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Fear spreads faster than illness


When a virus becomes a worldwide concern, we are all on high alert. We're constantly watching the news and searching for updates online.

The potential to go down the internet rabbit hole and start trusting the wrong sources is always there. I was at a bank yesterday morning when a clerk there demonstrated what I mean.

On my way to the bank, I heard the latest joint update from our City's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eileen De Villa, and Minister of Health Christine Elliott. They presented the facts: that the risk to Toronto residents remains low. They stated they are confident of the containment measures being rolled out in China and that international authorities are en route to verify.

They also cautioned Canadians and especially Ontarians to not panic in the face of our three confirmed cases, and to simply follow recommended precautions and go about your daily life.

The fatality rate from novel coronavirus still appears much smaller than that of SARS in 2003. But my bank clerk heard from another, unverified source that same morning.

She proceeded to tell me she heard the virus was being reported as much worse than SARS. She was worried about several local business clients because people were being cautioned to avoid places of Asian commerce or large gatherings of Asian people. I had to tell her, respectfully, that none of what she was saying was true: “You must have accidentally tapped into a fake news site that has an agenda to stigmatize an entire race of people.”

Trust only verified sources It's not time to panic here in Toronto. I am including the most up to date advice of the Medical Officer of Health below - I also recommend you follow Toronto Public Health on twitter to receive notification of these updates. If you follow this advice, as of right now you can go to work, go to school, go to church and go to restaurants as you normally would.

Speaking of local public health authorities, I can’t resist an opportunity to treat this as a teachable moment. Right now, we are all totally reliant upon the good services of local health authorities to control the spread of this virus. We hang on her every word when Dr. De Villa holds press conferences on updates.

And yet, how many of us listen every autumn when this same doctor tells Torontonians to get a flu shot? If we fear viral illness so much, and we can avoid it for free, why don’t we?

I’m just about the busiest person around. It cost me about 10 minutes and zero dollars, while I was on my way in to Fairview Mall, to stop at Shoppers Drug Mart and get a quick flu jab.

Listening to Dr. De Villa can help keep our whole city safe, so we should continue to heed her advice. She is the one and only factual authority on Toronto's local approach to novel coronavirus. But going forward, we need to remember to take her advice all year, every year.



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This week I appeared on the season premiere of TVO's Political Blind Date to discuss City Finances with Budget Chief Gary Crawford. If you didn't catch it on TV, it's up on YouTube now. Click here to watch!







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