Physicians are ramping up for what could be a few busy weeks or months during the COVID-19 pandemic, and University of Saskatchewan (USask) medical students are starting a program in order to help health care professionals with responsibilities outside of work.

Five first and second-year students have taken the lead starting a program that would pair a student with the family of a health care provider to help them with everything ranging from grocery shopping to childcare.

In-person classes have been cancelled as courses move online.

“We have a lot of free time and wanted to find ways that we could help and we could feel like we’re supporting people who are on the front lines,” Jessica Froehlich said.

“We wanted to try to find a way to assist health care providers with the tools and knowledge that we have, which is going to be kind of childcare, grocery runs, things like that. Any little thing we can do,” Sarah White added.

About 50 students have set up a network to help practitioners so they know they and their families’ needs are being met.

One Saskatoon family doctor said the service the students are offering could be vital as more cases of COVID-19 are announced across the province.

“We’re all stressed and we understand that everybody is very stressed. And to know that you’re supported by your colleagues … I’m choking up a little bit … is really a lot. It means a lot,” Dr. Carla Holinaty said.

Froehlich and White know what’s expected in the career they’ve signed up for but are motivated by what doctors are having to go through to combat the virus while other workplaces close.

“We have so many people who aren’t able to do that and are continuing to go out and provide care. And that’s just really inspiring and we’re hoping to help out those people in the small ways that we can,” White said.

The students are planning to be lined up with health care workers next week.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

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