Is COVID-19 airborne? Toronto's top doctor answers virus-related questions
TORONTO -- Toronto Public Health recorded 57 new COVID cases over the past two days, bringing the city's total to 14,735.
Of those cases, 12,935 have recovered, while 1,110 have died.
On Tuesday, the masks became mandatory in indoor settings. Peel Region is also set to make face coverings mandatory on Friday.
"I do think that using masks is a very simple and relatively inexpensive intervention and an action that we can all take in order to best protect our community and to find that way for us to co-exist safely with COVID-19 in our community," Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city's medical officer of health said.
De Villa stopped by CP24 on Wednesday to answer COVID-19 questions from viewers.
CP24: Do you sense the residents in the city understand how important masks are in fighting the spread of COVID-19?
De Villa: I think I've been so impressed with the residents of Toronto. We've all worked so hard together to get where we are. And it's clear that we all want our city back and we want to have some sense of normalcy. My sense is when I go outside, I do see more and more people wearing masks, and people are really trying to maintain that physical distancing, even as they are wearing masks, which is the right thing to do. I've been super impressed thus far, and I hope to continue to see more people and now hopefully joined by the people of the city of Mississauga.
CP24: Why are apartment condo elevators and public spaces exempt from mandatory masking bylaw? There are all kinds of people who use elevators and don't wear masks. There are bylaws on social distancing and elevators but nothing regarding masks.
De Villa: There are some exceptions to the mask bylaw, but that doesn't change the fact that masks are still officially the recommendation. And it is certainly the advice that's being put out there for landlords and property managers who are in charge of maintaining condos and apartment buildings.
This is the kind of thing that actually makes sense for our community, whether you're living in a multi-unit dwelling or whether you live in your own home. We're certainly putting out that information and making it available for landlords and property management types to be able to use and create that kind of environment. I hope that by having it in these other public spaces, it becomes part of our habit and part of how we just do and how we live in our city regardless. It becomes just how we do and how we co-exist with COVID-19 until we get treatments or a vaccine to protect us.
CP24: Speaking of exemptions, is there a concern that people who can't wear masks may take some heat from people for not wearing them?
De Villa: I understand that people will have questions. People will be concerned in certain settings, and that's understandable. But, I've seen a great deal of understanding amongst Torontonians. And the expectation isn't that you have to have some kind of sign or that you need to justify what the reason is. I think the issue is, how do we co-exist with COVID-19? How do we co-exist with each other?
And if we can offer those who cannot wear a mask some space, let them go and do whatever it is that they need to do in public space quickly, and then move on. I think that's really the best thing that we can all do. It's how we co-exist safely with each other and with the virus in our community.
CP24: With the emerging evidence from the World Health Organization that the virus could be airborne, how will this change safety measures moving forward? Why do you think this potential of an airborne virus wasn't caught sooner, and would it have made a difference?
De Villa: I think these are interesting debates that are ongoing, and it tells you that we're dealing with a new virus. There's still some uncertainty here because this is again a virus that was only discovered in January. There is still much understanding within the scientific community that has to be formed. We've learned a lot for sure, but there is still much more that we need to learn. What I think we're getting at is that it may linger in the air for a little bit longer or travel a little bit further, especially if it's aided by air conditioning flow that kind of thing.
But at the end of the day, physical distancing is still important. And it's still the mainstay of protecting oneself and each other from a spread of coronavirus. It just bolsters the argument for masks because if we can protect ourselves and protect each other by stopping the spread of our germs, then frankly, the airborne issue becomes a non-issue or less of a problem.
Wear those masks when we can't physically distance, wash our hands and do the best we can until we have treatments and a vaccine.
CP24: Do you have any concern about running people going outdoors exercising who are not wearing shirts or coverups from the waist up who are sweating profusely? Droplets are falling off bodies, whether walking, jogging, or cycling, passing others. Do droplets not travel? Is this airborne-related?
