Announcement COVID-19: A conversation with our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Paul Atkinson

March 31, 2020

Disclaimer:  The information on this page is no longer relevant as recommendations around COVID-19 have changed since the time of the interview. We want to thank Dr. Atkinson for his advice and continued leadership throughout the pandemic.

We chatted with our very own Dr. Atkinson about the COVID-19 pandemic. He shares some important information on how to stay safe and calm during these uncertain times. 

Am I at risk of contracting COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a serious health threat and the risk will vary from community to community.

The threat to New Brunswick is lower than in other regions at this time, but we should assume that community spread is possible, especially as we enter any recovery phase.

Overall, the risk to Canadians is considered high as we see an increased number of cases across the country. For more information, check out this web page

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Some individuals infected with COVID-19 may have little to no symptoms. That’s why it is so important that everyone practise social distancing, regular hand washing, and staying home unless to provide essential services or pick up necessities. Symptoms of COVID-19 may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to the virus. People who are infected with COVID-19 may experience a range of symptoms. For a full list of symptoms, please refer to the following self-screening tool

Who is at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19?

Older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk for more serious complications from COVID-19. Underlying medical conditions may include heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, and asthma. But we are seeing younger people experience severe complications from COVID-19 as well, so we must all take this outbreak seriously and do our part to flatten the curve. 

I’m worried I might have the coronavirus as I may have been exposed. Should I go to the emergency department?

Your first step should be to fill out the self-assessment tool available here. Call 811 if the self-assessment tool indicates you should, or if you have questions you cannot find the answers to online. 

Call 911 or go immediately to the emergency department for medical help if you:

  • Have severe difficulty breathing (examples: struggling for each breath, speaking in single words)
  • Have severe chest pain
  • Are confused
  • Have experienced a loss of consciousness 

Who should be going to screening clinics?

COVID-19 Community Assessment Centres across Horizon offer appointments for patients exhibiting mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19. Appointments are required and provided following a triage completed by Tele-Care 811. These are not walk-in clinics. They will complete COVID-19 screening and testing by appointment only. Find locations and more information here

If I test positive for COVID-19 or am experiencing symptoms that I can treat at home what advice would you give?

If you have (or had) symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, you should self-isolate until you are advised by 811 or your family physician that you are clear. This means don't go to any public places. Stay at home, monitor your symptoms for 14 days, and don’t accept visitors. If symptoms worsen, depending on the severity, call 811 or go to the emergency room. 

How is WorkSafeNB continuing services to clients during this time?

Our WorkSafeNB team is committed to putting our clients and the services they need at the centre of all we do. And we’ve never been more focused on that priority than we are now. Services are critical, and we are working with psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and many others to deliver services in innovative and creative ways.

Key actions to continue to provide service while protecting our clients during COVID:

  • Supporting the use of virtual technology in assessing and treating clients (physicians, psychologists, chiropractors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers).
  • Cancelling/rescheduling face-to-face assessments such as PPI (spell out).
  • Restricting visitors to regional offices.
  • Being flexible in the payment of service providers using virtual technology for client assessment/treatment.
  • Established a working group: Occupational Medicine Advisory Team to support WorkSafeNB’s Prevention team.
  • Working with the NB Medical Officer of Health to support other institutions (health care), hospital corps, employers, province during the COVID-19 Crisis.

I am an essential worker. What advice would you give to keep me safe?

If you have been deemed essential and must go into work because you can’t perform your job duties at home, here are some things you can do to keep yourself safe.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cough and sneeze into the bend of your arm.
  • Avoid touching surfaces touched frequently by many people.
  • Regularly clean your work area with disinfecting products.
  • Avoid handshakes and wave instead.
  • Maintain a social distance of at least two metres with your co-workers and customers.

If I venture outdoors for some fresh air, will wearing a mask help protect me?

Though wearing a non-medical mask or face covering will not necessarily protect you, it may help protect those around you as it helps prevent the spread of infection. Thus, wearing such masks is recommended when you can’t be certain that you will be able to keep two metres distance from others when you are in public. These masks should be handled properly and cleaned regularly. However, practising good social distancing when outdoors continues to be your best line of defense. 

Dr. Atkinson would like to wish everyone the best as we face these difficult times. His last words:

“Don’t panic. Don’t overburden the health-care system unless you need it. Be safe.”

Due to the volatility of the COVID-19 situation and constantly evolving evidence, guidance changes frequently.  Please visit Public Health’s website for the latest details. 


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