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Updated: April 1, 2020 at 1:30 pm


What is COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. They can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). A novel coronavirus is a new strain not seen before in humans. This novel coronavirus is now called COVID-19.

About COVID-19
If you feel sick
Prevention
Getting Answers

Where did the virus come from?

The novel coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. On January 7, 2020, China confirmed COVID-19. The first presumptive case of this infection in Ontario was identified on January 25, 2020. 


Do we have any local cases?

Click here for the latest number of local positive cases of COVID-19 in the HKPR District Health Unit area. Visit the Ministry of Health for the most up-to-date information on the status of cases in Ontario. This site is updated daily.


What is the risk of getting sick?

COVID-19 is a serious health threat. Given the growing number of cases locally and in Canada, it’s essential to take steps to slow the spread, especially to protect those who are most at risk from COVID-19.

Those most vulnerable to COVID-19 include:

  • Anyone aged 65 and over. NOTE: Given the greater risk from COVID-19, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health is strongly recommending individuals 70 years of age and older self-isolate. This means only leaving home or seeing other people for essential reasons. Where possible, you should seek services over the phone or internet or ask for help from friends, family or neighbours with essential errands.
  • People with compromised immune systems or underlying medical conditions. They are also strongly recommended to self-isolate.
  • Travellers returning to Canada. Please be aware the Public Health Agency of Canada is advising that Canadians avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice. This includes cruise ships. There are also mandatory quarantine/self-isolating measures in place for all returning travellers.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus? 

Symptoms of COVID-19 range from mild — like the flu and other common respiratory infections — to more severe. You may not know you have symptoms of COVID-19 because they are similar to a cold or flu.

Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to COVID-19.

The most common symptoms include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • muscle aches
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • runny nose
  • diarrhea

In certain cases, complications from COVID-19 can include serious conditions like pneumonia or kidney failure, and sometimes death.

If you think you have 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms or have been in close contact with someone who has it, use the Ministry of Health self-assessment tool to help determine if you need to seek further care. 

If you start to feel unwell (fever, new cough or difficulty breathing), you should also return home and self-isolate immediately. 


How does COVID-19 spread? 

Coronaviruses are spread mainly from person to person through close contact, for example, in a household, workplace or health care centre. 

Human coronaviruses cause infections of the nose, throat and lungs. They are most commonly spread from an infected person through:

  • respiratory droplets that are spread when you cough or sneeze
  • close 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

Learn more about COVID-19 transmission in this video from the World Health Organization (WHO).


Is there a treatment?

For now, there is no specific treatments for COVID-19. Most people with common coronavirus illness will recover on their own. Your health care provider may recommend steps you can take to relieve symptoms.


Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?

No, there is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19, although there are various global efforts underway to develop one. 


What should I do if I get sick, or think I have symptoms of COVID-19 or been in contact with someone who does?

Anyone who begins to feel unwell (fever, new cough or difficulty breathing) MUST return home and self-isolate immediately. 

You should also use the Ministry of Health self-assessment tool to help determine if you need to seek further care. 

Remember, if you are having difficulty breathing or experiencing other severe symptoms, call 911 immediately. Advise responders of your symptoms and travel history.

If you are ill and must visit a hospital emergency department, clinic or other healthcare provider, call ahead or tell them right away when you arrive that you have a respiratory illness and wear a mask while waiting to be seen. This allows health care providers to take steps to reduce the potential spread of illness. 

People who are self-isolating and think they have symptoms should also call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or call the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577, ext. 5020, or visit www.hkpr.on.ca. The Health Unit is experiencing a high volume of calls, but calls will be returned. 


How can I protect myself? 

Follow these steps to protect yourself and prevent the spread of COVID-19: 

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth unless you have just washed your hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands. 
  • If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve or arm. 
  • Practise physical distancing by avoiding close contact with others. This is essential to slow the spread of COVID-19. Always keep a minimum distance of 2 metres (6 feet) from other people outside of your immediate family. 
  • Stay home except for essential reasons, such as: accessing health care services, going out to get groceries or medication, and walking pets when required. If you do go out, be sure to practise physical distancing!
  • Stay home if you or a family member are ill. This is essential to prevent the spread of illness. This poster can give you additional information on how to help your family stay healthy.
  • Individuals 70 years of age and those with compromised immune systems are strongly urged to self-isolate. This means only leaving home or seeing other people for essential reasons. Where possible, you should seek services over the phone or internet or ask for help from friends, family or neighbours with essential errands.
  • If you are ill and must visit a hospital emergency department, clinic or healthcare provider, call ahead or tell them right away when you arrive that you have a respiratory illness and wear a mask while waiting to be seen. 
  • Do NOT visit people in hospitals or long-term care homes. Note: Currently, many care facilities have visitor restrictions and screening procedures in place 
  • Watch these video resources on how your organization/workplace can prepare for COVID-19. 
  • Avoid large gatherings of more than five people Note: As of now, Ontario is banning groups of five or more people. The only exceptions are families with more than five people and child care centres supporting frontline health care workers and first responders (so long as each centre does not exceed 50 people). Funerals are permitted, but only with up to 10 people at a time.
  • Be prepared by planning ahead, but do so within reason and recognizing that everyone is in this together.

