TRU held a virtual town hall on Sept. 9 with Dr. Carol Fenton, medical health officer for Interior Health's Thompson-Cariboo-Shuswap region. The event was open to students, faculty and staff to ask questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 180 people attended and over 30 questions were addressed.
What happens when a TRU employee or student tests positive for COVID-19? What is Interior Health’s role?
Answered on live call: 03:25
When we receive notification of a positive test directly from the lab, one of our Communicable Disease specialists will contact the person. They conduct an interview to learn about where the person has been and who they have been in contact with. They then consult with a Medical Health Officer with a plan to contact all of those people who would be considered ‘close contacts’, that is, the people who may have been exposed to the case during the communicable period, and those people are required to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms for 14 days. The case and the contacts are phoned daily or every other day (depending on capacity) to check for symptoms and that they are adhering to the isolation requirements. If any of the contacts develop symptoms, they should be tested.
Are there any active cases currently in Kamloops? If so, how many?
Answered on live call: 05:22
There are currently (as of Sept. 10) five active cases in the Thompson-Cariboo region; however, it is important to keep in mind that this number only reflects the people who live in Interior Health who have tested positive. We do know that there are people travelling through the region from higher-risk areas, like the coast and Alberta, who are positive but aren’t counted here. Therefore, it is important to continue practicing prevention measures.
Do you feel it is safe to allow face-to-face instruction in university classes if physical distancing and proper safety protocols can be maintained?
Answered on live call: 06:07
Physical distancing and safety protocols should minimize the risk of infection. Each scenario has a different risk assessment and can more or less easily conduct distance learning or have mandatory in-person components; so a risk assessment should be conducted and classes planned in a way to most effectively deliver the educational materials in a least-risk way.
How is Interior Health planning for flu season? Will Interior Health have extra doses so everyone who wants a flu shot can have one?
Answered on live call: 07:38
We are actively planning for flu season, and the majority of flu vaccines will be delivered by community pharmacies. We do have more doses of flu vaccine than last year, with the option of purchasing extra from the province. Additionally, we have data from BC this past spring as well as this past flu season in the southern hemisphere that suggests that COVID prevention measures, such as staying home while sick, physical distancing, hand hygiene and mask wearing, is effective in preventing the spread of influenza as well.
Update: the Ministry of Health has announced that they are focusing on flu prevention as a strategy to reduce healthcare burden. They have announced that they are ordering 2,000,000 doses of flu vaccine for the province and are recommending that everyone who is able to receive a flu vaccine should. The simplest way to get a flu vaccine is to make an appointment at the nearest community pharmacy that is delivering the vaccine.
If a person is self isolating in their home, do other family members in the same household need to self isolate?
Answered on live call: 09:09
If the person is able to self-isolate separate from their family, such as staying in a separate part of the house with their own bathroom and maintaining physical distance from their family members at all times, they can isolate separately. If they are unable to keep separate, then the family should isolate together.
What is the notification requirement to those who may have had contact with a student/employee that is confirmed/presumed positive?
Answered on live call: 10:19
Risk assessments are done on a case-by-case basis. If a detailed risk assessment has determined that someone has been exposed, the Interior Health communicable disease specialist will contact the person directly and notify them that they have been exposed. The communicable disease specialist will give them instructions for self-isolation, which includes duration, and will check in with them regularly.
When it comes to working with TRU on any individual cases, if necessary, Interior Health will ask for a class list, information to understand the layout of the classroom and/or further information to help Interior Health conduct the risk assessment. It is unlikely that TRU would make institution-level announcements unless there is an outbreak.
What actions would you recommend TRU and employees take if they are immunocompromised or are caring for someone who is?
Answered on live call: 12:04
Everyone needs to conduct their individual risk assessment and risk tolerance. Someone who is immunocompromised or who could expose someone who is immunocompromised likely has a lower risk tolerance level and may need to be more conservative; such as working or learning remotely from home. This needs to be balanced against the risks and benefits of prevention measures and disruption to their lives..
What if you may have had a third-party contact with a positive or presumed positive case? (e.g., someone who has been advised to self isolate due to possible exposure)
Answered on live call: 13:30
We currently do not require self isolation of third-party exposures. It is wise for everyone to keep their social contact bubble small and monitor for symptoms.
