Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Prevention and risks

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How COVID-19 spreads

COVID-19 spreads from an infected person to others through respiratory droplets and aerosols (smaller droplets) created when an infected person:

COVID-19 can also spread by touching something that has the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands. You can transmit COVID-19 before you start showing symptoms or without ever developing symptoms.

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Quarantine and isolation

When indicated, people should quarantine or isolate to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others.

If you've travelled outside of Canada recently, advice for your mandatory quarantine or isolation period may be different.

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Vaccination

COVID-19 vaccination

Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to protect our families, communities and ourselves against COVID-19. Evidence indicates that vaccines are effective at preventing serious outcomes, such as severe illness, hospitalization and death due to COVID-19.

Most COVID-19 vaccines require 2 doses to be fully vaccinated. While current evidence shows good effectiveness after 1 dose, a second dose is essential for longer-lasting and optimal protection. For your second dose, return at the time advised by your health care provider.

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Flu vaccination

Getting your yearly flu shot is the best way to protect yourself, your family and people at high risk of complications from the flu. It will help:

  • protect your community
  • reduce the burden on Canada's health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic

The flu shot will not protect against COVID-19, but it will help reduce your risk of getting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Having both illnesses at the same time could put you at a higher risk for severe complications.

Getting the flu shot will not increase your risk of illness from COVID-19.

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Life after vaccination

Progress is being made everyday as more and more people get vaccinated.

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Prevention for individuals

Personal preventive practices

As efforts continue across Canada to increase overall vaccine coverage and lower community transmission, public health measures remain the foundation of the pandemic response.

Community transmission of COVID-19 continues in many areas across Canada, and new variants of concern have been identified and are circulating. This is why it's even more important to consistently use multiple personal preventive practices at once, regardless of your vaccination status. This is called a layered approach and it helps protect yourself and others. Think ahead about the actions you can take to:

Learn more about COVID-19 variants of concern.

Stay informed, be prepared and follow public health advice

Follow the advice of your local public health authority and adjust your behaviours and routines accordingly, including:

  • following size limits for indoor and outdoor gatherings
  • making non-essential trips out of your home or community

There may be restrictions in place for those travelling from one province or territory to another. Follow advice from your local, provincial or territorial public health authority when taking trips outside of your community.

Think about what you'll do if you or someone in your household need to quarantine or isolate, or if you need to provide care. Plan for how you'll arrange backup caregivers if you're a caregiver of children or others. When possible, talk to your employer about working from home if you'll need to care for others.

Talk to your family, friends and neighbours about what you're doing to stay healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19. If you live alone, make a plan with a neighbour to check on each other and run errands if either of you need to quarantine or isolate.

Think about the type of care you'd want if you became seriously ill. Talk to the people who will decide on your care if you're unable to. These discussions can help caregivers feel more comfortable and confident in making the decisions you'd want.

It's not always easy to begin these conversations. You can get started with advance care planning information and tools.

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Stay at home

Stay at home as much as possible, especially if you're at risk of more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19.

You should also stay at home and:

  • isolate away from others if:
    • you have any symptom of COVID-19 (even if mild)
    • you've been diagnosed with COVID-19
    • you're awaiting a COVID-19 test result
  • quarantine away from others if you've been exposed to someone who has or may have COVID-19

If you develop symptoms of COVID-19 and you're outside your home, you should:

  • put on a medical mask
    • if unavailable, properly wear a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask
  • isolate yourself away from others as quickly as possible
  • contact your health care provider or local public health authority and follow their advice

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Minimize interactions

Your immediate household

Minimize non-essential in-person interactions with people from outside your immediate household. If you have to interact with people you don't live with, make sure interactions are:

  • as few and as brief as possible
  • from the greatest physical distance possible

Your immediate household is anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your housing unit (such as your house or apartment). This can include family members, as well as roommates or people who are unrelated to you. If you live alone, consider joining with one other household to reduce social isolation. Doing so should be based on a risk assessment, which considers risks to you and the household you're joining with.

Your immediate household is only as safe as your least protected member. It puts the safety of your entire household at risk if you or someone you live with is:

  • at greater risk of being exposed to COVID-19
  • inconsistently following personal preventive practices when outside your home

Consider the risks to your household and what measures to put in place to keep everyone as safe as possible.

Physical distancing

Physical distancing means avoiding close proximity and direct physical contact when interacting with people from outside your immediate household. You don't need to physically distance from people in your immediate household unless you or they are in quarantine or isolation.

Examples of ways to keep a physical distance from others:

  • avoid crowded settings (indoors or outdoors)
    • exercise at home or outside
    • use food delivery services or online shopping
    • take public transportation during off-peak hours if possible
  • modify your routines to limit or avoid close interactions or direct physical contact with others
    • greet with a wave instead of a handshake, kiss or hug
    • work from home if possible
    • use technology to:
      • host virtual playdates for your kids
      • keep in touch with friends and family
    • use contactless payment methods if possible

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Avoid closed spaces and crowded places

Avoid closed spaces with poor ventilation and crowded places when you're with people from outside of your immediate household.

