About Coronavirus (COVID-19)

What are coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that originate in animals but are known to cause mild to severe respiratory infections in humans. Novel (new) coronaviruses include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a  coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China in late 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified COVID-19 as a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.

How is COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets of someone who is infected with the virus (e.g., when they cough, talk, or sneeze),. Though not as significant, it is also possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands. A person can spread COVID-19 before showing or developing symptoms.

What are the signs and symptoms of COVID-19?
In general, human coronaviruses commonly cause mild, but occasionally more severe respiratory infections. It is estimated that they cause about 15% of common colds. Older patients and those with chronic medical conditions are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever
  • New or worsening cough
  • Muscle aches and tiredness
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Runny nose, nasal congestion (without other known cause)
  • Sore throat
  • Decrease or loss of sense of taste or smell
  • Chills, headaches
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • For those over 70 years of age, they may experience symptoms of delirium, unexplained falls, acute functional decline or worsening of chronic conditions.
  • Children are more likely to have abdominal symptoms and changes to the skin or rashes

Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to the virus.

For how long is someone with COVID-19 infectious?
The length of time someone is infectious with COVID-19 is not known for certain. Some studies suggest that people are no longer infectious after 7 or 8 days from the start of their symptoms. However, after that time it is still possible to find parts of the virus in the nose and throat of some individuals. Ontario guidelines indicate that infected people with symptoms should generally remain separate from others (isolated) for 10 days after they first developed symptoms. After that time period they are considered no longer infectious, as long as they have no fever and their symptoms have been improving for at least 72 hours.

Can the same person get COVID-19 more than once?
Infection more than once with COVID-19 is rare. Most people who have been infected with COVID-19 develop antibodies (proteins the body makes to protect against future infection as a result of past infection or vaccination). However, it is still uncertain if these antibodies will fully protect a person from future infections. Repeat infections can be expected based on what we know about similar viruses, but more research is needed to help answer these questions. Learn more on the Government of Canada website.

How do you prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Everyone has a role to play in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Protect yourself and others by following prevention and management measures:

  • Get vaccinated
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Clean your hands often
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Cover your cough and sneeze
  • Practice physical distancing:
    • limit activities outside of the home
    • When outside of the home, stay at least 2 meters (6 feet) away from other people whenever possible
    • avoid closed and crowded spaces
  • Wear a mask or face covering that completely covers your nose and mouth
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
  • Avoid close contact with someone who is sick
  • Stay informed and follow public health advice

How long can COVID-19 survive on different surfaces?

COVID-19 can survive for up to about 72 hours on some surfaces,  but this does not mean there is enough virus on the surface to infect someone. A person may be exposed to COVID-19 if they touch a surface or object that the virus has landed on and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes without cleaning their hands. Your best protection is to wash your hands frequently and avoiding touching your face. Keep things clean, especially frequently touched surfaces.

What should I do if I have been exposed to a positive COVID-19 case? 
Public health officials working in government are contacting individuals every day to notify them if they have been identified as a contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. If you received a call or text from public health and it is confirmed you have been exposed to a COVID-19 case, you need to immediately self-isolate (quarantine) from other people for 10 days (or as instructed by your local public health unit). This means you cannot leave your home for any reason, unless you are going to get tested for COVID-19 or have an emergency. For more information, see our How to Self-Isolate Fact Sheet. If you start to experience any COVID-19 symptoms, you should get tested for COVID-19 as soon as you can, even if you were previously tested and were negative.

If you are aware you have come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 prior to being contacted by public health, self-isolate and contact your local public health unit for advice and to discuss any questions you may have.

What should I do if I have technical difficulties or can’t find my results? If you have questions about your results or your results are not available online, please contact the location where you were tested or contact your healthcare provider. Contact information for testing locations is available on the Government of Ontario’s website. If you are having technical difficulties with the online portal, please visit their FAQ page or contact their service desk at 1-866-255-1110.

COVID-19 vaccines

Is there a COVID-19 vaccine? 
Safe and reliable vaccines are the most effective way to reduce the impact and spread of infectious disease. Visit the Government of Ontario’s website for COVID-19 vaccine eligibility requirements and vaccine booking information. If you have additional questions, please contact your local public health unit. In Ontario, public health units are coordinating the rollout of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine program in local communities based on guidance from the Ontario Ministry of Health.

