Why self-isolation from COVID exposure isn't so simple: IH explains | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why self-isolation from COVID exposure isn't so simple: IH explains

Interior Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Silvina Mema.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Interior Health Authority
October 23, 2020 - 6:30 AM

Renee Merrifield, Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal candidate in Saturday’s provincial election, said she didn’t have to self-isolate after a visitor to her home for an outdoor campaign event earlier this month later tested positive for COVID-19.

She said Interior Health told her if she was not in close contact with that person for 15 minutes, she didn't have to stay away from other people, she told iNFOnews.ca yesterday, Oct. 21.

READ MORE: Kelowna Liberal candidate says she had no need to self-isolate from COVID-19 exposure

That seemed unusual so we asked Interior Health Medical Health Officer Dr. Silvina Mema to explain, giving some details of Merrifield’s experience but not saying who she was.

“Fifteen minutes is a guideline,” Dr. Mema said. “We stick to that but there are multiple different factors that play a role in the risk assessment.”

First of all, it depends on if or when the carrier shows symptoms.

If there are no symptoms for more than two days after the contact, then there is a very low risk of transmission, she said.

Even if symptoms show up the day after, if there is a face-to-face conversation for 10 or 15 minutes outdoors then there’s a low risk of transmission so a person would likely be advised to self-monitor for two weeks — not self-isolate.

If the visitor had symptoms, such as coughing and sneezing and was within two metres, then she would recommend the host be put into isolation.

In Merrifield's case, she said she was never within six metres of her guest and that person did not show symptoms of COVID-19 even though they tested positive a few days later.

But, if it takes 15 minutes of close interaction to be at high risk of infection, why are so many people wearing masks, for example, in grocery stores?

The simple answer is that the masks aren’t really needed in many cases, Mema said.

“If the person who is wearing the mask is sick, they could be spreading the disease to others on surfaces, their hands, etc.,” Dr. Mema said.

Of course, if a person has symptoms, they should not be going shopping in the first place.

“The problem is, you might not have symptoms until tomorrow and, where you are today, you may be exposing people,” Dr. Mema said. She also pointed out that asymptomatic people have a low chance of spreading the virus. It’s spread much easier when the virus builds up enough to be sprayed out through coughs and sneezes.

Even walking by someone in a store who sneezes is likely a low risk for catching the disease, Dr. Mema said.

But there’s another motivation for people to wear masks.

“People wear masks because it provides a sense of security to others,” Dr. Mema said, noting that people feel safe shopping at Walmart because that store requires everyone to wear a mask.

She wears a mask when she goes to a grocery store because she knows it makes other feel more comfortable.

While wearing a mask may make people feel more confident of being safe, the masks are very low in the “pyramid” of preventative measures when it comes to actually preventing the spread of the disease.

First up is staying home when sick, then taking precautions like safe distancing and hand washing.

EDITOR'S NOTE: After initial publication, Interior Health reached out to clarify its position.

“Wearing a non-medical masks is appropriate when physical distancing cannot be maintained," Dr. Mema noted. "Non-medical masks can protect others by keeping droplets close to the person wearing the mask.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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News from © iNFOnews, 2020

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