These are nervous times. As we await the first case of COVID-19 in our province, fear and confusion could easily overwhelm us. There are, however, important reminders and reassurances to offset our anxiety.
Unlike many other countries affected by this pandemic, Canada has a robust public health system. In Nova Scotia, we have the necessary expertise and infrastructure to respond well to this challenge.
It is now time to rely on expertise. We must summon the discipline to resist the inexpert advice that is abundantly available through any number of unreliable information sources. Those of us who are not experts must be careful to avoid offering opinions. If our province’s response to the inevitable arrival of COVID-19 is going to be effective, it is incumbent on all to follow the advice of our public health experts. They are providing the leadership; it is our responsibility to follow.
First and foremost, we must embrace the common-sense recommendations from the experts. Wash your hands, well and often. Resist or limit touching your face with your hands. Disinfect surfaces. Observe social distancing. Avoid large, close gatherings. If you can, work from home. If you are sick, do not go into work. If returning from travel, observe the self-isolation recommendations. These measures might seem small and inconsequential in the face of a pandemic. The experts tell us otherwise.
Patients are encouraged to pursue advice from 811. This service provides important triage, directing patients to the appropriate next step. By bypassing 811 and pursuing direct care or in-person advice, patients put the community at risk, the health professionals themselves at risk, and threaten to overwhelm the system. Bypassing the simple step of calling 811 might heighten the problem and weaken the collective response.
Patients should not worry about their medications. The College of Pharmacists and the province will have contingency plans in place, allowing for access to prescription medications in the event that some pharmacies need to close.
Although there is appropriate concern that a rapid outbreak may overwhelm our health-care physical and human resources, physician mobility will not be an issue in our country’s response to the pandemic. The College has activated its business continuity plan to ensure the licensing of physicians will continue to be carried out in a thorough and timely manner.
With respect to emergency medical licensing, the provincial colleges have reached a consensus. Nova Scotian physicians seeking to help in pandemic response in other provinces may do so without hassle. Similarly, physicians from other provinces wishing to support our local response can be licensed on an emergent basis immediately. Physicians recently retired in Nova Scotia wishing to participate in the pandemic response should contact the College to determine if their licences can be reinstated for this purpose. Physicians travelling to respond to the pandemic elsewhere in the country should be aware that their liability coverage will remain in place.
The College is aware that the Medical Council of Canada, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and the College of Family Physicians of Canada all are contemplating making changes to their examination schedules. The licensure of physicians in training and provisionally licensed physicians will not be affected by any examination changes. They will be maintained in provisional licensure.
The situation is fluid. Both physicians and patients are well advised to stay current with the latest developments of the pandemic through public health at: https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/.
Nova Scotians are good at preparing for storms. We heed the weather warnings. We batten down the hatches. We stay safe. We do the right things. I am confident we can apply this approach to COVID-19.
Dr. Gus Grant is registrar & CEO of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia.