Last updated: March 15, 2020

COVID-19 is escalating around the world and as this is happening we’re also seeing a shortage of critical products.

Canadians know all too well the potential severity of airborne viruses from SARS and H1N1 in 2003 and 2009 respectively.

Useful links:

In mid-March, provinces across the country announced school closures for two weeks and introduced a practice called social distancing. While cases are continuing to rise in Canada, this doesn’t mean that the practice has failed.

“It takes about five days for symptoms to appear and another six or seven days for people to become sick enough to seek medical help,” Kelly Crowe writes. “So the cases being counted now were infected in the first few days of March.”

Our aim in this post is not to elevate fears about COVID-19.

We want to provide workplace safety information and considerations for nurses, doctors and first responders as we’ve received questions and inquiries from many customers. Staying education and avoiding misinformation is one of the most important tools in these situations, which is why we offer pandemic influenza training through our online modules.

We will update this page as information becomes available that is relevant to workplace safety. We encourage you to visit Health Canada and your provincial Ministry of Health website for the most accurate information on COVID-19.

Watch this video by family physician, Dr. Peter Lin to understand why COVID-19

How coronavirus infections spread:

Human coronaviruses cause nose, throat and lung infections. Health Canada identifies that it spreads through the air by:

  • coughing and sneezing
  • close personal contact like touching or shaking hands
  • touching something with the virus on it then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands.

Preventing coronavirus infections:

hand washing

There are no vaccinations currently available to protect you from the human coronavirus infection.

The WHO recommends:

  • Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash hands.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough.
  • If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider.
  • When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of COVID-19, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals.
  • The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.

The WHO also includes a series of printable infographics to hang in your workplace as a reminder to people about not spreading contamination.

Preventative PPE:

Hospitals and first responders should take stock of their current PPE levels and stock up on protective equipment if needed. Public Health Ontario created an infographic for steps to put on and take off personal protective equipment.

PPE to take inventory of and replenish if necessary:

Masks and respirators:

COVID-19 is an airborne virus that spreads via tiny droplets in the air from a person’s mouth or nose.

  • Surgical masks protect the wearer’s mouth and nose against large particle droplets.
  • N95 respirators provide a secure fit around the nose and mouth, respirators are a good choice when the particle droplets are fine.
  • CleanSpace™ Halo is a new respirator designed for healthcare workers and hospital staff for high protection of biohazards.

Respirators are only effective if you’ve been fit tested for the respirator you’re wearing.

Note: You need to be fit tested for your respirator every two years as per CSA Z94.4.

If you’d like to learn more about respirators, you can download The Definitive Guide to Respiratory Protection.

Disposable gloves:

Disposable nitrile gloves should be changed after each use and proper removal techniques practiced.

Eye protection:

Eye protection like glasses, goggles, and face shields are essential for limiting spread of a virus. The style of eye protection needed depends on the level of precaution.

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses common throughout the world and among animals. It gets its name from the corona, the Latin word for crown — the virus has crown-like spikes on its surface when viewed under a electron microscope.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention originally identified this strain of the coronavirus as “2019 Novel Coronavirus,” novel meaning new. It has since been called COVID-19.

This virus relates to SARS and MERS, and it also relates to the common cold. Outbreaks of new virus infections among people are always a public health concern, the CDC website points out.

This risk of outbreak depends on the virus’ characteristics including:

  • whether and how well it spreads between people
  • the severity of resulting illness
  • the medical or other measures available to control the impact of the virus

Don’t panic:

Both Canada and the international community are much better prepared to deal with virus outbreaks today than during the SARS outbreak in 2003.

Health Canada and the provincial Ministries of Health are taking the threat of the new coronavirus seriously. Ontario increased its reporting requirements as a precautionary measure this week. Those requirements are now in line with Alberta and British Columbia.

“The system is on alert, all the things are in place and we’re monitoring,” Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said to The Canadian Press. “If it’s a false alarm for Canada, so be it.”

We will continue to update this page as new information becomes available to provide the best information from the view of workplace health and safety.

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Matt Burtney

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