Am I eligible for a vaccine? If so, how do I book an appointment?
The Government of Ontario provides updates on its website about vaccine eligibility and rollout plans (e.g., second doses). You may be able to book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine through your local public health unit or pharmacy. Please contact your local public health unit or pharmacy if you have questions. You can also book an appointment by visiting the Government of Ontario’s website. Temporary vaccination clinics are also currently open. Individuals who still have a red and white health card or who require assistance with booking can call the Provincial Vaccine Information Line at 1-888-999-6488.

Where can I access my vaccine receipt/certificate?
If you were vaccinated in Ontario, you can access a copy of your vaccine receipt by visiting the Ontario Health website. If you were vaccinated in another country/province and have questions about updating your health records, please contact your local public health unit for more information.

Where can I access my immunization/vaccination records?
PHO does not have access to or manage individuals’ immunization records. Please contact your local public health unit to request a copy of your immunization records.

What do I do if I experience an adverse reaction to the vaccine?
If you are concerned about any reactions you experienced after receiving the vaccine, contact your health care provider (e.g., family doctor, nurse practitioner). You can also contact your local public health unit to ask questions or report an adverse reaction or if you have questions about the safety of the vaccine. Call 911 if it is a medical emergency.

Please contact your health care provider or local public health unit if you have other questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.


How is COVID-19 detected?
The virus that causes COVID-19 is detected through a lab test known as a PCR test.

The gold standard for sample collection method is the nasopharyngeal swab, a swab inserted deep into a person’s nose. However, other sample types are possible including combinations of a nose and throat swab and also saliva samples.

PCR tests are designed to look for the virus’ genetic material (ribonucleic acid, or RNA).

For more information about COVID-19 PCR testing, read our blog post Explained: COVID-19 PCR Testing and Cycle Thresholds.

Should I get tested for COVID-19?
Take the Government of Ontario’s self-assessment for guidance on whether you should get tested. For specific medical advice about your individual health, please contact: your health care provider (e.g., family doctor, nurse practitioner) or Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000. Please do not call 911 if it is not an emergency.

Where do I get a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test and how much does it cost?
Visit the Government of Ontario’s COVID-19 website for information about COVID-19 testing locations (e.g., assessment centres and pharmacies). Testing is a free service, except for travel purposes. Call your local public health unit if you have questions, cannot find a centre near you or if you are waiting for results and have questions about whether you can return to work or school.

What is the treatment for COVID-19?
People ill with COVID-19 should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. People with more severe symptoms and illness may require hospitalization. Treatment recommendations continue to evolve and are summarized by the Ontario Science Table.


What do I need to know before I travel within Canada?
Please visit the Government of Ontario’s website for information on interprovincial travel restrictions.

What do I need to know before travelling internationally?
Please visit the Government of Canada’s website, email the Public Health Agency of Canada or call 1-833-784-4397 (TTY: 1-800-465-7735) for current travel-related information if you have questions about travel outside of Canada or are entering Canada from international travel. Call centres are open from 7 a.m. to midnight ET. Interpretation services are available in 200+ languages.

Reopening plans and public health measures/restrictions

Where can I find general information and feedback on provincial reopening plan and restrictions?
Visit the Government of Ontario’s website for current information on the province’s reopening plans. Please contact the Ministry of Health to provide feedback or discuss questions or concerns about the plan and public health restrictions.

How do the restrictions influence the plans I have in my community?
Please contact your local public health unit if you have questions about restrictions in your community and how it relates to your plans, business and/or organization.

How will COVID-19 be prevented and manged in Ontario schools?
Please contact your school’s administration, your local school board or the Ministry of Education to discuss your questions or concerns. Your  may also be able to provide advice. You can also visit our schools resource page here.


When should I self-isolate or quarantine?
If you tested positive for COVID-19 or are a contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and have questions about self-isolation, please contact your local public health unit.

If you are looking for information on returning to work or school after being tested for COVID-19 or being in self-isolation, please contact your local public health unit.

Workplace safety concerns

Where do I go if I have a workplace safety concern? The Ministry of Labour is responsible for regulating, monitoring, and providing guidelines for health and safety in the workplace. Workers who are concerned that their workplaces are unsafe can call the Health and Safety Call Centre at 1-877-202-0008 (TTY: 1-855-653-9260).

Updated 8 Sep 2021