Stay home if you have any symptoms... but how long and when can you go back to work/school (i.e. 72 hours symptom free, doctor's note, COVID-19 test results)?
Answered on live call: 14:25
Since the symptoms of COVID-19 are so broad and not specific, this applies to anyone who feels any symptom compatible with COVID or influenza. Currently, the recommendation is that anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms should self isolate and arrange for a COVID swab and continue to self isolate until the results are back. If the results are negative and the symptoms have resolved, they can return to school or work. If the results are negative but they continue to have symptoms, it’s important that they stay home because the swab tests are not perfect and there are a few reasons why it may come back negative when in fact the person is positive.
Flu season is coming, am I expected to visit the emergency for any flu symptoms? if no, how COVID symptoms are different from flu symptoms?
Answered on live call: 16:49
Currently, the recommendations are that someone who has COVID symptoms should self-isolate and arrange for a COVID swab. They should continue self-isolating until their results come back. If their results are negative and their symptoms have resolved, they may return to work/school. These recommendations may change depending on local case information and lab capacity.
You should go to emergency if you are feeling short of breath or having life-threatening symptoms. If you are having mild symptoms, you should call and arrange a COVID swab. It is possible that the lab may start testing the swabs for influenza, depending on capacity, but the approach and precautions are the same.
If I think I need a test, how do I arrange that?
Answered on live call: 18:04
You can call 8-1-1 or call to arrange a test at one of the two Kamloops testing sites:
Urgent Primary Care Centre and Learning Centre
102- 311 Columbia Street
Friday to Saturday: 4:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Kamloops Public Health Drive Thru
519 Columbia Street
Monday: 1 - 4 p.m., Tuesday to Friday: 9 a.m. to noon
Please note that it might take up to 24 hours to hear back.
Why doesn't Interior Health want to say that masks should be mandatory in public/school/work settings? Why the reticence to make a hard statement?
Answered on live call: 19:37
The reason we don’t want to focus on mask wearing is because person protective equipment such as gloves and masks are the least effective of the public health protection measures, and we don’t want to lose sight of the importance of all the other more effective control measures: staying at home when sick, practicing physical distancing, maintaining strict and adequate hand hygiene, and cough and sneeze etiquette.
Masks are useful in settings where you are unable to maintain physical distancing but overall less effective and less important than the other control measures.
Why are children allowed back in school and university students aren't? It doesn't make any sense in my opinion.
Answered on live call: 22:12
Universities and post-secondary institutions have different governance structures and decision-making processes, which I cannot comment on. From my perspective, the benefits of having children in school, which allows them to continue their development, and allows parents to continue working, are very great; in addition, post-secondary adult learners are more able to conduct self-directed learning and remote education than small children are, since their learning needs are different.
How can COVID testing be done on someone unable to go to the Urgent Care Centre?
Answered on live call: 25:49
Many physicians are also able to swab for COVID.
As allergy and flu season are both approaching, how should people be differentiating between seasonal symptoms? Should we be getting tested regularly?
Answered on live call: 26:30
The approach we took with the onset of allergy season in the spring, was that any onset of new symptoms would indicate a COVID test. After a negative test, only repeat testing if there are any additional new symptoms. You may want to consider seeing a family doctor for control of ongoing symptoms, since you should stay home if you are having symptoms compatible with COVID.
Is self-reporting illness an effective strategy for a diverse public institution like TRU? What academic and HR policies would you recommend to support this?
Answered on live call: 28:26
It is difficult to comment on effectiveness, given that we do not have experience or evidence with previous pandemics such as COVID. It is important for all institutions, such as Interior Health and TRU to be flexible and consider changing approaches based on current infection patterns.
If someone has COVID-19 but does not have any symptoms (asymptomatic), how long would they be considered 'contagious' to those around them?
Answered on live call: 30:56
Our approach, currently, is that the period of communicability for a COVID infection is 10 days. For asymptomatic cases, it can be difficult to determine the start of the 10-day period; which is done on a case-by-base basis when we receive a positive result.
Does Interior Health monitor confirmed COVID cases to make sure they and their contacts are abiding by self-isolating rules? If so, how does Interior Health monitor?
