VANCOUVER -- When the Copeman Medical Centre in downtown Vancouver got a new directive from the provincial health officer on how to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, doctors took it very seriously.

“If they call in and say they have flu-like symptoms, our receptionist is very much aware of what to ask,” said Dr. Rhonda Low, one of the clinic's doctors. “Have you got a fever? Have you got a cough? Are you a little short of breath?”

If the caller has significant symptoms and a relevant travel history, they may be tested for COVID-19 in the clinic’s parking lot so they don’t have to come inside. A nurse would put on a floor-length gown, a splash mask and rubber gloves and take two throat swabs through the window of the persons car. That patient will be asked to self-isolate until the results come back.

If someone does come inside the clinic with flu like symptoms, they’ll be asked to put on a mask and sit at least two metres away from others in a waiting room that is now free of magazines or toys. They’ll be taken to a designated room where a nurse will determine if they should be tested for COVID-19.

“All of a sudden, if the history comes out and there’s a significant risk for COVID, then the gowning and the masking and the swabbing,” said Low.

“I think that the public should have comfort that public health officials are doing everything they can to contain this virus, it has been relatively successful compared to other jurisdictions,” said B.C. Premier John Horgan on Wednesday.

Clinic precautions

But, with health authorities now asking anyone with even mild cold- or flu-like symptoms to stay home from work, Horgan knows some employees are concerned they may not be paid during a two-week isolation.

“The federal government has tools at their disposal, unemployment insurance and other tools that could be used if necessary,” Horgan said. “I think employers should also play a role here. If they don’t have sick leave benefits for their employees in these circumstances, I think they might want to consider this as a solid investment in not just their employees, but their business.”

Clinic precautions

B.C.'s health minister is also asking companies to waive the need for employees to get a sick note to stay home.

Low said she believes the measures in place at Copeman clinic are sufficient for now.

But, if the virus starts spreading in the community, even more precautions will have to be taken.

“It’s not a case of if it’s going to increase," Low said. "It’s when it’s going to increase.”