20200212-Dr Eileen de Villa


L’Amoreaux Community Centre Town Hall

February 12, 2020

2000 McNicoll Avenue

6 p.m.

Remarks for Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health

Good evening and welcome everyone. I’m Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.  I’m pleased to join you here today with Councillor Jim Karygiannis.

I am sincerely grateful that you are taking the time to be here today so that we can:

1/ provide you with an update and the current facts on the novel coronavirus;

2/ provide a forum for you to ask us questions, and

3/ provide you with evidence-based facts and support to address your concerns.

As of yesterday, we now have a new name for this new Coronavirus disease virus: COVID-19.

Firstly, let me start by saying that at this time the health risk to our community remains low.  At present, there are only two confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Toronto. My staff continue to follow up directly to connect with these two people through daily phone calls while they remain at home in isolation as they recover.

We are monitoring their symptoms and we would end their isolation and allow them to return to their regular activities when we have two tests, taken 24 hours apart, that show that there is no more virus in their body.

I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that we often use terms in public health like “cases” and “contacts”, but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to remember that these are people from our community that we are talking about. We need to respect their privacy and allow for their rest and recovery.

The novel coronavirus is a new virus that was identified only about a month ago. The global health community continues to gather health evidence on this virus. As new, verified scientific data emerges, my staff and our local, provincial, and federal partners adapt our approach to follow the best available evidence. We expect that the situation will continue to change as we learn more and scientific evidence-based facts are confirmed. 

I think it is also important to share what a coronavirus is.  Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus or also referred to as SARS and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus otherwise known as MERS CoV.

Late last week, Canadian health officials provided an update on the 2019 novel coronavirus.  They indicated that to support global containment efforts and limit the spread of this virus, the Public Health Agency of Canada is now recommending:

If you have travelled to Hubei Province in the last 14 days:

  • Limit your contact with others for a total of 14 days from the date that you left Hubei. This means self-isolate and stay at home.
  • Contact your local public health department within 24 hours of arriving in Canada.
  • For Toronto residents, this means contacting Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600.

If you have travelled from mainland China in the last 14 days:

  • Monitor yourself for respiratory symptoms including fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
  • Should these respiratory symptoms develop within 14 days after returning to Canada, seek medical care immediately.
  • Inform your healthcare provider or your local public health department about symptoms and travel history before seeking medical care.

I want to repeat that at this time, the risk to our community remains low.  Therefore, our advice to the general public remains the same, and that is to use good infection prevention and control practices that we always recommend to people during the flu season which typically runs from November until March.  These measures may seem simple, but they are actually very powerful ways to protect yourself and others from getting sick.  They include:

  • wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water or use an alcohol-hand sanitizer
  • cover your mouth and nose when you cough, or sneeze
  • if you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough in your sleeve, or arm
  • get an annual flu vaccine, available from clinics and pharmacies; and
  • to stay home if you are sick

These are the best ways that you can help to prevent viruses from spreading in our community.  I think it is important to also share what we do in public health.

As public health professionals, we are notified of infectious diseases routinely as they are identified by health care providers and confirmed through lab tests. 

When we are notified of instances of infectious disease, it activates the work of a system of skilled public health professionals who work behind the scenes.  We begin by following up with the person who is sick to understand the circumstances surrounding their illness, we identify people they have had close contact with and settings where they may have been during the time when the disease might have been transmitted to others. We do this as part of our work in public health, each and every day.

We do this work to make sure that when these situations occur people are notified:

1/ that they may have been exposed to a potential health risk

2/ what signs and symptoms they should look out for; and

3/ when and what medical treatment should be sought out

We also do this to help people protect their health by accessing timely treatment and to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases in our community.

With this particular novel coronavirus, I think it’s important to remember that it was only identified about a month ago.  As we learn more about this virus and how it is transmitted, global public health officials are updating their approaches in response to this new virus.

It is also to remind people that viruses respect no boundaries: not geography, income, race, religion, or political perspective.

However, it is understandable when there are uncertainties that people get concerned, that people may worry.  As this is an evolving situation, we continue to remind people of the importance of using credible sources to stay informed. We continue to update our website frequently as new information is confirmed. I encourage you to contact our hotline for any questions you may have. You can reach us at 416-338-7600, Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Translation is available in many languages.

Lastly, I want to thank you once again for taking the time out of your day to get informed about this situation. I am happy to answer any questions you may have. Thank you. [END]