Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Prevention and risks
On this page
- How coronavirus spreads
- Difference between quarantine (self-isolate) and isolate
- Preventing coronavirus
- Risks of getting coronavirus
- False and misleading claims
How coronavirus spreads
Human coronaviruses cause infections of the nose, throat and lungs. They are most commonly spread from an infected person through:
- respiratory droplets generated when you cough or sneeze
- close, prolonged personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
- touching something with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands
Current evidence suggests person-to-person spread is efficient when there is close contact.
Difference between quarantine (self-isolate) and isolate
There is a difference between advice to quarantine (self-isolate) and advice to isolate. It is important to note these measures are in place to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
Quarantine for 14 days if you have no symptoms and you:
- are returning from travel outside of Canada
- had close contact with someone who has or is suspected to have COVID-19
- have been told by the public health authority that you may have been exposed and need to quarantine
Quarantine means that for 14 days you need to:
- stay at home and monitor yourself for symptoms, even if mild
- avoid contact with others to help prevent transmission of the virus at the earliest stage of illness
- practise physical (social) distancing in your home and community
If you develop symptoms, even if mild, stay home and isolate yourself from others. Immediately call a health care professional or your public health authority.
You must isolate for at least 14 days if you have:
- been diagnosed with COVID-19, or are waiting for laboratory test results for COVID-19
- symptoms of COVID-19, even if mild
- been in contact with a suspected, probable or confirmed case of COVID-19
- been advised to do so by your public health authority
- returned from travel outside Canada and have symptoms of COVID-19 (mandatory)
Isolation means you must go directly home and stay home for:
- a minimum of 14 days after the onset of your first symptoms of COVID-19 or
- until your local public health authority says you are no longer at risk of spreading the virus
If your symptoms get worse, immediately contact your health care provider or public health authority and follow their instructions.
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. This includes staying at home as much as possible and being prepared in case you or a family member becomes ill. Everyone should be practising physical (social) distancing. Even if you do not have symptoms of COVID-19, you could become infected by others.
As we continue to see transmission of the virus within different communities, we know that everyone must take precautions, even those who have not travelled outside of Canada.
In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within communities and across the country, all Canadians are advised to:
- stay at home unless you have to go to work
- talk to your employer about working at home if possible
- avoid all non-essential trips in your community
- do not gather in groups
- limit contact with people at higher risk, such as older adults and those in poor health
- go outside to exercise but stay close to home
- if you leave your home, always keep a distance of at least 2 arms lengths (approximately 2 metres) from others
- household contacts (people you live with) do not need to distance from each other unless they are sick or have travelled in the last 14 days
You can go for a walk if you:
- have not been diagnosed with COVID-19
- do not have symptoms of COVID-19
- have not travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days
If you go out for a walk, do not congregate and always practise physical (social) distancing by keeping at least 2 metres apart from others at all times.
Think you might have COVID-19?
Take a self-assessment
Physical (social) distancing
Together, we can slow the spread of COVID-19 by making a conscious effort to keep a physical distance between each other. Physical (social) 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 gatherings
- avoiding common greetings, such as handshakes
- limiting contact with people at higher risk like older adults and those in poor health
- keeping a distance of at least 2 arms-length (approximately 2 metres) from others
Proper hygiene can help reduce the risk of infection or spreading infection to others:
- wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the washroom and when preparing food
- use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
- when coughing or sneezing:
- cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm, not your hand
- dispose of any tissues you have used as soon as possible in a lined waste basket and wash your hands afterwards
- avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
Coronaviruses are one of the easiest types of viruses to kill with the appropriate disinfectant product when used according to the label directions. Health Canada has published a list of hard surface disinfectants that are likely to be effective for use against COVID-19.
Although they do not claim to kill COVID-19, cleaners can play a role in limiting the transfer of microorganisms. Health Canada recommends cleaning high-touch surfaces often, using either regular household cleaners or diluted bleach. This bleach solution should be prepared according to the instructions on the label or in a ratio of 1 teaspoon (5 mL) per cup (250 mL). Directions are based on bleach that is 5% sodium hypochlorite, to give a 0.1% sodium hypochlorite solution.
These surfaces include:
- door handles
- bedside tables
- television remotes
Refer to the guidance on cleaning and disinfecting public spaces for more information.
Medical masks, including surgical, medical procedure face masks and respirators (like N95 masks), must be kept for healthcare workers and others providing direct care to COVID-19 patients.
Wearing a non-medical mask (for example a homemade cloth mask) in the community has not been proven to protect the person wearing it. Strict hygiene and public health measures, including frequent hand washing and physical (social) distancing, will reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus.
Wearing a non-medical mask is an additional measure you can take to protect others around you.
Wearing a non-medical mask is another way to cover your mouth and nose to prevent your respiratory droplets from contaminating others or landing on surfaces. Just like our recommendation not to cough into your hands (instead, cover your cough with tissues or your sleeve) a mask can reduce the chance that others are coming into contact with your respiratory droplets.
If wearing a non-medical mask makes you feel safer and stops you from touching your nose and mouth, that is also good. But remember not to touch or rub your eyes.
It is important to understand that non-medical masks have limitations and need to be used safely.
