People with Disabilities Among Those Most at Risk from Covid-19

Public health and government officials are urging Canadians to practice social distancing. For some, social distancing could make the difference between life and death.

Andrew Gurza, a Toronto-based disability awareness consultant, has cerebral palsy. His condition could make him seriously vulnerable if he were to contract COVID-19. In an interview with CBC, Gurza, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, said that his lung function is impacted due to the fact that he is sitting down all the time. This makes him more vulnerable to complications from respiratory illnesses, such as COVID-19. Gurza indicated that in addition to the toll of the illness, he fears catching the illness at a time when the hospital staff is overwhelmed, especially if they need to manage someone with complex disability needs such as himself.

Gurza has taken steps to reduced risk and practicing social distancing as much as possible. He has cancelled all of his speaking engagements, and he is doing his best to reduce contact with his caregivers, who he relies on for many daily activities such as bathing and dressing.

Gurza asks the public to please be responsible. You never know if the person sitting next to you is vulnerable due to a visible or invisible disability. While contracting the virus may not be serious for one individual, it could have dire ramifications for someone else. He urges the government to let the public know who is going to be particularly affected: the elderly, the disabled, and the immunocompromised.

Staying positive at this time is important to Gurza. He suggests thinking of social distancing as a chance to take a break, and do things we may otherwise not have time for.

The goal of social distancing is to reduce transmission of the virus. It is transmitted when an infected person speaks, coughs, or sneezes. Droplets may land on surfaces in common spaces when someone coughs, and then be transmitted when someone touches the surface later.

Social distancing may be difficult or even impossible for some people with disabilities who may rely on close caregiver support for daily living tasks such as washing and dressing, and use shared services, such as public transportation. They also may have stamina and immune issues which can increase risk of catching the virus. Therefore, it is important for those who are able to reduce their contact with others to do so, in order to protect the vulnerable.

The full interview with Gurza as well as an interview with a public health expert can be found here: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/frontburner/when-social-distancing-is-a-matter-of-life-and-death-1.5499767

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Andrea Donaldson

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