Watch Video: Protect Yourself from COVID-19


What is the best way to wash my hands?

Washing our hands properly and regularly can remove the germs that make us sick. We need to wash our hands many times through the day: before eating meals/snacks, before and after preparing food, after going to the washroom, after touching an animal, and after handling garbage. 

Wash your hands with clean, running water and soap. If soap and water is not available, or our hands aren’t visibly dirty, you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Watch Video: How To Properly Wash Hands


Should I wear a mask?

If you are a healthy individual, you do not need to use a mask.

However, if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or caring for someone who has the virus, wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of the infection to others. The mask acts as a barrier and helps stop the tiny droplets from spreading around you when you cough or sneeze.

Your health provider may also recommend you wear a mask while you are seeking or waiting for care.

When wearing a mask, follow this Public Health Ontario fact sheet on how to properly wear and throw away masks.

When it comes to homemade cloth masks, Health Canada is cautioning people on their use. These types of masks are NOT medical devices, are not regulated and come with a number of limitations. There is no evidence these masks block particles, and may in fact encourage you to touch your face more as you try to adjust the mask.

Watch Video: When to Wear Masks


Should I wear rubber gloves when outdoors to reduce my risk of COVID-19?

Wearing rubber gloves out in public does NOT reduce your risk of COVID-19. Regular handwashing with soap/water and not touching your face offer more protection. Even if you wear gloves, you can still pick up COVID-19 if you touch your face with the dirty gloves, and this could then spread the contamination and infect you.

The fact is people don’t need to wear gloves unless they are providing direct care to someone infected with COVID-19.


How should I throw out disposable gloves, given the current COVID-19 situation?

Safely disposing of used gloves anytime is important to reduce the risk of illness, so casually tossing them aside when you’re done with them is not advised. When removing the gloves, it’s essential to avoid contamination of your hands and arms and clothing (etc.). Public Health Ontario offers a five-step process for safely taking off gloves  and encourages you to properly wash your hands afterwards.

Used gloves should be disposed of in a proper garbage can for safe disposal. Never stuff used gloves into your pocket or purse. Gloves should NEVER be re-used.


Will the flu shot protect me from the coronavirus?

No, the viruses are very different and distinct. The annual influenza vaccine will not provide any protection against COVID-19 (though it is highly recommended to prevent influenza, a serious infectious disease in its own right).


When will I need to self-isolate/stay at home?

Anyone who begins to feel unwell (fever, new cough or difficulty breathing) MUST self-isolate immediately. You should use the Ministry of Health self-assessment tool to help determine if you need to seek further care. You can also contact Telehealth at 1-866-797-0000 or the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577, ext. 5020 for further guidance. 

There are also mandatory quarantine/self-isolation requirements for travellers returning to Canada.


What is public health doing?

The HKPR District Health Unit is following the lead of the Ontario Ministry of Health, Public Health Ontario, and the Public Health Agency of Canada in responding to COVID-19. HKPR is working with local hospitals who have put measures in place to screen individuals who are suspected of having COVID-19. 

When suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 are identified in this area, HKPR District Health Unit works with the Ministry, Public Health Ontario Laboratory, and local hospitals in the management of the case and any contacts. 


Should I open mail or a package I receive from an area that has COVID-19?

There is no known risk of COVID-19 entering Canada on parcels or packages coming from affected regions. Currently there is no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods. 

There have not been any cases of COVID-19 in Canada associated with imported goods from China.


What if I’m attending, or my group is organizing, an event/meeting with a large gathering of people? 

