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What you need to know about COVID-19

March 24, 2020

hand sanitizer and mask

COVID-19: Information, Resources, and Considerations for Peer Support

by Calvin Prowse

On March 17, the province of Ontario declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19, a new virus that is spreading rapidly across the world[i]. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic[ii]. COVID-19 is of particular risk to older people3and those with underlying medical conditions[iii]or compromised immune systems[iv]

Current research indicates that COVID-19 has a very high rate of transmission, with each person spreading the virus to an average of 3.28 other people[v]. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases world-wide has now exceeded 300,000 and resulted in over 14,000 deaths5. It has taken just over 3 months for the virus to infect the first 100,000 people, following which the number of cases has doubled to 200,000 in just 12 days, on March 193. Four days later, on March 23, the number of global cases exceeded 300,000[vi]. As of March 23, there have been 1,384 confirmed cases and 19 deaths related to COVID-19 in Canada, and these numbers are increasing rapidly6. For up to date information on COVID-19, please consult updates from the World Health Organization, the Government of Canada, or the Province of Ontario

It is important to note that those who contract COVID-19 may not develop symptoms until up to 14 days later3. Additionally, as many as30% of people who have contracted COVID-19 may not experience symptoms at all[vii]. In both cases, these people may still capable of passing the virus along to others[viii]. Symptoms vary greatly between people and may not be recognized as COVID-19 without testing[ix]. Additionally, test results may take up to seven days to be processed[x].

As such, it is important to note that current numbers do not reflect the current situation. As a result of these factors and the difficulties and delays associated with accessing testing, the number of people infected with COVID-19 may be as much as ten times higher than those reported6.

Social Distancing as Harm Reduction

Social distancing  refers the practice of limiting our physical exposure to other people. Some professionals are currently advising for complete self-isolation9, only leaving the house when absolutely necessary. Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu anticipates that social distancing measures will need to be in place for several months to properly contain the COVID-19 pandemic[xi].

The purpose of social distancing and self-isolation is to slow down the spread of COVID-19 – also known as “flattening the curve.” According to federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, approximately 30%-70% of the population of Canada could contract COVID-19[xii].If this happens too quickly, it will overwhelm the healthcare system and prevent some people from accessing emergency care. Slowing down the spread of COVID-19 will help ensure that the healthcare system has the resources necessary to treat those who experience severe, life-threatening symptoms.

Community Care

During this time of uncertainty, it is more important than ever for us to support one another. The social isolation people face as a result of social distancing, in addition to the stress of experiencing a global health crisis, can result in increased mental health concerns. Some people may not be able to leave the house for weeks at a time, as a result of contracting COVID-19 or being high-risk. During this time, they may need someone to drop off essentials such as food, medications, and other essentials. 

It is important to consider who you can support, and those you can request support from. Pod Mapping for Mutual Aid is a tool that may help you explore these relationships of support amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Pod Mappingwas originally developed by Mia Mingus for the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective as a tool to address harm within communities. 

Take some time to consider the issues your communities are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how you may be able to help. You can address social isolation by calling, emailing, texting, or video calling with friends, family, neighbours, or community members. If there are practical things you can help with, such as dropping off groceries or other supplies, make this known to those who may need it. 

Lastly, consider joining (or creating!) a formal mutual aid network in your city to address community members’ needs. There have been several “CareMongering” Facebook groups that have emerged in several communities in Ontario, including Barrie, BrantfordBurlington, CambridgeChatham-KentGuelphHaldimondHamilton(Meadowlands/Tiffany Hills), Kitchener-Waterloo, Niagara, North BayNorth FrontenacOakvilleOttawaToronto(North YorkScarborough), Waterdown, and Woodstock.

What does this mean for peer support?

Peer support organizations need to consider their role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic too.  Many have closed their doors in order to protect their service users, employees, and community members. 

During this time, the way social peer support looks is changing. Organizations are now considering whether support can be provided remotely, over email, phone, or videoconferencing services such as Skype or Zoom (for a list of remote peer resources, check our website). Many are providing different forms of support to address changing needs. For example, bringing food, medication, and other essentials to the homes of high-risk individuals. 

It’s important to consider the safety and wellbeing of peer support workers and other frontline mental health employees during this time as well. Many are also experiencing mental health strains. As a peer support or frontline worker employer, it’s important to consider how to address these changing needs – from offering childcare support, to reducing hours or showing other virtual forms of care and connection. 

Author Bio: Calvin is a community organizer and peer supporter within disability, 2SLGBTQIA+, and Mad/mental health communities, based out of Hamilton, Ontario. They are passionate about disability justice, peer work, accessible education, and the power of community. Calvin has been a member of the PeerWorks Board of Directors since October 2019, and has been practicing peer support in both formal and informal contexts since 2012.

[i] Office of the Premier (2020, March 17). Ontario enacts declaration of emergency to protect the public: Significantly enhanced measures will help contain spread of COVID-19.

[ii] World Health Organization (2020, March 12). WHO announces COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

[iii] World Health Organization (2020, March 19). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) situation report – 59.

[iv] Government of Canada (2020). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Outbreak update

[v] Liu, Y., Gayle, A. A., Wilder-Smith, A., & Rocklöv, J. (2020). The reproductive number of COVID-19 is higher compared to SARS coronavirus.Journal of Travel Medicine, 27(2).

[vi] World Health Organization (2020, March 23). Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) situation report – 63

[vii] Nishiura, H., Kobayashi, T., Suzuki, A., Jung, S., Hayashi, K., Kinoshita, R., Yang, Y., Yuan, B., Akhmetzhanov, A. R., Linton, N. M., & Miyama, T. (2020). Estimation of the asymptomatic ratio of novel coronavirus infections (COVID-19)International Journal of Infectious Disease. Manuscript submitted for publication.

[viii] Tindale, L., Coombe, M., Stockdale, J. E., Garlock, E., Lau, W. Y. V., Saraswat, M., Lee, Y. H. B., Zhang, L., Chen, D., Wallinga, J., & Colijn, C. (2020). Transmission interval estimates suggest pre-symptomatic spread of COVID-19. Manuscript submitted for publication.

[ix] Greenwald, A. (2020, March 18). [Warning from an emergency physician about COVID-19]. 

[x] The Star (2020, March 20). Ontario sees trend toward more positive, fewer negative COVID-19 tests, analysis of provincial data shows.

[xi] CBC News (2020, March 21). Canadians can expect social distancing to last months, health minister says

[xii] Weeks, C. (2020, March 11). Between 30 and 70 per cent of Canadians could become infected with coronavirus, Patty Hajdu saysThe Globe and Mail