Contracting COVID-19 isn’t as easy as previously thought, Kingston’s top epidemiologist said recent studies suggest.
“We are learning a lot more about transmission, which will enable us to really look at what are the most effective strategies,” Dr. Gerald Evans, the medical director of infection control at Kingston Health Sciences Centre, said on Thursday morning. “Although this virus can be transmitted person-to-person, it is not quite as easy as people believe it to be.”
Evans explained that studies from scientific communities around the world are all showing that the place where COVID-19 will thrive is in your own home.
“There’s a general view that the virus is everywhere and that anyone could be transmitting it … it causes a significant amount of stress and anxiety in people,” Evans said. “We now know that to get infected with this virus, you have to be in close contact with another person (and) that contact has to be for a significant amount of time. It’s not 10 or 15 minutes, it’s hours. It needs to be in a closed environment, a house, and in the environment, there has to be a significant amount of contamination.
“I’m describing exactly what you would see in a household.”
He explained that in the vast majority of cases, if you’re going to contract the virus from anyone, it’s going to be from the person you live with. Even the virus on surfaces, like door handles and items at the grocery store, only counts for causing roughly 10 per cent of cases, Evans said.
Another home-like setting where COVID-19 can spread like wildfire is long-term care facilities and retirement homes. This is another reason, in addition to residences being filled with a vulnerable population, that the virus has wreaked havoc in those residences.
But a population the medical community once thought was also at risk may not be, Evans said.
“We have biological evidence that kids literally don’t get infected as much as adults,” Evans said. “There’s a really cool factor that kids don’t express, on the surface of the cells on their respiratory tract, the receptor that this virus uses to infect you, but it is in higher prevalence the older you get.
“This virus, specifically, has almost mutated itself to be something that affects older people, not younger people. That’s different from influenza, where the opposite happens.”
Evans was keen to point out, though, that precautions still need to be taken when in enclosed spaces in the public, such as grocery stores, because you never know the health status of the stranger next to you.
He said he likes the Japanese’s three C’s to avoid: closed spaces, crowds and close contact.
One of the safest places to avoid COVID-19 in Kingston is actually the hospitals, Evans said. He recalled that when COVID-19 first struck the city, they saw a drastically reduced number of patients and worried that people were afraid to visit the hospital for fear of contracting COVID-19. What he said perpetuated this misunderstanding was when it was announced that a health-care worker at an acute care hospital had contracted the virus with little to no context of where they caught it.
Evans said health-care workers have contracted the virus in the community, not the hospital.
“The Kingston area has very little activity of COVID-19. People across Canada are talking about what is happening here — it’s true we’re in a bubble,” Evans said. “When you look at our hospitals, Kingston Health Sciences Centre and Providence Care Hospital, we’re a bubble within a bubble because we extensively screen people and make sure we don’t have infected people inside the hospital as much as possible, and if we have patients that are infected, we isolate them and use good infection control precautions.”
Evans said he understands why residents may be confused or frustrated when they walk into a grocery store and they see all the signs about wearing a face mask or only touching the one item you want to buy. But that is the nature of the beast, he said. Scientists are learning more and more about the virus every day and they need to learn more.
Evans admitted that the science shows that wearing a cloth face mask does little to stop transmitting the virus in close proximity. The mask, which has recently become a political tool, is mostly for the psychological well-being of the community, Evans said.
“People who care about other people, people who aren’t driven by ideological thinking, they’ll wear a cloth mask,” Evans said. “It’s an important thing to do for ourselves and for the people around us.”
While it can be frustrating, Evans encouraged residents to continue to learn and read from reliable, credible sources.
“Things are changing all the time. We just keep getting more evidence and more data,” Evans said. “When you’re looking for information, reach out to good sources of information: newspapers, television newscasts, radio. That’s where you want to get your information. Don’t get it from Twitter, don’t get it from Facebook, and don’t get it through a rumour. That’s not reliable.
“(Journalists) are effectively acting as a filter to make sure you getting good information, and that’s what we need.”