Travel still a concern for officials
Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health care for The Telegram. @thetelegram.com
Sneezing and coughing are the easiest way to transmit the novel coronavirus, but is it the only way? Right now, provincial health officials are restricting their testing to anyone who develops flu-like symtoms after arriving back from international travel, or who’ve come in direct contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19. All others with suspect symptoms are being asked simply to self-isolate — stay home, restrict visitors and keep their distance from others in the home. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Janet Fitzgerald admits part of their policy has to do with the supply of test swabs. “There have been nationwide concerns about the supply of these swabs,” she said Wednesday. “While we do have supplies in the queue to come, we want to be as judicious as possible to make sure that we are finding the people who are most at risk for this disease.” New tests are under development and it’s hoped that will alleviate the strain on supplies. But viruses, including ordinary colds and influenza, can also be transmitted from surfaces. A study published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) found that SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — can last on some surfaces for days. Researchers found the COVID-19 virus can last as long as 72 hours on plastic and steel surfaces. On cardboard, it lasted about 24 hours. Copper had one of the lowest survival rates at four hours. All of this reinforces the advice of Fitzgerald and others to regularly clean surfaces, from door knobs and countertops to elevator buttons and cellphones. And, of course, wash your hands — with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. What about the grocery store? Can we catch the virus from fruits and vegetables other people have mauled? “We don’t have a lot of evidence on (it) at the moment, but I think we have to behave as if we can,” Fitzgerald said. As well as washing hands, she said, it’s a good idea to wash the produce once you get it home. Meanwhile, a New York Times article referenced research Monday suggesting that for every confirmed case of COVID-19, there may be as many as five or 10 others walking around with the virus who are undocumented. However, the study, published in the journal Science, was based on data taken from China before and after travel and other restrictions were implemented on Jan. 23. The authors admit the numbers would vary from country to country, but that widespread testing is still a key tool in fighting the spread. “It is crucial to implement wide-scale testing,” the University of Washington’s Dr. Elizabeth Halloran told journalists, as reported in The Times. “And it’s important to develop inexpensive tests so people can get tested whenever they need to be.” WILLING TO SWITCH GEARS In St. John’s, the government said health authorities are closely following the advice of their counterparts, but are ready to change course if needed. HEALTH Premier Dwight Ball says international travel is still the biggest concern. “If we see that change in the coming days, we will change our testing criteria to match it.” The province currently has three cases of COVID-19, all close contacts of each other living in the Labrador-Grenfell Health region, and have mild to medium symptoms. While he expects that number will rise, Health Minister John Haggie said strict social-distancing measures invoked this week should help keep a larger outbreak at bay. “Our emphasis is on containment and preventing the arrival of this virus,” he said.