Need an expert? COVID-19: the reopening process

Posted on Monday, May 11, 2020

Virus emoji wearing a face mask, next to school pencils

Members of the media may directly contact the following expert:

Dr. Hugues Loemba (French only)

Clinician-researcher, family doctor and virologist. Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine

Dr. Loemba has agreed to answer our questions:

1- The reopening of schools in Quebec raises several questions. Is it a good decision?

“The decision to open the schools in Quebec could be judged later as good or bad, depending on the possible consequences that this could have, in either direction, in relation to the control or not of the COVID-19 epidemic. Obviously, it is implied that all the public health conditions and measures related to the prevention and control of the transmission of the infection are met and scrupulously applied throughout the process.

The reopening of schools probably seems to me to be more justified for regions where the epidemic is less prevalent, but it is definitely precipitated where the conditions for controlling the epidemic are not yet in place, such as in the Montreal area and its suburbs.”

2- What conditions should be met before starting a gradual reopening (and avoid a second wave worse than the first)?

“There must be at least 2 consecutive weeks of gradual reduction of new cases of COVID-19, greater availability of conditions in hospitals including equipment and personnel, implementation of everything necessary to increase access to testing, rapid isolation of cases, tracking and follow-up of contacts, while applying barrier measures and social distancing where reopening is applied.

Basically, the sooner reopening is implemented, the better it may be for the economy, but the greater the cost in human lives may be.”

3- How should a safe reopening take place? Which structures should be reopened first? And last? What measures should be relaxed?

“When the conditions listed in question 2 are all in place. Structures that house fewer people at risk and that contain all the necessary conditions (listed in question 2) should open first. The last ones to reopen would be seniors' residences.

Measures to be relaxed first: this represents any measures that can be relaxed and whose application can be adapted under these conditions of control and prevention of COVID-19; in other words, any new regulations to ease the restrictions that at the same time minimize the risks of transmission of the COVID-19 virus.”

4- You are a doctor specializing in viruses, particularly the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). What is unique with the coronavirus?

“The big difference between the new coronavirus and HIV is the ease with which this virus is transmitted from one person to another, sparing no one, regardless of the person's social rank. It is also the speed with which this virus can take a healthy person away in a few days or weeks. One does not always need to engage in risky behaviour or have a risk factor (as in HIV/AIDS) to be exposed to and infected by this virus.”

5- Everyone hopes for a return to normalcy soon. But is it possible to hope for a return to "normal" as it was before the pandemic?

“We have to adapt to living with this virus for a long time to come. A real return to normal can only be possible if there is a vaccine and good preventive and curative treatments against COVID-19.”

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