Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Prevention and risks

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How COVID-19 spreads

COVID-19 most commonly spreads from an infected person to another person through the following.

Difference between quarantine (self-isolate) and isolate

People are asked to self-isolate or isolate to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others. Although these two words sound the same, there's an important difference.

Quarantine (self-isolate)

If you have no symptoms and any of the following apply to you, you must quarantine for 14 days (starting from the date you arrive in Canada):

Isolate

You must isolate if any of the following apply:

Preventing COVID-19

Going out?
Keep yourself and others safe

Canadians should continue to think ahead about the actions that they can take to stay healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Canada. Measures to reduce COVID-19 in your community are especially important as some areas begin to lift restrictions.

In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within communities and across the country, all Canadians are advised to:

Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette

Maintaining good hand and respiratory hygiene are very important personal practices that help reduce the risk of infection or spreading infection to others.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
    • If soap and water aren't available, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • When coughing or sneezing:
    • cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm, not your hand
    • dispose of any tissues you've used as soon as possible in a lined waste basket and wash your hands immediately afterwards
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

Physical distancing

Together, we can slow the spread of COVID-19 by making a conscious effort to keep a physical distance between each other. Physical distancing is proven to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of illness during an outbreak.

This means making changes in your everyday routines to minimize close contact with others, including:

  • avoiding crowded places and non-essential travel
  • avoiding common greetings, such as handshakes
  • limiting contact with people at higher risk, such as older adults and those with underlying medical conditions or weakened immune systems
  • keeping a distance of at least 2 arms-length (approximately 2 metres) from others

Wearing non-medical masks or face coverings

Wearing a non-medical mask or face covering while out in public is recommended for periods of time when it's not possible to consistently maintain a 2-metre physical distance from others, particularly in crowded public settings, such as:

  • shopping areas
  • public transportation
  • stores and personal service settings

In some situations, provincial or territorial public health authorities have made it mandatory to wear a non-medical mask (or face covering) in public areas. Public health officials make such recommendations based on a number of factors, including how much COVID-19 is circulating in your community. In some jurisdictions, the use of masks in many indoor public spaces and on public transit is now mandatory. You can check with your local public health authority on the requirements for your location.

Masks alone won't prevent the spread of COVID-19. You must consistently and strictly adhere to good hygiene and public health measures, including core personal practices like frequent hand washing and physical distancing.

For more information on wearing non-medical masks and cloth face coverings, refer to the:

Cleaning and disinfecting

The COVID-19 virus is most likely to be on surfaces you frequently touch with your hands. Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces to lower the chance of COVID-19 spreading in your home, workplace and public spaces.

Health Canada has published a list of hard surface disinfectants that are likely to be effective for use against COVID-19.

Special precautions must be used when cleaning with bleach to avoid serious incidents.

Caring for someone with COVID-19 at home

When caring for someone with COVID-19, follow the appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of illness.

Risks of getting COVID-19

The risk of getting COVID-19 is evolving daily and varies between and within communities. Overall, the risk to Canadians remains high. This doesn't mean that all Canadians will get the disease. It means that there's already a significant impact on our health care system.

To stay healthy and to protect ourselves and others, we must be mindful of the ever-present risk of exposure to the virus. Some settings and situations increase the risk, such as being in:

People at a greater risk of exposure

Some people may be at greater risk of COVID-19 than others due to their occupational, social, economic, and other health and life circumstances.

You may be more likely to be exposed to the COVID-19 virus because:

  • your job or occupation requires you to be in contact with large numbers of people, which increases your chances of being exposed to someone who has COVID-19
  • you live in a group setting where the COVID-19 virus may transmit more easily
    • for example, long-term care facilities, correctional facilities, shelters or group residences
  • you face barriers that limit your ability to access or implement effective public health measures
    • for example, individuals with disabilities who encounter non-accessible information, services and/or facilities

To reduce your risk, and to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to your loved ones:

  • if you have any symptoms, even mild ones, stay home, stay away from others and get tested
  • keep up with effective public health practices, such as physical distancing, hand-washing and wearing non-medical masks or face coverings
  • wear a medical mask if you're experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and you'll be in close contact with others or going out to access medical care
    • if a medical mask is unavailable, wear a non-medical mask or cloth face covering

People at risk of more severe disease or outcomes

Coronaviruses 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
  • 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 (BMI of 40 or higher)

To reduce your risk, and to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to your loved ones:

  • if you have any symptoms, even mild ones, stay home, stay away from others and get tested
  • keep up with effective public health practices, such as physical distancing, hand-washing and wearing non-medical masks or face coverings
  • wear a medical mask if you're experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and you'll be in close contact with others or going out to access medical care
    • if a medical mask is unavailable, wear a non-medical mask or cloth face covering

Pregnant people

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

Because COVID-19 is a new disease, we're still learning how it affects pregnant people. At this time, there's no evidence to suggest that pregnant people are at a greater risk:

  • for more serious outcomes related to COVID-19
  • of having their developing child negatively affected by COVID-19

You can protect yourself from becoming ill by taking the following precautions.

