We’re breaking down what you need to know about the pandemic. Send us your questions via email at COVID@cbc.ca and we’ll answer as many as we can. We’ll publish a selection of answers every weekday on our website, and we’re also putting some of your questions to the experts on the air during The National and on CBC News Network. So far we’ve received more than 46,000 emails from all corners of the country.
My guest needs to self-isolate. Do I need to isolate, too?
If you have a traveller coming to stay with you, and they’re required to isolate, do you have to isolate with them? That’s what Mike P. and many other readers want to know.
First, it’s important to understand that Canada’s mandatory isolation rules are designed to protect people from travellers who have symptoms or are at risk of developing symptoms and the potential that they could infect others.
So, in most cases, you really shouldn’t be having people over if they’re expected to isolate.
“If a family is hosting visitors, then the visitors by definition are not isolating,” said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.
But if there is no other choice, “you must all isolate, and you must accept the risk of cohabiting with that person during the isolation period,” he said.
Dr. Lisa Barrett, a professor at Dalhousie University’s medical school in Halifax and an infectious disease researcher, said hosts should behave as if their guests are positive.
“The whole point is that they could still be positive, but we don’t know it yet.”
That means you should act as if you may have been exposed to COVID-19 and also follow the isolation guidelines.
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These include not going to work or other public places and staying inside unless absolutely necessary, such as to seek medical care. You should also keep a distance of at least two metres from each other, avoid sharing household items and spaces, and use separate bathrooms, if possible.
That said, the total isolation of a guest might be possible in homes where hosts could provide them with their own living quarters, with “separate bathroom or rooms,” Furness said. “Then we could consider the visitor to be isolating on their own.”
If multiple people in the same house get sick, do they need to isolate from each other?
This is what Cathie T. wrote to us asking.
As per Health Canada’s guidelines, people are expected to isolate if they have tested positive for COVID-19, have symptoms of the virus or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive.
If more than one person in the same household is “equivalently ill,” Furness said, isolating from each other isn’t necessary, but he advised against being in the same room or “sharing air.”
“This is because less sick people could conceivably get worse by continuing to inhale more virus from people who are more sick,” he said. While this hasn’t been studied, he said, it is his “conservative advice.”
Of course, those who have tested positive for COVID-19 should isolate from other members of the household who are not experiencing symptoms.
There could also be instances where multiple people in one household are experiencing respiratory symptoms but are not confirmed to have COVID-19.
If this is the case, Barrett said, they should isolate from one another.
“You may not have the same thing,” Barrett said, in which case isolating will help mitigate the spread if one person has COVID-19 and the other does not.
Can you get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time?
It’s warm and sunny now, but flu season is around the corner, and Canadians, like Melanie C., are wondering if it’s possible to catch both viruses at the same time.
The experts we spoke to said yes. Technically, a person can catch COVID-19 and influenza at the same time.
Dr. Zain Chagla, an associate professor on infectious diseases at McMaster University’s medical faculty in Hamilton, said that it’s “not common,” but data from the beginning of the pandemic suggested some patients had more than one respiratory virus.
“There was some question of even worse outcomes in those patients that had both infections,” he said, “which is logical.”
Experts are worried the coming flu season will make the pandemic worse.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist and associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said changes in temperature and humidity, as well as the way people interact in colder weather, could “make COVID flare come fall and winter.”
“If influenza — which commonly fills hospitals up in January-February each year — and COVID both affected communities at the same time, it could be very difficult.”
That said, public health measures taken to reduce COVID-19 transmission were also effective in reducing influenza in places that still had the influenza viruses circulating, Saxinger said.
The same measures — like practising physical distancing, keeping your hands clean and staying home when sick — will help protect you from both viruses.
Chagla also recommends getting your flu shot.
“This is probably one of the most important years to get the influenza vaccine,” he said.
Health Canada has said it is already preparing for potential simultaneous outbreaks.