South Island doctors plead with public to stay home

Hundreds of South Island doctors are urging the public to take social distancing and self-isolation measures seriously in the fight to slow the spread of COVID-19.

More than 700 family doctors in Victoria and the South Island signed their names to a letter saying they’re pleading with the public to stay home as much as possible — even if they’re not feeling sick — and to keep at least two metres away from other people when they go outside their homes.

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“What you do today will impact the health and perhaps the fate of British Columbians in the next weeks and months,” the letter says, adding that the physicians are “united” with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“Self-isolation and maintaining social distance will save lives. While we recognize that you may feel overwhelmed or concerned, it is extremely important that we all take this action now.”

The doctors say in the letter that every person on Vancouver Island has a role to play in stopping the spread of the virus, and it’s especially important that young people avoid gathering in groups and socializing because it’s possible to shed the virus before someone starts to feel unwell.

Dr. Kathy Dabrus, a family doctor with Victoria Division Family Practice, said it’s essential that people follow these measures, because this is a new virus for the medical world and they’re still learning when it’s most contagious and when it leaves a person’s system. “The time you’re most shedding virus is when you’re really ill with it, but you may start shedding virus before you actually realize you’re starting to get sick. And that’s the whole idea of the social distancing,” Dabrus said.

“If you’re out for a walk and you pass someone, if you’re more than six feet away, and they happen to have just coughed or sneezed … that cloud of virus is going to fairly quickly come down to the ground.”

Social-distancing measures are for people who don’t feel sick and who do not need to self-isolate due to travel or possible exposure to COVID-19, Dabrus said.

Anyone who has returned from international travel or has possibly been exposed to an infected person should self-isolate, which Dabrus said means staying within your own property.

She said people should also self-isolate if they have undiagnosed symptoms of COVID-19 — a cough, fever, difficulty breathing, sore throat, chills, fatigue, pink eye, runny nose and diarrhea.

While the websites of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and the federal government state that people in self-isolation can go outside for fresh air, a run, a bike ride or a dog walk, Dabrus said health-care workers are trying to minimize contact between the public and people who have a higher risk of carrying the virus.

“Although we try and maintain social distancing, you do sometimes get close to other people, so during the quarantine period you should not be leaving your own property,” Dabrus said. “You can go outside in your own yard, but not out in the streets.”

She said doctors are receiving regular communication from the Centre for Disease Control and Henry.

“We all try to follow her guidelines and advice, just recognizing it evolves on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

Dabrus encouraged anyone who thinks they have COVID-19 symptoms to get in touch with their family doctor if they have one or call 811.

She also stressed the need to keep up to date as new information is released by the government.

“It’s an evolving science,” Dabrus said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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