De Villa: When it comes to COVID-19 risk of transmission outdoors, it is definitely reduced. It's a question of just practicing good respect and courtesy. If you're going to do that and sweating profusely or spreading droplets in one form or another, try to pass people quickly give them their space. But by and large, the risk of coronavirus or COVID-19 transmission in the outdoors is significantly reduced, just because you've got big air and constant wind movement. So not a lot of what we would call dilution.
CP24: Where can we go to socialize safely?
De Villa: It is hard to stay isolated at home, and we are social creatures, and that counts a lot for health as well. Having the opportunity to interact with each other. With our social circles, we are allowed to have a social circle of up to 10 people. And with those in your social circle, you can get closer, and you don't need to maintain that physical distance. Hugs and physical contact are allowed within that social circle. If you have a bigger social circle, you need to continue maintaining that physical distance. Socializing outdoors, mainly if physical distance is maintained, creates a circumstance where you can still have fun connect with others, but do so in an environment that's definitely lower risk.
CP24: How concerned are you when you see the surge of COVID-19 cases in the United States in the past few weeks?
De Villa: It gives rise to concern. I worry about what has been happening in some of their hospital systems. We're seeing their healthcare system in Texas and other states getting overwhelmed, and that's always a concern. These are the kinds of lessons and experiences we should be heeding to continue to have our progress. We don't want to slide back into negative circumstances. I would encourage us to watch what's happening and to continue our progress by keeping up with those public health measures, keeping up with the physical distancing, the wearing of masks when that's not doable, hand-washing, avoiding touching your face and staying home when you're not feeling well.
CP24: When will serology testing be available to Toronto residents?
De Villa: What's being referred to is a blood test to determine whether you have been already exposed and might have some degree of immunity to COVID-19. These tests are in development. Some are technically available but not yet available to us here in Ontario. I understand that our provincial counterparts are working on this and working to make it available and determine the circumstances when the test can be used and, therefore, who gets access to it. Stay tuned. My understanding is that there's work happening on that right now. We'll look forward to telling people when we hear more about it.
CP24: How effective is the test in fighting the spread of COVID-19?
De Villa: You can think about whether that might create circumstances where people can understand, can they now go into an environment where they might not otherwise have been able to go because there's concern that they're infectious or that there's a risk. I think that there are a number of uses. The question is, how expensive is the test? How reliable is the test? And therefore, how best should it be used? I know that our provincial counterparts will be working on that and figuring those important questions out.
CP24: Actor Tom Hanks who recovered from the coronavirus, recently shared that a recent test showed his COVID-19 antibodies are fading. What does that say about being immune from the virus?
De Villa: What we're hearing about in respect of immunity after having had a COVID-19 infection is that we're still learning. We're still trying to understand this new virus. The interesting thing is, is that you would expect with as, with most viruses that after you have an infection, you'll have immunity for some degree of time. The real question is, how long? How long does this immunity last? And that's a question that we have yet to answer given that the virus has only been with us for a number of months. We don't really have all that much experience. It's one of those areas that we need to continue to watch and continue to monitor.
CP24: When will you allow tennis players, especially the seniors, to play doubles games, which is pretty safe because of at least two meters distancing? She says playing singles is for the young, and most seniors have no stamina to play it.
De Villa: I do believe that that comes in stage three as part of the province's reopening plan. And I appreciate and understand that people do want to get out there. As I understand it now, though, if somebody is in your social circle, that doubles game would be allowed for those within your social circles. If you're lucky enough to be in those circumstances, then you can go and do that.
CP24: A viewer says, I am a senior, and I have a hard time with a face mask, but can have, and have been wearing a face shield. Are face shields considered a face covering?
De Villa: I understand and appreciate that many people prefer having a face shield over a mask or a face covering because you're just able to breathe easier. You don't have that same coverage over your nose and mouth. But at the end of the day, a face shield is not a substitute for a mask or a face covering. You just don't get the same sort of protection for others. You don't get the same prevention of the spread of germs. While I appreciate that you get that coverage over your eyes with a face shield, it really isn't meant to be a substitute for a mask or a face covering.
This interview has been edited.