‘It can be COVID-19 when it’s just sniffles’: Ottawa’s top doctor

OTTAWA — Ottawa’s top doctor is defending the Ottawa Public Health isolation warning for anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19, saying “we have seen it can be COVID-19 when it’s just sniffles.”

And Ottawa Public Health is requesting a scientific review of the COVID-19 symptoms to clarify who should and should not be isolating during the pandemic.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches faced questions at Council one day after invoking a Class Section 22 Order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. It states that people must self-isolate for 14 days if they:

  • Test positive for COVID-19
  • Has signs or symptoms of COVID-19
  • Are in close contact with someone who has tested positive for novel coronavirus
  • Are waiting for the results of COVID-19 test
  • Have reasonable grounds to think they have COVID-19

Failure to comply with this order could result in a fine of up to $5,000 for every day or part of each day on which the offence occurs or continues.

Dr. Etches told Council that she understands people want clarity on what the order means, adding it was issued with goal of keeping schools and businesses open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I do want to go back to the goal here; which is we want to keep schools open, we want to make sure people can go to work. And right now we’re in a time where the number of infections in our community is high, so high that it’s effecting schools,” said Dr. Etches.

“We want to turn that around.”

Ottawa Public Health has requested a scientific review of the COVID-19 symptoms.

“The goal is: when people have symptoms or respiratory illness, we need to make sure it’s not COVID. I do understand that people have questions, ‘what if it’s sniffles, it’s just sniffles.’ We’re asking for a scientific review of the symptoms,” said Dr. Etches Wednesday morning.

“Right now, we have seen it can be COVID when it’s just sniffles.”

The Renfrew County and District Health Unit has said a staff member at Fellowes High School in Pembroke that tested positive for COVID-19 thought the symptoms were seasonal allergies.  The school has been closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak since last Wednesday.

“When COVID enters the house with someone with symptoms, it’s very hard not to pass that on with someone in the house,” said Dr. Etches.

“So that’s the root of why we ask a family to stay home when someone has symptoms, because it could be COVID and it could spread in the house and then pass on.”

Ottawa Public Health lists the COVID-19 symptoms as:

Classic symptoms: Feeling feverish, new or worsening cough and/or difficulty breathing

Other symptoms: Sore throat, difficulty swallowing, new olfactory (smell) or taste disorder, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, pneumonia, runny nose, or nasal congestion

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