You're at higher risk in settings where these factors overlap or involve activities such as:

  • singing
  • shouting
  • close-range conversations
  • heavy breathing (like during exercise)

Learn more about how indoor ventilation limits the spread of COVID-19.

Improve ventilation

Improve indoor air quality in shared spaces through proper ventilation. This is another way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Good ventilation exchanges indoor air for outdoor air, helping to reduce potentially infectious aerosols in the air indoors.

Learn more about improving indoor ventilation to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Wear a non-medical mask

Properly wear a non-medical mask that's well constructed and well fitting when:

  • you're in a shared space (indoors or outdoors) with people from outside your immediate household
  • advised by your local public health authority

You can make your own non-medical mask or buy a pre-made one.

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Practise hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette

Maintaining good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette helps reduce the risk of becoming infected or spreading infection to others.

Hand hygiene means washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. For example, clean your hands:

  • before and after eating
  • before and after touching your mask
  • after using the washroom
  • after touching frequently touched surfaces and objects

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

Respiratory etiquette means, when coughing or sneezing:

  1. cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm, not your hand (even if wearing a mask)
  2. dispose of any tissues you've used as soon as possible in a plastic-lined waste container
  3. clean your hands immediately afterwards

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Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects

It's not certain how long the COVID-19 virus survives on surfaces and objects, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Research shows that the virus may live on surfaces and objects for a few hours or up to several days depending on:

  • the type of surface or object
  • environmental factors such as humidity and temperature

Surfaces and objects that you or others frequently touch are most likely to become contaminated. Cleaning and disinfecting them can deactivate the virus, making it no longer infectious.

Health Canada has published a list of hard surface disinfectants that are likely to be effective for use against COVID-19. Use special precautions when cleaning with bleach to avoid serious incidents.

Paper mail or cardboard packages may be contaminated, but the risk of the virus spreading this way is low. You don't need to clean and disinfect mail or packages. However, after handling mail, you should avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and clean your hands immediately to protect yourself from COVID-19.

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Avoid non-essential travel outside Canada

Travellers may be at increased risk of getting COVID-19. To prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19, avoid all non-essential travel outside Canada.

If you must travel outside Canada:

If you've been on a recent flight, cruise, inter-city or inter-provincial bus, or train trip, check if you've been exposed during travel.

Download COVID Alert

Join the effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 with Canada's free COVID Alert app. It notifies you if someone you were near in the past 14 days tells the app they tested positive.

Prevention for communities

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada, governments and public health authorities will continue to:

To prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19, governments will continue to apply public health measures in communities and settings where people gather.

Canada is also supporting Indigenous communities in preparing for, monitoring and responding to COVID-19.

Planners, administrators and employers must work together to protect:

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Group living settings

Group living settings are places where many people who aren't in the same family unit live together. They may live there for a short or long period of time. Examples of these settings include:

  • student residences
  • construction trailers
  • industrial work camps
  • facilities for:
    • corrections
    • long-term care
  • agricultural worker dormitories
  • group homes for people with disabilities
  • shelters for people experiencing homelessness

These settings may include people who are at higher risk of exposure, or at risk of more severe disease or outcomes. Each setting should adapt public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Learn more about limiting the spread of COVID-19 in certain group living settings:

Businesses and workplaces

COVID-19 can spread in businesses and workplaces. Employers and employees can take steps to protect workers, their families and the community, as well as clientele who access the settings.

Essential retailers and other workplaces must adjust their operations to prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19. You can develop your risk reduction strategy using information from the following resources.

Child and youth settings

Operators of child and youth settings need to be aware of risks and put measures in place to lower them. These measures need to consider:

  • cultural, linguistic and social contexts
  • the diverse needs of children or young people
  • advice, guidance and resources from local public health authorities and partners

When developing a plan, local public health and education authorities, and their partners, can use the following resources.

Outdoor spaces

Outdoor spaces and recreation are important to the health, well-being and social connections of all people.

If you're in charge of an outdoor space or part of a recreation organization, refer to:

Public transportation

Public transit services are essential to communities. Passengers can take steps to use public transportation safely to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

Public transportation workers, administrators and engineers should follow advice on how to reduce the risks on the job.

Organizations that serve people experiencing homelessness

People who experience homelessness may be at risk of more severe disease or outcomes. They may also have a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 because they may:

  • not be able to access or use traditional services or resources
  • stay in shelters with many other people

Organizations, community health workers and volunteers play an important role in helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those who experience homelessness.

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Risks of getting COVID-19

The risk of getting COVID-19 is evolving daily and varies between and within communities. Overall, the risk to most people in Canada remains high.

