We’re prepared for the coronavirus, says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health

We are now in the third month since the novel coronavirus disease, officially known as COVID-19, emerged.

As chief medical officer of health, I know that many Albertans have questions. How concerned should I be? How do I protect my family?

There is one presumptive case in Alberta. As of today, the risk of catching the virus here remains low.

Every day, we learn more about COVID-19. We know that the most common symptoms are fever and cough, and that about 80 per cent of people who get it experience mild symptoms.

About 20 per cent have serious health issues that require treatment in hospital. In some tragic cases, particularly in seniors and people with other medical conditions, the virus can prove fatal.

We also know that the virus is spreading. Given this fact, and that Canada has already seen cases in B.C., Ontario and Quebec, there is a good chance that COVID-19 will come to Alberta.

I do not say that to alarm Albertans, but rather to encourage us all to use this time to prepare.

We have been preparing since the virus first emerged. We have put precautionary measures in place, such as asking returning travellers to self-isolate or monitor themselves for symptoms.

We have developed testing. The province’s emergency processes have been activated. We are working closely with Alberta Health Services, other provinces and the Public Health Agency of Canada to keep updating our approach as new information becomes available.

We are well equipped and Alberta’s health system is one of the best in the world. Our health workforce is ready to respond quickly, whenever the virus comes to Alberta.

There are things that you can do to protect yourself and to prepare. One of the most important is to build good hygiene habits: regularly wash your hands, avoid touching your face, cover your coughs and sneezes, and stay home when sick to avoid passing germs on to others.

I’m often asked if people should stock up on supplies. While it’s always important to have three days worth of essentials on hand in case of an emergency, I want to caution against panic buying — the unnecessary purchasing of large quantities of supplies.

Instead, plan ahead. Examine your routines and think about what would need to change if you had to self-isolate. Is there a friend who could help with grocery shopping?

Does your pharmacy offer delivery services? Are your prescriptions up to date? By having these conversations, we can all be better prepared and ready to help those in need, without emptying the shelves at Costco.

What comes next for COVID-19? There is one thing that I know for certain. I know that we are strongest together.

In the days and weeks to come, it is important to remember our province is stronger and more resilient when we support one another.

Albertans come from all over the world. As we respond to this new infectious disease, it is critical that we focus on combatting the virus, not people.

You can help by not making assumptions about a person’s risk based on their ethnicity or country of origin, and by reminding others to do the same.

During times of uncertainty, rumours and fears can spread faster than any virus. We all have a role to play in correcting false rumours and sharing reliable information about what’s happening and how Albertans can protect themselves.

Get your facts from this newspaper, or from our website, alberta.ca/COVID19.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw is chief medical officer of health for Alberta.

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