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Coronavirus public health Q&A with Dr. Vinita Dubey (Sep. 15 )

Last Updated Sep 20, 2020 at 1:50 pm EDT

We know you have questions about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and we’re working to get you the answers, straight from the most trusted sources.

Toronto’s Associate Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Vinita Dubey, answered your COVID-19 related questions in a LIVE video interview Tuesday on our Facebook page as well as here on our website.

Here are a few questions Dr. Dubey addressed:

(Questions were moderated and have been edited for grammar, punctuation and clarity)

Q: Will COVID-19 become permanent like the flu season? Will we get a COVID-19 season every year?
A:  The difference between COVID-19 and flu is that the flu has many strains of the virus. And so every year the virus “mutates,” it changes.

That’s why the vaccine itself is not always a match every year and when you get the vaccine, it doesn’t always give you lifelong protection and why you need to get vaccinated every year.

We’re not sure right now with COVID-19 — are there more strains? We know that there are different genotypes, but does that mean that if you have had one genotype, you will be protected against an other ones? It’s hard to know on a big population-wide level, what that’s going look like.

As well, once we get a vaccine, we’ll have to see if the vaccine will give us lifelong protection or just protection for one season. And so those are the things that we would look at when deciding if this is going to be an annual thing, like the flu, or something more like our childhood vaccinations, where once you get it, you’re protected.

We hought that the warm weather would help. We know that being outdoors has helped. But there was still circulation in the summer, whereas we didn’t really see flu at all through the summer. So is it a seasonality or is it our new normal? This  is what we need to,= to kind of keep an eye on.

Q: How many cases do there need to be in a particular region before schools shut down again?
A: If there is a case in a school in Toronto, Toronto public health goes in, does the investigation determines who the close contacts are and isolates them.

Now, if you have two cases in the school, one person gave it to another person — well, as soon as you have two cases in a school within a two week period, we call that an outbreak and we then implement more measures.

Suppose it was two students in two different classrooms who got infected, we think they gave it to each other — now maybe both classrooms will go home.

Now if we had a third case, the next step might be the whole floor, or maybe even the whole school goes home. We have layers that we use in public health that we call outbreak control measures — things that we can do to help reduce the spread in a particular school.

Now, part of the question is what about in the community? The cases are up in Toronto, in Peel, in Ontario in general, is that going to lead to a lockdown where schools get shut down? That is certainly something that could happen. I don’t want to mislead people to say that it’s not going to happen.

There’s no magic number for that. We have to figure out if the cases are not even related to school, if all of the cases are occurring in office towers, shutting schools down might not necessarily help prevent those cases.

So schools shutting down will depend on where the spike is happening, how fast it’s happening and who’s getting infected. I want you to know that we are keeping a close eye on this and on the data to help inform us, because we don’t want to get to a place where things are out of control.

Q: Why aren’t public health guidelines being enforced in schools like they are at restaurants and businesses.
A: The guidelines for schools are from the ministry of education. So it’s not necessarily public health laws that are requiring it.

So we have been working with the school boards and actually feel quite confident that the plansare very good and we have to see now what’s the implementation going to be like.

We have a number of school health nurses who have just been hired, who will be working with the schools. And so rather than an enforcement type approach, using an education approach where there may be a school that may not be implementing their measures or is having difficulties with it, they can actually consult the school health nurse from Public Health for that school to help get them up to speed.

So those resources are available and I think they’ll be more effective than something like a hard handed enforcement.

Watch the full interview with web writer Dilshad Burman in conversation with Dr. Vinita Dubey in the video above.

Scroll through the questions submitted to this session below.

Note: questions were moderated before appearing in the chat window