Frequently Asked Questions from the U of T Community About Coronavirus

Last updated: February 12, 2020

 

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that originate in animals but are known to cause respiratory illness in humans, particularly during the fall and winter months. Other novel coronaviruses have included Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

In January 2020, a novel (new) coronavirus (COVID-19) was identified as the cause of an outbreak of pneumonia originating in Wuhan. The provincial government provides updated statistics for Ontario.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health advises that the risk to Ontarians is still considered low as of January 29, 2020. The situation is rapidly evolving and the University is taking its guidance from public health agencies at the local, provincial and federal level, who are closely monitoring the outbreak, conducting surveillance and appropriate laboratory testing, and providing public health and infection control guidance.

To date cases have been reported in individuals who have been in Wuhan, China, and those who have had personal contact with infected individuals. The risk of more severe illness may be higher for individuals with weakened immune systems such as older people or chronic diseases such as diabetes, or heart, renal or chronic lung disease.

Symptoms range from common to severe respiratory illnesses and include: 

  • fever
  • cough
  • difficulty breathing

Many of these symptoms are similar to seasonal influenza. Should you experience these symptoms AND have recently travelled internationally to an affected region, avoid contact with others and follow-up with your health care professional. Advise your health professional in advance of attending clinic of your symptoms and travel history.   

As usual, continue to practise good hand washing techniques and hygiene practices. This includes washing thoroughly with soap and water, using hand sanitizer, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and staying at home or in your residence room if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

As usual, those with flu-like symptoms, who have not travelled internationally to an affected region, should stay at home or in their residence room.   

Those who have questions or concerns, who have travelled internationally to an affected region, and do not have symptoms, should call Telehealth Ontario: Toll-free 1-866-797-0000 (TTY: 1-866-797-0007).   

Those who have symptoms and have travelled internationally to an affected region should call their health care provider which could include their family doctor or, for students, their campus health centre. Phone numbers for the campus health centres are available below. Describe your symptoms and document your travel history. Your health care professional or health authority will provide instructions for you to follow, including appropriate arrangements for your medical assessment. If you are not already isolated, self-quarantine yourself in your home.

Also see FAQ #8.

Students should continue to report illness as they usually do. Students in residence should inform residence staff and their registrar. For staff, please report your absence promptly to your supervisor per normal practice.

Those who have questions or concerns, who have travelled internationally to an affected region, and do not have symptoms, should call Telehealth Ontario: Toll-free 1-866-797-0000 (TTY: 1-866-797-0007).   

Those who have symptoms and have travelled internationally to an affected region should call their health care provider which could include their family doctor or, for students, their campus health centre. Phone numbers for the campus health centres are available below. Your health care professional or health authority will provide instructions for you to follow, including appropriate arrangements for your medical assessment.

If you experience symptoms while living in residence, self-quarantine yourself and phone your respective residence front desk, who will inform the Dean of Students/Residence Office. You should also inform your registrar. You may also wish to call Telehealth Ontario: Toll-free 1-866-797-0000 (TTY: 1-866-797-0007)

As it is also influenza season, you may want to purchase the following items to keep on hand as a precautionary measure:   

  • Over-the-counter medication to reduce aches and fever (e.g., acetaminophen or ibuprofen) 
  • Cough medicine and throat lozenges 
  • Any prescription medicines you take 
  • A thermometer (non-mercury) 
  • Tissues 
  • Hand sanitizer (should contain at least 60% alcohol) 
  • Disinfecting wipes or cleaning products to clean your shared and personal space 
  • A water canteen or bottled water, and juice 

No one should be excluded or banned from attending classes or work. Students, staff and faculty with flu-like symptoms should stay home, but some may choose to attend classes and work. At this time, the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus is low.

Those who have travelled to Hubei province in the last 14 days, should limit their contact with others for a total of 14 days from the date that they left Hubei. This means self-isolate and stay at home. In addition, they should contact their local public health authority within 24 hours of arriving in Canada. Students who are self-isolating should contact their registrar.

All travellers from mainland China are advised to monitor themselves for symptoms and to contact their local public unit if they feel sick. A list of Ontario public health units is available at http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/common/system/services/phu/locations.aspx

Should a fever, cough, difficulty breathing or any other symptom arise within 14 days after returning to Canada, seek medical attention immediately. Inform your health care provider or local health authority about symptoms and travel history.

As with any class cancellation or change, students are advised to check Quercus and their U of T email.

At this time, there is no significant risk of community transmission of the novel coronavirus in Canada. Should the situation change, we will provide advice on this website.

For general, day-to-day activities, there is no need to wear a surgical or N95 mask.  Toronto Public Health advises residents to take the usual measures to reduce the risk of influenza and other respiratory infections: 

  • Get a yearly flu vaccination, available from clinics and pharmacies as this is the best way to prevent influenza infection
  • Clean your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze 
  • If you don't have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your sleeve or arm 
  • Stay at home if you are sick. 

Those in health care settings will follow the requirements of their facilities with respect to appropriate protective gear if they are working with suspected or confirmed cases.  

For our students who do some learning in health care settings, the leaders of our health science faculties and OISE are aware of the steps needed to protect our students, should it become necessary. Learners, faculty and staff in a health science setting, should follow the directions of the administration of the facility.

If students are unable to return to the University as a result of the travel restrictions, they should contact their registrar (undergraduate students) or graduate program (graduate students) to arrange for accommodations. 

Students planning to travel to China should cancel or postpone their trip. The Safety Abroad Office has reached out to and remains in contact with all students registered with the office who are in China as the situation evolves.

Students can access additional resources and contact information on the student safety abroad website safetyabroad.utoronto.ca.

Staff and faculty may refer to the Government of Canada’s travel advisory website travel.gc.ca/travelling/advisories.

If you are concerned about someone in the workplace who is ill and exhibiting flu-like symptoms or have concerns about safety in your workplace, speak to your Supervisor/Manager. Supervisors/Managers are advised to contact their Divisional HR Office. Employees in the workplace who are ill with flu-like symptoms should advise their supervisor/manager, stay home and seek out medical advice accordingly (see FAQ #3 and #5).

Coronaviruses do not generally survive for long on surfaces so there is likely very low risk of them spread from products or packaging that travel for many days at room temperature. Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often through direct contact with those who are ill coughing or sneezing. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods.

 

Important Contact Numbers:

Telehealth Ontario: 1-866-797-0000 TTY: 1-866-797-0007

Telehealth Ontario is a free, confidential service you can call to get health advice or information. A Registered Nurse will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

University of Toronto Health Services (for students)

St. George Campus Health & Wellness Centre: Call 416-978-8030

UTM Health & Counselling Centre: Call 905-828-5255

UTSC Health & Wellness Centre: Call 416-287-7065

Toronto Public Health Hotline: 416-338-7600

Monday to Friday 8:30am to 8pm and weekends from 10am to 6pm. Translation available.