If you choose to use a non-medical face mask:
- you must wash your hands immediately before putting it on and immediately after taking it off (in addition to practicing good hand hygiene while wearing it)
- it should fit well (non-gaping)
- you should not share it with others
Face masks can become contaminated on the outside, or when touched by your hands. When wearing a mask, take the following precautions to protect yourself:
- avoid touching your face mask while using it
- change a cloth mask as soon as it gets damp or soiled
- put it directly into the washing machine or a bag that can be emptied into the washing machine and then disposed of
- cloth masks can be laundered with other items using a hot cycle, and then dried thoroughly.
- non-medical masks that cannot be washed should be discarded and replaced as soon as they get damp, soiled or crumpled
- dispose of masks properly in a lined garbage bin
- don’t leave discarded masks in shopping carts, on the ground, etc.
Non-medical masks alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. You must consistently and strictly adhere to good hygiene and public health measures, including frequent hand washing and physical (social) distancing.
Risks of getting coronavirus
COVID-19 is a serious health threat, and the situation is evolving daily. The risk will vary between and within communities, but given the increasing number of cases in Canada, the risk to Canadians is considered high.
This does not mean that all Canadians will get the disease. It means that there is already a significant impact on our health care system. If we do not flatten the epidemic curve now, the increase of COVID-19 cases could impact health care resources available to Canadians.
The risk for COVID-19 may be increased for certain settings such as:
- cruise ships
- crowded areas (such as public transit and shopping centres)
- gatherings (spiritual and cultural settings, theatres, sports arenas, festivals and conferences)
Check if you have been exposed
Have you been on a recent flight, cruise, train, or at a public gathering? Check the listed exposure locations to see if you may have been exposed to COVID-19.
There is an increased risk of more severe outcomes for Canadians:
- aged 65 and over
- with compromised immune systems
- with underlying medical conditions
People that fall into these categories should reconsider attending gatherings. This includes large gatherings and even smaller events in crowded or enclosed settings.
If you have symptoms (cough, fever or difficulty breathing), do not attend a mass gathering, event or places where people gather. You could put someone whose health is vulnerable at risk.
We will continue to adapt our risk assessment based on the latest data available.
Throughout pregnancy, women experience changes in their bodies that may increase the risk of some illnesses, including viral respiratory infections, such as the flu. At this time, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that pregnant women are at a greater risk for more serious outcomes related to COVID-19.
It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illnesses and take the appropriate steps to avoid and prevent infection. Proper hygiene can help reduce the risk of getting an infection or spreading infection to others.
If you are pregnant and concerned about COVID-19, speak to your health care provider.
Survival of coronaviruses on surfacesIt is not certain how long COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Preliminary information on COVID-19 suggests that the virus may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days depending on different conditions, such as:
- type of surface
- humidity of the environment
Surfaces frequently touched with hands are most likely to be contaminated, including:
- light switches
- faucet handles
- cabinet handles
- elevator buttons
Products shipped within or from outside of Canada could also be contaminated. However, because parcels generally take days or weeks to be delivered, and are shipped at room temperature, the risk of spread is low. There is no known risk of coronaviruses entering Canada on parcels or packages.
To protect yourself from COVID-19, make sure to do the following when handling products shipped within or outside of Canada:
- use good hygiene measures
- regularly clean and disinfect surfaces
- do not touch your eyes, nose and mouth
There is currently no evidence to suggest that food is a likely source or route of transmission of the virus and there are currently no reported cases of COVID 19 transmission through food. People are unlikely to be infected with the virus through food.
Scientists and food safety authorities across the world are closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19.
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.
Animals in Canada
The current spread of COVID-19 is a result of human-to-human transmission. There is no evidence to suggest that pets or other animals play a role in transmitting the disease to humans. Scientists are still trying to understand if and how it affects animals.
Pets can contribute to our overall happiness and well-being, especially in times of stress. If you are feeling well (no symptoms of COVID-19) and are not self-isolating because of COVID-19 illness, you can continue to take walks with your dog or spend time with your pet. This can contribute to keeping both you and your pet healthy.
As a precautionary measure, if you have COVID-19 symptoms or are self-isolating due to contact with a COVID-19 case, you should follow similar recommendations around animals, as you would around people in these circumstances:
- avoid close contact with animals during your illness
- practise good handwashing and avoid coughing and sneezing on your animals
- do not visit farms or have contact with livestock
- if possible, have another member of your household care for your animals
- if this is not possible, always wash your hands before and after touching animals, their food and supplies and practise good cough and sneezing etiquette
- limit your animal's contact with other people and animals outside the household until your illness is resolved
These measures are recommended as a precaution, and are basic practices to prevent transmission of diseases between humans and animals. If you have concerns, seek professional advice from your veterinarian or a public health professional who can help to answer your questions.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency website has more information about animals and COVID-19.
False and misleading claims
We have not approved any product to prevent, treat or cure 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 are taking action to stop this activity.
Health Canada has published a list of hard surface disinfectants that are likely to be effective for use against COVID-19. This list is updated regularly. Although they do not claim to kill viruses such as COVID-19, cleaners play a role in helping limit the transfer of microorganisms.
We encourages 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.
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