  • Stay home as much as possible, except for important medical appointments.
  • Make limited trips to the store for essentials.
  • Avoid crowded places and peak-hours.
  • Talk to your doctor, obstetrician or midwife about the possibility of telephone or videoconference appointments.
  • Avoid unnecessary visitors to your home.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
    • Use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol if soap and water aren't available.
  • Practise physical distancing by keeping a distance of at least 2 metres from others.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes without washing your hands first.
  • Avoid travel by public transit as much as possible.

For more information, refer to our advice on pregnancy, childbirth and caring for newborns.

Travellers

The risk of getting COVID-19 may be increased for travellers. If you must travel, check the latest travel advice before you leave.

If you're a returning traveller (either travelling into Canada, or, in some instances, travelling from one province or territory to another) you'll be required to:

We'll continue to adapt our risk assessment based on the latest data available.

Additional restrictions apply to travellers returning to Canada.

Check if you've been exposed

Have you been on a recent flight, cruise or train trip? Check the listed exposure locations to see if you may have been exposed to COVID-19.

You can also 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. Download COVID Alert.

Survival of coronaviruses on surfaces

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

  • temperature
  • type of surface
  • humidity of the environment

Surfaces frequently touched with your own hands or other peoples hands are most likely to become contaminated, including:

  • tables
  • phones
  • handrails
  • doorknobs
  • credit cards
  • countertops
  • light switches
  • faucet handles
  • steering wheel
  • cabinet handles
  • elevator buttons

Packages that you receive in the mail may be contaminated, but because parcels generally take a few days to be delivered, the risk of spread is low.

To protect yourself from COVID-19, make sure to do the following when handling products shipped within or outside of Canada:

  • wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after handling the package
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands

Swimming

There's no evidence that COVID-19 can spread through the water. However, it can spread from person to person through close contact in and around the water. This includes crowded spaces, such as:

  • public:
    • lakes
    • rivers
    • beaches
    • swimming pools
  • pool decks
  • change rooms
  • public washrooms

COVID-19 can also spread through contaminated surfaces. Avoid sharing swimming gear with others. This includes things like:

  • towels
  • goggles
  • pool toys
  • nose clips
  • kick boards
  • snorkel equipment
  • lifejackets that haven't been cleaned after use

Food

There's currently no evidence to suggest that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus. There are currently no reported cases of COVID-19 transmission through food.

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, appropriate actions will be taken to ensure the safety of Canada's food supply.

Learn more about food safety and healthy eating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Animals in Canada

The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human-to-human transmission. There's no evidence to suggest that animals infected by humans are playing a role in the ongoing spread of this disease. Animals and COVID-19 is an area that continues to be studied by scientists.

Learn how to keep pets and livestock, as well as yourself, safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sexual health

More research is needed to determine if the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted sexually. When deciding to have sex with new partners, regardless of their sex or gender, remember to consider personal and public health.

Sexual activity with new partners increases your risk of getting or passing COVID-19. Even if the people involved don't have symptoms, they could still be sick. If you decide to have sex with someone outside of your circle of contacts, take steps to reduce your risks.

  • Monitor yourself for symptoms and don't have sex if anyone involved is feeling sick.
  • Limit your number of new sexual partners.
  • Take extra precautions with partners who are at risk for severe COVID-19 illness, such as people who:
    • are older adults
    • have underlying medical conditions or a weakened immune system
  • Consider approaches such as limiting your use of alcohol and other substances, so you and your partners are able to make safe decisions.

It's important to continue practising safer sex, including getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

For more information on how to protect your sexual health during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit:

False and misleading claims

Health Canada is closely tracking all potential drugs and vaccines in development in Canada and abroad. We are working with companies, academic research centres and investigators to help expedite the development and availability of treatments to prevent and treat COVID-19. Learn more about drugs and vaccines being developed or authorized for COVID-19.

Selling unauthorized health products or making false or misleading claims to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 is illegal in Canada. We take this matter very seriously and we're taking action to stop this activity.

We encourage anyone who has information regarding potential non-compliant sale or advertising of any health product claiming to treat, prevent or cure COVID-19, to report it using our online complaint form.

We publish a list of companies and products and the status of the review on the list of health product advertising incidents related to COVID-19.

Exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) from 5G devices doesn't spread COVID-19. There's no scientific basis behind these claims. Both the World Health Organization and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection have also addressed these claims.

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