Coronavirus Q&A: Your questions answered by an infectious disease doctor

With the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continuing to increase across the province, many Albertans have been left wondering how best to protect themselves and their families.

If you have questions about the ongoing pandemic, Dr. Mark Joffe may have the answer.

Joffe, is the Vice President and Medical Director for Northern Alberta at Alberta Health Services.

He is also a professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Alberta, where he’s also an adjunct professor in Medical Microbiology and Immunology and the School of Public Health.

Joffe joined CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM on Friday to answer some of your questions about coronavirus.

Here is that conversation, edited for clarity and length.

Q: What can people do to try and stay healthy and keep up a strong immune system?

A: It’s important to stay active, particularly during these times when maybe we’re not going to be out and doing the things we usually do. But everyone should try to stay active, whether that involves using your home gym or going out for a walk. Whatever the case may be, the critical thing is to keep ourselves healthy these days and to focus on hand hygiene. 

Cleaning your hands often with soap and water works just fine. Alcohol for your hands is a great choice if you’re out and about, even though it’s in short supply these days. But remember soap and water works great. In fact, it’s probably even better than alcohol hand sanitizer.  If you can work from home, that’s a great strategy and I think more and more businesses are looking at opportunities for their employees to work from home. 

Dr. Mark Joffe is the Vice President and Medical Director for Northern Alberta at Alberta Health Services. (CBC)

Cover your cough if you’re coughing. Make sure you cover your cough with your sleeve, your elbow  or a tissue and then discard that tissue. Then clean your hands again with soap and water alcohol hand rub.

It’s important to try to avoid touching your face. This is an amazingly common thing that we all do. So try to avoid touching what we could call the T zone so your  eyes, your nose, your mouth. 

Clean common surfaces and ultimately, social distancing, trying to keep three to six feet away from everybody if you can.

Q: How can should Albertans, including seniors, be preparing for the pandemic? 

A: One of the most important things that we can all do now is plan and prepare. You should have some supplies at home. That doesn’t mean you need to go out and buy a year’s worth of supplies but you should have at least a few days of supplies at home just to be sure that you’re ready in case you need to self isolate. This is a terrific time to contact neighbours, friends and relatives. Make sure that you have some support in the event that you become self-isolated. 

As for the seniors in our society, we should be doing the same for them ensuring that they have a support system built in place so that someone will deliver groceries if needed or whatever supplies they need. The critical thing is that if anyone is feeling sick they absolutely should not visit a health care facility or a seniors facility.

Q: Once you’ve had COVID-19, are you immune or can you get sick from it again? 

A: I think the short answer is that we don’t know yet. But our experience with many viral infections and other types of infectious diseases tells us that very likely, after an individual has been infected with COVID-19, they are likely to be immune to that. But of course, since it’s still relatively new, we can’t say that absolutely for sure.

Q: Albertans exhibiting symptoms or those who suspect they may have been exposed have been advised to call 811 but the phone lines are backed up.  What is your advice to people who are struggling to navigate that system? 

A: That’s a really important question. And we know that there is frustration getting through to the 811 line.  We are in the process of training and adding staff so that we can deal with more questions and get to them quicker.  For the moment I would urge your listeners to be patient. Please do call 811. I know it may be frustrating and I know you may be on hold for a period of time but that is the best strategy. Please be patient.

Q: For Albertans who have been tested, how long does it take to get the results? 

A: As you might imagine, our laboratory is absolutely bombarded with tests these days. And so the short answer is, 24 to 48 hours is the turnaround time. Of course the specimen that’s taken, wherever it’s taken in Alberta, needs to get to the laboratory in either Calgary or Edmonton and that can take some time. 

Q: How is COVID-19 different from the seasonal flu? How does it impact the body differently?

A: They’re both viruses but they’re very different families of viruses. The influenza family is quite distinct from the coronavirus family. They do behave differently and they do have somewhat different biology. They both cause similar respiratory illnesses but they are distinct viruses and they are different.

Still have answered questions? Listen to the entire segment with Dr. Mark Joffe below: 

The medical director for northern Alberta will be in studio to answer your health questions about COVID-19. 0:00

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