Answered on live call: 31:56
Yes, cases and contacts on isolation are contacted regularly by phone by a communicable disease specialist to monitor for symptoms and adherence to the self-isolation requirement.
When people are told they "need" to self-isolate, is that a strong suggestion only or are there consequences to force compliance?
Answered on live call: 33:25
When a person is told to self isolate by a communicable disease specialist, that is a public health order and they have to do it.
Should people download the Canadian "COVID Alert" tool?
Answered on live call: 33:47
It is not yet active in BC but when if/when it comes available it will likely be announced by Dr. Bonnie Henry.
If we do not buy disinfect wipes, is there any good alternative to daily cleaning?
Answered on live call: 34:30
There are many cleaning options available. It is important to check that the methods and products you are using are approved by Health Canada.
Are there any considerations for people to report to school/workplace if they went out of province/country?
Answered on live call: 35:10
Currently, the federal government mandates a 14-day isolation period for non-essential workers returning from out of country.
Is it possible for Interior Health to publish how many positive cases in Kamloops? So far we can only see the regional confirmed cases.
Answered on live call: 36:52
No. The reason why they don’t is primarily for privacy. Interior Health has to take the same approach across the region, which includes the approach taken in smaller areas where it’s much harder to maintain confidentiality. Also, some people test positive in the region but don’t live here and therefore are not reported as Interior Health cases. That means, the numbers reported do not reflect people traveling through the region which is why we must be diligent in continuing our prevention measures.
When do you foresee COVID-19 tests that are self-administered with rapid response (for example, less than one hour)?
Answered on live call: 38:15
The current test requires specialized lab staff and equipment. I am not a lab specialist so I cannot predict if or when a new technology may be developed.
Can you describe the COVID-19 test? People may feel hesitant because they believe a swap gets stuck way up the nasal cavity where you can scramble the frontal lobe.
Answered on live call: 39:25
The long and thin swab is inserted into the nose and pushed all the way back to the nasopharynx where it makes contact with the mucus membranes. The swab remains in the respiratory tract and does not enter the cranium. It is uncomfortable and goes in a far way but does not cause any damage. The people who find it most uncomfortable tend to be children and the elderly.
How is continuing with online classes permissible if a student's immediate family is affected by Covid-19? The mental health effects are incredibly strenuous.
Answered on live call: 41:20
The mental health effects of COVID are enormous and affecting everybody.
I would hope that most instructors and the TRU institution as a whole also recognize the challenges and supports their students the best way they can. If students are struggling, hopefully they could reach out for support from the instructor or TRU to try and come up with a plan to make the semester more manageable.
Would response to COVID-19 differ health region to health region depending on each situation?
Answered on live call: 43:03
We all receive direction from the provincial level; but individual assessments and responses are conducted at the health region level by the medical health officer consulted for the file. Therefore, there will be variation at the provincial level and even at the regional level, depending on the situation.
What is the best way to protect ourselves now?
Answered on live call: 43:53
Continue to follow public health recommendations. This includes keeping your social contact bubble small, and being diligent with COVID prevention measures when in public, including staying home when sick, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and wearing a mask when physical distancing is not likely possible.
Who is responsible for contract tracing — Interior Health or TRU? How would that work?
The Interior Health communicable disease unit is responsible for contact tracing.
What is the notification requirement if a student in a cohort is required to self-isolate or tests positive?
When people on the contact list from a positive case are determined to have been exposed; an Interior Health communicable disease specialist will contact them and notify them that they have been exposed and that they need to self-isolate for 14 days from the last exposure. Interior Health will likely work with TRU to collect contact information if the case does not have it readily available. Interior Health can work together with TRU to determine whether to make public notifications, but it is unlikely for single cases if the exposures are limited.
Is testing available without symptoms if it is required to travel?
Asymptomatic people are currently not eligible for publicly funded testing under current guidelines. This is mainly due to laboratory capacity issues. We need to reserve testing capacity for COVID control measures.
With COVID numbers as high now (or higher) than they were in the spring, why are we sending people back to work and school now when it wasn't OK five months ago.
We have a better understanding now about the nature of spread and illness for COVID and can implement prevention measures. We have also built laboratory and contact tracing capacity we did not have in the spring.