Four months later: What we know (and don’t know) about COVID-19

by Osler Staff | Jul 29, 2020
Osler’s Infectious Disease Specialists, Dr. Mahin Baqi and Dr. Sergio Borgia

Osler’s Infectious Disease Specialists, Dr. Mahin Baqi and Dr. Sergio Borgia

It's been four months since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Four months since the world, and life as we knew it, was turned on its head.

The global spread of coronavirus has changed everything – the way we work, care for each other, socialize, even the way we speak. Phrases like 'flatten the curve', 'physical distancing', 'contact tracing', and 'social bubble', once used only among Infectious Disease specialists like us, are now part of everyday language.

'Information tsunami' is another phrase you've likely heard. During the last four months, we've been flooded with information about this virus, both fact and fiction, at a pace that is dizzying even for the experts. And that is the reason why we wanted to write this blog – to try and cut through some of the clutter and provide a recap of what we know about COVID-19 at this moment in time. That said, one of the most important things we've learned in the last 16 weeks is that we're still learning new things about this virus every single day.

Here's what we know:

Symptoms

The major symptoms of COVID-19 are the same as they were in the early days: cough, fever and difficulty breathing. The list, however, has grown to also include the following less common symptoms: aches and pains, sore throat, diarrhea, conjunctivitis (pink eye), headache, loss of taste or smell and a rash on skin or discolouration of fingers or toes. If you begin to feel symptoms of COVID-19, you should: go to a COVID-19 assessment centre to get tested; stay home and self-isolate unless you are going to the assessment centre; tell people you were in close physical contact with in the 48 hours before your symptoms began to monitor their health and to self-isolate. At Osler’s COVID-19 Assessment Centres you can receive a test even if you do not have symptoms.

Transmission

There has been a lot of conflicting information about how COVID-19 is transmitted, particularly whether or not it is an airborne virus. The latest evidence from WHO, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Public Health Ontario and other leading organizations, and in which we have full confidence, is that COVID-19 is a droplet/contact virus. This means it spreads between people through direct, indirect (through contaminated objects or surfaces), or close contact with infected people via mouth and nose secretions.

Flattening the Curve

We often get asked: Is social and physical distancing working? Did we flatten the curve in our region? The answer is, yes and yes. But it doesn't mean we're out of the woods yet. Not by a long stretch. We need to stay the course and remain vigilant about hand washing, mask wearing and maintaining a distance of six feet when physical distancing isn't possible, especially as the province continues to relax restrictions and reopen regions.

Second Wave

No one knows with absolute certainty when and if a second wave of COVID-19 will hit. But what we do know is that there are things we can do to mitigate the risk and lessen the impact of any new outbreaks (see paragraph above on flattening the curve) especially if they come, as feared, during flu season.

Vaccines and Therapeutics

The race is on to develop both vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat coronavirus. A COVID-19 vaccine will prepare our immune system to fight off the virus and prevent us from falling ill. Therapeutics, on the other hand, are treatments that are used if we become ill or to prevent the onset of illness. Steroids, for example, are currently being utilized in hospitalized patients who require oxygen. There are also promising developments on the vaccine front, with at least one entering Phase III trials, where its safety and effectiveness will be tested.

We know it's been an extremely difficult time for everyone. Life right now is unpredictable, a little surreal, and, at times, exhausting. But we're handling it together, taking it one day at a time, and we couldn’t be more proud to be part of Osler's COVID-19 response team.