This doesn't mean that everyone will get COVID-19. However, it means that there's already a significant impact on our health care system and transmission is occurring in many communities.

To protect yourself and others:

Learn more about COVID-19 data, including active cases, deaths and tests performed.

People at a greater risk of exposure

You may be more likely to be exposed to the COVID-19 virus than others if:

  • your job or occupation requires you to be in contact with large numbers of people
  • you live in a group setting where the COVID-19 virus may transmit more easily, such as:
    • correctional facilities
    • long-term care facilities
    • shelters or group residences
  • you face social, economic or personal barriers that limit your ability to access or put in place effective public health measures
    • for example, individuals with disabilities who encounter non-accessible information, services or facilities
People at risk of more severe disease or outcomes

COVID-19 can result in severe illness for some people in our communities. Those who are at risk of developing more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19 are people:

  • who are an older adult (increasing risk with each decade, especially over 60 years)
  • of any age with chronic medical conditions, including:
    • lung disease
    • heart disease
    • high blood pressure
    • diabetes
    • kidney disease
    • liver disease
    • dementia
    • stroke
  • of any age who are immunocompromised, including those:
    • with an underlying medical condition, such as cancer
    • taking medications which lower the immune system, such as chemotherapy
  • living with obesity, such as having a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher

Learn more about the public health measures recommended for people at risk of more severe disease or outcomes.

Pregnant people

Because COVID-19 is a new disease, we're still learning how it affects pregnant people. The latest scientific evidence shows that COVID-19 doesn't impact all pregnancies the same way.

If you do get COVID-19 while you're pregnant, it's most likely that you'll have mild to moderate symptoms, or none at all. However, in some cases, you may have an increased risk of severe illness, including the need for intensive care.

If you have a pre-existing condition and are pregnant, you may also be at risk of severe illness. These conditions may include:

  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • advanced age during pregnancy

If you're pregnant and concerned about COVID-19, speak to your health care provider.

You can protect yourself from becoming ill by following the advice on pregnancy, childbirth and caring for newborns.

Caring for someone at home who has or may have COVID-19

Follow the appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of illness when caring for someone who has or may have COVID-19.

Sexual health

Sexual health is an important part of overall health, but can be complicated during the pandemic for:

  • intimate partners who aren't part of the same immediate household
  • those who are or whose partner is at:
    • risk of more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19
    • higher risk of exposure to COVID-19

Kissing and face-to-face intimacy with partners outside of your immediate household can increase your risk of getting or spreading COVID-19. Even if neither partner is showing symptoms, they can still transmit the virus to one another.

Current evidence indicates there's a very low likelihood of getting COVID-19 through semen or vaginal fluids. If having sex with someone from outside of your immediate household, reduce the risk to yourself and others by:

  • wearing a non-medical mask and avoiding kissing and face-to-face contact or closeness
  • monitoring yourself for COVID-19 symptoms, and if experiencing them:
    • staying home and isolating away from others
    • contacting your health care provider or local public health authority and following their advice
  • limiting the use of alcohol and other substances so you and a partner are able to make safe decisions

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Going out or being social safely during COVID-19

Think about the risks before going out. Keep yourself and others safe when doing personal and social activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Gatherings, events and celebrations

Currently, the safest way to enjoy gatherings, events and celebrations is with members of your immediate household.

Be aware of the risks before gathering and follow our advice if you:

For organizations and businesses hosting gatherings and events, follow the advice from your local public health authority and refer to:

Swimming

There's no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through water. However, to reduce the risk of spread from person to person when swimming:

  • maintain the greatest physical distance possible from people outside your immediate household
  • avoid closed spaces (with poor ventilation) and crowded places when you're with people outside your immediate household

Higher-risk settings include:

  • change rooms
  • crowded public:
    • lakes
    • rivers
    • beaches
    • swimming pools and decks (especially indoors)
  • public washrooms

COVID-19 can also spread through contaminated surfaces and objects. Avoid sharing swimming gear with others, like:

  • towels
  • goggles
  • pool toys
  • nose clips
  • lifejackets
  • kick boards
  • snorkel equipment

If you have to share swimming gear, clean and disinfect it between users.

Food

There's currently no evidence to suggest that food is a likely source of COVID-19, as there are no reported instances.

We're continually working to examine new scientific evidence between food safety and COVID-19. Scientists and food safety authorities around the world are also working closely to share information on COVID-19. We'll continue to update Canadian food safety practices based on the most relevant and recent scientific findings.

If we become aware of a potential food safety risk, we'll take appropriate actions to ensure the safety of Canada's food supply.

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Animals

There's limited information about animals and COVID-19, especially about if animals can spread the virus. In most cases, people are infecting animals (human-to-animal transmission).

We track and analyze research and case reports about animals and COVID-19 from around the world.

Learn more about COVID-19 and animals.

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