wish I were wrong.
Now is the time to take extreme action. We are in the “Golden Hour” (Google it) where our actions of social distancing can affect the trajectory of this pandemic. If we hesitate we will be too late.
I am a family doctor in Prince Rupert, now self-isolating due to potential exposures to COVID-19. With time to reflect on this new reality, I recognize that each of us will face difficult decisions in the coming days. While I wait until it is safe for me to care for my patients, one way I can help you now is to share with you the same information I have shared with my family and friends.
The disease is more widespread than the number of positive tests lead us to believe. Most people (80 per cent) who have COVID-19 have mild symptoms – sore throat, dry couch – or none at all and so do not qualify for testing. Results for the tests that have been done are backlogged. There are thousands of tests waiting to be to be processed, but only hundreds can be analyzed each day. This means that the number of cases being reported is a a small fraction of those that actually exist: it’s a reflection of the disease burden five to ten days ago.
The disease spreads quickly. By the time we identify a case, it has already moved on and infected more people. As with the flu or common cold, it is spread by droplets released into the air with coughing or sneezing. These droplets can stay in the air for hours, or land on hard surfaces and survive for days. If you come into contact with these droplets by being in close proximity to someone infected, or touching infected surfaces, you risk becoming infected yourself. You may be carrying the virus and not be showing symptoms. You may be infecting the people you love.
The consequences are devastating. The United States’ Centres for Disease Control released a report on March 18, describing the outcomes of patients with COVID-19 in the United States. The risk of death for patients 85 years or older is approximately one in four. For patients aged 65 to 84, the risk of death is one in ten. Young people aged 20 to 44 were less likely to die, but still accounted for 20 per cent of all hospitalized patients. You must understand that this is more than “just the flu”. Every time you risk exposing yourself to this disease you are rolling the dice, not only for yourself but for the ones you love.
If you are young and healthy, it is your responsibility not to spread the disease.
If you are at higher risk (aged 65 or older, or with pre-existing medical conditions) you must do everything you can to avoid contracting the disease.
Stay home. Stop all non-essential activities. If you need something, ask for help. Spending time outside can help keep you sane, but keep your distance – at least two metres separation. Assume everyone around you has the disease. Wash your hands. Soap and alcohol based hand sanitizers kill the virus. If you are out in public, avoid high contact surfaces.
Our hospital system already operates over capacity. Hospital resources are scarce, and the supply will not keep pace with the demand. That means that if you or your loved one is sick, you simply cannot rely on the health care system to care for you. In Italy, doctors do not have enough intensive care beds, ventilators, or even masks and gloves to care for patients and keep themselves safe. Typically, this situation only exists while a war is waging. As doctors get sick and die the situation worsens.
The virus is probably in Prince Rupert already. The actions that we take now can help limit the spread and can reduce the burden on the health care system. We not only need to flatten the curve, we need to collectively get ahead of the curve. The city of Prince Rupert must declare a state of emergency to enforce the social distancing recommendations I have outlined above. A state of emergency is indicated when a present or imminent threat requires quick action to protect the health, safety and welfare of people. COVID-19 is both present and imminent.
Those who know me, know that I am not a alarmist, but I am ringing the the alarm. Life will look very different over the coming days and weeks. My chest tightens when I consider the enormous consequences and uncertainty of our future. But there is some peace in knowing there are practical actions that each of us can take to protect ourselves and those we love. I urge you all to take the path of least regret and act now with extreme caution.
Share these warnings with the ones you love.
Dr. Sophia Harrison, MD CCFP