NOTE: The Ontario government has declared a State of Emergency in the province to control the spread of COVID-19. A number of new restrictions and measures are included in the declaration, such as:

  • A ban on all public events of more than five people, including parades, events and worship services. Note: As of now, Ontario is banning groups of five or more people, with the only exceptions being families with more than five people and child care centres supporting frontline health care workers and first responders (so long as each centre does not exceed 50 people). Funerals are permitted, but only with up to 10 people at a time.
  • The closure of all private schools, licensed daycares, rec centres/public libraries, bars and restaurants (except those that provide takeout food/delivery), theatres and concert venues.

These restrictions are in place for the timebeing.

Remember that events attended by a large number of people who will be in close contact can lead to the spread of respiratory illness. Given the current COVID-19 situation, please read our large gatherings page to make a fully informed decision


What is physical distancing?

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, you MUST stay at least two metres away from other people. You should NOT shake hands, hug or kiss. Follow these additional physical distancing tips to limit the number of people with whom you come in contact.


How long does the COVID-19 virus live on surfaces?

According to the World Health Organization, it’s uncertain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest coronaviruses can live on surfaces from a few hours up to several days. Often, it’s based on conditions like type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment.

If you think a surface may be infected with the COVID19 virus, clean it with simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. Clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.


Given the spread of COVID-19, is it safe to eat unpackaged, fresh fruit and vegetables from the grocery store? And is there a special way I need to wash and eat these foods? 

The rules for washing unpackaged fruit and vegetables are the same, even with COVID-19. That means, washing hands with soap and water before handling any food… then thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables under cold running water. To be extra cautious, consider washing your hands with soap and water after you handle/wash unpackaged fruit and vegetables too. For tips on making the most of food during COVID-19 read our article here.


Are the coronavirus outbreaks listed on this website the same as COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. They can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). A novel coronavirus is a new strain not seen before in humans. This novel coronavirus that we are seeing is now called COVID-19.

During this time of year, health units typically see outbreaks of a variety of respiratory and enteric illness at long-term care home and these are reported on our website. We have had outbreaks in facilities caused by residents becoming ill with a coronavirus, but not the COVID-19 virus. 


Why doesn’t the Health Unit report where people live who are confirmed positive with COVID-19?

The Health Unit will only report on the county in which a person confirmed to have COVID-19 resides. We have many small communities in our area and we want to protect the privacy of individuals. Our staff do case and contact management, and will contact someone if they have been in close contact to a case. We are also seeing community transmission of COVID-19 now, rather than just travel-related cases. This means we all need to assume the virus is in our community and follow all of the public health measures designed to help stop the spread of the virus (staying home, physical distancing, washing hands, cough and sneeze etiquette). 


How do I self-isolate?

Click here for a guide to what to do if you’re asked to self-isolate.


How do I care for someone with COVID-19?

If you care for someone with COVID-19, it’s also important to protect and monitor your health. Be sure to: wash hands frequently, wear masks and gloves (and properly dispose of them after use), limit the number of visitors to your house, do not share household items, regularly clean your home with household cleaners (especially commonly-touched surfaces), and wash laundry thoroughly. For more tips on caring for someone in self-isolation, click here


What if I have returned to Canada after travelling abroad? 

For all returning travellers to Canada, you MUST immediately self-isolate/quarantine and stay home for 14 days. Click here for more details.


Should I use public transit given the current COVID-19 situation?

If you are sick, do not ride public transit. Instead self-isolate at home, do not go out, and use the Ontario government’s COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool to see what further care you may need.

Consider if you need to go out at all. If you must and need public transit to get to your destination, consider these tips:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using any kind of public transportation.
  • Practise physical distancing. Aim to ride transit during off-peak hours to avoid crowds; avoid close contact with other passengers; and maintain a 2-metre distance apart.
  • If you use a taxi or rideshare service, sit in the back and open a window for air circulation.

Please remember that public transit agencies have implemented enhanced cleaning measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.


How do I cope with fears of COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a new virus that is getting lots of attention and affecting the way we live. The situation can seem overwhelming, especially if you have children. In fact, Ontario’s health care system is very well equipped to respond to COVID-19. When we all work together to take preventive measures like handwashing, physical distancing and self-isolation, we can also reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Taking care of yourself – and your mental health – is even more important now. Click here for more resources.

Another way to fight COVID-19 fear is with facts. Check credible websites like www.ontario.ca/coronavirus and www.canada.ca/coronavirus provides understanding and reduces the unknowns. 


Additional Resources:

How to Self Monitor – Public Health Ontario

How to Self-Isolate – Public Health Ontario

Self-Isolation: Guide for Caregivers, Household Members and Close Contacts – Public Health Ontario

Cleaning and Disinfection for Public Settings – Public Health Ontario