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Episode 19

Lessons From Italy & More, with Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti

Guest: Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti

Physician, Infectious Diseases & Tropical Medicine. ​

Key Takeaways

A discussion with infectious disease specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti about the spread of COVID-19. Specifically, we dive into what's happening in Italy. This interview took place on March 10th, 2020.

  • Much has changed over the past six weeks, says Dr. Chakrabarti, an Infectious Disease specialist.

  • Despite the serious situation in places such as Iran and Italy, Canada is taking serious precautions to control the outbreak and #FlattenTheCurve. “We CANNOT become complacent,” he emphasises. It is essential that we take this seriously and continue with our precautionary measures.

  • Right now, it’s important to know the cold, hard facts: 80% of people who are infected face a very mild course with minimal symptoms, says Dr. Chakrabarti. And of all those infected, over 80% (and possibly much higher) will make a full and healthy recovery.

  • As many people consider cancelling their trips abroad, Dr. Chakrabarti advises to consider multiple factors: the possibility of being quarantined, not being able to return home, or having to take time off of work. “You have to look at your risk tolerance,” he says.

Most importantly, the Solving Healthcare team encourages our listeners and readers to access high-quality information about the virus through the Canadian Public Health Service website.

A Closer Look

Then and Now


  • Since they last spoke six weeks ago, much has changed regarding the coronavirus, COVID-19. When they first spoke, China was the main topic for concern.

    • Now, they’re curbing their outbreak, says Dr. Chakrabarti. Places like Italy and Iran, where the virus has exploded, have become the epicenter.

    • Having reached over 50 countries, it is a true global pandemic. And with nearly 70 cases in Canada, this virus is testing our healthcare system. “What we’re doing is working,” says Dr. Chakrabarti. Lessons from Italy and Canada’s Response.

  • The way the virus is unfolding in Italy can give us valuable information on how to proceed.

    • We’ve being preparing since early January, he says. Not only that, but we’re actually going into the community to proactively test people.

    • It’s hard to say what will happen next. More likely, we’ll get many more cases, and our healthcare system will be stressed. But, Dr. Chakrabarti says, he’s confident that the system is picking up things early. Patient Populations.

  • When COVID-19 first started out in China, we mostly saw what Dr. Chakrabarti calls the “tip of the iceberg.” Only those patients that were sickest were being infected; those with multiple medical comorbidities, heart and respiratory conditions.

    • Right now, it’s important to know the cold, hard facts: 80% of people who are infected face a very mild course with minimal symptoms, says Dr. Chakrabarti. And of all those infected, over 80% (and possibly much higher) will make a full and healthy recovery.

    • Fortunately, despite the progression of the disease, we don’t see a major progression into the child population.

    • That being said, despite these encouraging numbers, it is essential not to become complacent, he says. We must continue to follow the advice of public health officials and practice social isolation.


Travel during COVID-19.

  • Another pressing issue on everyone’s minds; as March break and the summer approaches, should they cancel their travel plans?

    • It’s a very complicated question, says Dr. Chakrabarti. Above all, it is important to consult the Government of Canada’s travel advisories to see where it is safe to go.

    • You have to look at your “risk tolerance,” he says. For example, do you want to go somewhere and put yourself at risk, even if there isn’t an advisory?

  •  “Your flight could get canceled,” he says, or a country may close their borders and strand you there. Some people are being forced by their work to self-quarantine regardless of where they go.

    • Ultimately, it’s not just a matter of whether you will contract the virus or not. You have to consider what your life will look like if that happens, and if you can tolerate that.


Protecting Healthcare Professionals

  • When COVID-19 cases started appearing, healthcare professionals required enhanced droplet precautions – the full body-armor of personal protective equipment. This meant the now-familiar N95 mask, eye protection and gown, as well as putting patients in special chambers that isolated their air from the rest of the hospital.

    • Now, however, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this may not be necessary.

    • As the shift happens towards the less-severe contact droplet precaution, hospitals are relieved. This is important, because there simply is not enough resources to accommodate 15 or 20 admissions a day requiring N95 masks and isolation chambers



Further Reading

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