Q&A: P.E.I.’s Dr. Heather Morrison on COVID-19 in the weeks to come

With the closing of another week during the COVID-19 pandemic, CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin was joined by Dr. Heather Morrison for an interview via Skype Friday evening.

While there have been no new cases since Wednesday, the P.E.I. government declared a state of emergency on Thursday, in addition to the public health emergency previously declared. 

The number of cases of COVID-19 on P.E.I. remains at 26, with 23 of those cases considered to be recovered. 

Here is that conversation, edited for clarity and length.

Q: Do you consider us to be in an enviable position on P.E.I.?

I think we’re really fortunate here. We’ve had wonderful adherence to public health measures that have changed all our lives. It’s impacted how we work, our family lives, our work lives and what we do socially. I think it’s made a difference in the number of cases we’ve had here.

Q: Is there some sort of formula or public health calculation that tells you we’re on the other side of this? 

You never know you’re really over the peak until it’s behind you, until it’s in the rear-view mirror. But in our case, we’ve never had a huge peak. So in some ways it’s more difficult to tell that you are on the other side. But we’re looking at, how do we know that we can start to loosen up these measures and still keep Islanders safe, especially our most vulnerable. We’re looking at what’s being recommended in other countries. 

I don’t think there’s a certain formula for this pandemic, but it is something we’re actively looking at so that we can all proceed on and get to … a new normal.

Q: How worried are you about a potential surge in cases?

I worry every time I hear the phone ring because I know that’s how I get notified of positive cases. So I am concerned, but I know that we’re doing good screening and testing people with and without travel history. And the more we do that and we have people doing good self-isolation, I think that does reassure me that we may not have a huge surge of cases right now.

Having said that, we have to learn to live with COVID-19 in our communities for a while. I am particularly concerned that if we ease up on all our measures and do so too quickly, that’s exactly when we could see a surge in cases and especially a surge in cases that would overwhelm our health-care system, which is again, a big concern for everyone.

Q: You mentioned today you’re worried about an increase in alcohol and drug use. What prompted that? Is there evidence that it’s becoming a bigger problem here on P.E.I., has there been an increase in hospitalization?

No, it really wasn’t based on any particular evidence that I have of increase. What we do know in Prince Edward Island is, alcohol use disorder is certainly prevalent and we know that P.E.I. has an issue with our smoking and alcohol in terms of our rates and impacts on our overall health impacts.

This is a real time for anxiety and this is an environment where we’re really anxious and we know people may be using alcohol, for instance, to try to manage that anxiety and we wanted to make sure people realize that there are some resources out there that they could reach out to.

Q: I’m curious about the timing of this state of emergency. Was there something specific weighing on your office that made you realize you needed those extra resources right now?

I think the state of emergency really was to help to work in conjunction with the public health state of emergency. It was to complement the public health state of emergency to help in terms of the efficiency of the resources where we may need them, where we felt we needed them at the points of entry. 

The state of emergency is just for the next two weeks. In some ways it doesn’t change what we’re doing in terms of the screening and questions. But I think it certainly helps us make sure that we have more resources to do the job we need to do in screening and supporting us at our points of entry.

Q:  Could we see an extension of that state of emergency?

It’s certainly possible that the state of emergency extension would happen through an order in council, so it would be done through cabinet and the premier for the next stage, if it needed to be extended.

Q: The most recent case, the essential worker that you announced on Wednesday, you said his close contacts were being tested. Have any of those tests results come back yet?

Yes. They came back later that day and they are negative.

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government’s website.

More COVID-19 news from CBC P.E.I.





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