Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

About COVID-19

Last modified: 
Mon, 03/30/2020 - 14:11

Last Update: March 15, 2020

The global situation is changing rapidly.  The content of this communiqué is subject to change as the situation evolves.  New or amended information will be posted.

What is coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?

Human coronaviruses are common and are typically associated with mild illnesses, similar to the common cold.

The new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is caused by a virus producing mild to severe respiratory infections. At this time, there are over 120 countries reporting confirmed cases of COVID-19 of which many are reporting community transmission.   On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. It is important that we prepare for the likelihood that the virus will spread further.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Most people (80%) with COVID-19 have mild symptoms and recover without needing special treatment. Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure. Many people are presenting with cold or flu-like symptoms such as:

  • Fever,
  • Cough,
  • Muscle aches,
  • Fatigue, or
  • Shortness of breath.

Severe cases may have:

  • Difficulty breathing,
  • Pneumonia, and/or
  • Severe acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Individuals with fever, cough and/or difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.

Risk of severe disease may be higher for:

  • Older adults
  • People with chronic disease (for example: diabetes, cancer, heart, renal, or chronic lung disease)
  • Those with weakened immune systems

How does COVID-19 spread?

Human coronaviruses cause infections of the nose, throat and lungs. They are most commonly spread from an infected person through:

  • Respiratory droplets that spread when you cough or sneeze,
  • Sharing food, cups, glasses, dishes and cutlery
  • Close, personal contact,
  • Touching something with the virus on it,(e.g., doorknobs, cell phones, elevator buttons, light switches, taps, toilets, toys, remote controls) then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands,
  • In rare circumstances, they have found the virus in stool. 
  • A close contact is :
    • a person who provided care for the person with COVID-19, including family, or other caregivers, and healthcare workers who did not use protective equipment; or
    • a person who lived with or otherwise had close contact (within 2 metres) with the person with COVID-19 while they were sick; or
    • a person who had direct contact with bodily fluids of the sick person (e.g. was coughed or sneezed on).

Can COVID-19 be transmitted when a person is not having symptoms?

This question is currently under investigation. Experts believe that, by far, most spread occurs when a person has symptoms.

What is community spread?

Community spread means that people in that community are getting sick with COVID-19 without travelling or being close to someone who has travelled.

Why did the name change from novel coronavirus (nCoV-2019) to coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?

The decision was based on guidelines agreed between World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation. The illness is called COVID-19 and the virus causing COVID-19 is called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

How long does COVID-19 stay alive and infectious on surfaces?

A new study, from the New England Journal of Medicine, compared COVID-19 with a similar virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) to see how long they persist on surfaces. They found these two viruses are pretty similar. COVID-19 stays alive with a potential for infection for up to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces. On copper up to 4 hours and on cardboard it stays alive for up to 24 hours.

These findings show that there is a risk of transmission of the disease from touching the surfaces in the environment. So, it is very important to follow the cleaning instructions

How long does COVID-19 stay alive in the air?

The same study shows that when the virus is vaporized with very high pressure, it can continue to be detected after 3 hours in the air. This is a situation that does not happen in our usual day to day activities and only happen under special procedures and circumstances. 

It is important to keep our distance (2 meters) to prevent transmission if people around us are sick.