Therefore, while it is nearly impossible to get the virus from passing someone on the street or in the supermarket, prolonged contact with a number of people while not wearing masks can cause the virus to spread.
Furness said that while medical experts have been calling COVID-19 a respiratory virus for months it is more correct to refer to it as a vascular virus that enters through the lungs.
“It goes into your blood stream, it affects the lining of your blood vessels, it goes into your brain and your heart. It wreaks havoc all over your body,” he said. “We shouldn’t talk about this as a respiratory virus that might kill you — it’s a vascular disease that will cause horrible damage to you if it gets in there.”
Aerosols and masks
Furness said another critical factor about the spread of COVID-19 is that aerosols play a significant role.
“Up until now, we thought that respiratory viruses are not generally oriented to infecting people through aerosols,” he said. “But they’re just infective enough that if you have enough people sharing air, poor ventilation and no masks, then you’ve got a risky situation for an infection.”
He continued that this is one of the reasons masks work really well — a large oversight in the medical community at the beginning of the pandemic.
“All experts, including me, were saying way back in March and April that masks make no sense because they don’t protect you, but what we didn’t think about is what masks do in terms of disrupting droplets and aerosols and that was a huge scientific blind spot,” he said, adding that for the general public, it doesn’t matter so much the material the mask is made of so long as it directs the aerosols downward and reduces the velocity at which they come out.
Furness said another aspect about the virus that has been learned throughout the year is that the population does have some immunity to COVID-19, as many have been exposed to human coronaviruses in the past.
He said that is why so many cases of COVID-19 are mild or asymptomatic, but that it’s important to remember that the virus still spreads asymptomatically.
“Because people tend to be immune, COVID tends not to get very far,” he said. “It infects your nose, it infects your throat, you cough a little bit, you infect other people, but you never actually get all that sick yourself and that makes it really hard to control. That’s COVID’s secret weapon.”
Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said it became clear very quickly this year that the virus disproportionately affects specific groups of people.
It’s not, as some were calling it at the onset, a “great equalizer.”
In congregate settings, including shelters and developmental services, child-care centres, health care, long-term-care retirement homes, the repercussions have been devastating, Mehra added.
As well, the virus has shown that residents in low-income, and racialized communities, are disproportionately affected.
Mehra, who is a prominent advocate for seniors and health-care workers in long-term care, said that even today, well into the second wave, centres are experiencing severe outbreaks and detrimental staffing shortages, despite the lessons learned by the provincial government earlier this year.
Further she said, it is critical to hold homes accountable if they are not following guidelines or upholding the protective measures necessary to protect residents and staff.
“It’s no longer the case that we don’t know how coronavirus is transmitted — we do — and we have a lot of information about that. But unfortunately it’s not being applied, and the issue isn’t ignorance about the virus, the issue is really a lack of political will to create the measures that are strong enough and to make them accountable,” she said.
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