A woman is tested for COVID-19 at a mobile clinic in the Montreal neighbourhood of Saint-Michel, Sunday, May 3, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Q&A: What you need to know about COVID-19 treatment, protests and more

Experts answer questions about the novel coronavirus

With COVID-19 now affecting the lives of Canadians on so many levels, people across the country are seeking answers to numerous important questions they have about the novel coronavirus. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.

Is Remdesivir a game-changer?

A major American study suggesting an experimental drug could shorten COVID-19 recovery time is stirring up some optimism, but Canadian infectious disease experts caution it’s too early to know how effective it is.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health recently revealed results of a study on the antiviral medication remdesivir, developed by California-based Gilead Sciences, which was tested on 1,063 COVID-19 patients sick enough to be hospitalized.

Officials said recovery in patients using the drug was shortened by 31 per cent — 11 days on average versus 15 days for those just given usual care.

But Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of Queen’s University’s infectious diseases division in Kingston, Ont., says the data from the U.S. study still needs to be peer reviewed and published in a medical journal.

Dr. Ameeta Singh, an infection disease expert at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, says remdesivir definitely looks like it can shorten the duration of the illness, but it’s unclear from the study whether it reduces the severity of COVID-19.

B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the results of the U.S. study look promising, while Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams says his team is waiting to be advised by Canada’s clinicians and specialists about the drug’s potential.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health has said remdesivir is now being evaluated in at least seven major studies.

Singh says she expects the validation process for a drug like remdesivir to move more swiftly than usual, given the pandemic circumstances, but notes approval for a Canada-wide clinical trial could still be weeks away.

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Sunscreen indoors? Experts say UVA can still age skin through windows

Having your home-office space next to a large window can be great for your mood, your eyes and your productivity. But if the sun is shining through, it could also be harmful to your skin.

Experts in dermatology say wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen — even while indoors — is necessary to block the UVA rays that might not visibly tan your skin as well as UVB, but will play a role in damaging it.

Dr. Diane Wong is a cosmetic physician and owner of the Glow Medi Spa in Toronto. She says there are two different types of sun protection with sunscreen — one is a UVB protectant against direct rays when you’re in the sun, and the other is UVA protection, which is more of a physical block that’s needed during the winter or through glass.

She says if you’re sitting beside a big bright window and you’re not putting on your SPF, “you have no UVA protection and you can damage your skin.”

The New York based Skin Cancer Foundation says UVA rays are less intense than UVB, but they penetrate the skin more deeply. UVB does not penetrate through glass.

Meanwhile, for some people, the COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in clearing some more common skin issues like acne.

Staying indoors has meant less exposure to outdoor pollutants that would normally clog pores. Limiting makeup application, which Wong describes as a “vicious cycle” for people with problematic skin, has also helped.

Allergies or COVID? Expert says symptoms differ, but best to take precautions

You feel a sneeze coming on, or a tickle in your throat, and the alarm bells start ringing in your head.

Is it seasonal allergies or is it the beginnings of a COVID-19 infection?

While springtime pollen can cause sneezing, wheezing and watery eyes in allergy sufferers, a Toronto allergist says it’s best to take precautions if seasonal symptoms start presenting like those more common in COVID cases.

Dr. Peter Vadas, head physician at the Allergy and Immunology Clinic at St. Michael’s Hospital says “there is a real risk here — or at least a real temptation — to try to minimize symptoms and brush them off and say: ‘well, it’s only allergy, let’s see how things go.”’

However, he warns that if it turns out that it’s not allergy, and you’ve been out and about potentially spreading this infection around, “you’ve done an enormous disservice to the public and to yourself.”

Vadas says the major distinction between allergies and COVID-19 is the presence of fever that’s usually associated with the coronavirus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and a new loss of taste or smell as other common symptoms of COVID-19.

Some of those, like coughing, can overlap with hay fever, but Vadas says to watch for multiple symptoms. If just one is present, it’s likely not due to COVID-19.

Vadas adds that health-care workers and immunocompromised people should get tested for COVID-19 if they’re worried their symptoms don’t quite line up with seasonal allergies.

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Why are there so many protests about stay-at-home orders in North America?

Protests against stay-at-home orders meant to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic are now occurring regularly in the United States, with some also spilling into Canada.

A recent demonstration in Toronto led Ontario Premier Doug Ford to call the participants “a bunch of yahoos.” And a similar protest against coronavirus restrictions happened in Vancouver days earlier.

While most Americans and Canadians seem to be adhering to lockdown measures, experts in sociology, political science and history aren’t surprised to see a recent rise in protests.

Alison Meek, an associate professor of American history at Western University in London, Ont., says the U.S. in particular has historically taken issue with allowing the federal government too much power.

But while the U.S. has been no stranger to public protests, Meek says there’s more to these pandemic-related demonstrations, including economic factors and “a real anti-science, anti-expert component.”

She notes that while all the experts are agreed on maintaining physical distancing to curb the spread of the virus, “there is a real sense from a lot of Americans of: ‘you can’t tell us what to do.”’

Meek says the protesters are going to act on their own instincts, as well as information they’re getting from social media.

A private Facebook group was key in enlisting people for a “Liberate Minnesota” march outside the governor’s home, and U.S. President Donald Trump backed the protesters on Twitter, calling to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA” right before it happened.

The protests in the U.S. and Canada have been relatively small, but Max Cameron, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, says he’s still been “appalled” by some of the images he’s seen, specifically in the U.S.

Cameron adds that while images of protests are hard to see for people adhering to physical distancing, it’s important to remember that these demonstrations are depicting a minority.

He says the bigger picture is the “unprecedented collective action” being done to limit the pandemic’s spread.

READ MORE: Individualistic mindset of West comes through in protests against COVID measures

The Canadian Press


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