Canadians are facing a never-before seen situation with the COVID-19 virus. There’s a lot of information out there that can be scary and confusing. We’ve created this guide to give you the basic information about COVID-19, its symptoms, and what you can do to reduce the spread of this disease.

What is COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronaviruses are a large group of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. Several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections in humans ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

COVID-19 is the name given to the infectious disease caused by the most recently discovered strain of coronavirus. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The first case was reported in Canada in January 2020.

Symptoms of COVID-19

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some people may experience additional symptoms such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. Symptoms start out mild and appear gradually. Some people with COVID-19 may not develop any symptoms. (Source: World Health Organization)

If you have COVID-19

If you’re experiencing the common symptoms of COVID-19, you should first begin self-isolation in your home. This means having no contact with anyone else, including limiting your contact with other people in your house. The next thing you should do is seek medical attention. This can be at an emergency room or at a specific testing centre set up by the Canadian Government. No matter where you get tested, always call first to let them know you might have COVID-19: the medical professionals will be able to give you the information you need to properly prepare if you do have to go to a medical facility. A diagnosis will be confirmed with a laboratory test.

For more information on testing, check out this province-by-province guide published by Maclean’s magazine – it is regularly updated with new information.

Treatment for COVID-19

The majority of people recover from COVID-19 on their own without special treatment. 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing (Source: World Health Organization). Older people, and those with existing medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes are more likely to develop serious illness. The same is true of people with compromised immune systems.

Currently there is no vaccine for COVID-19. Please note: coronaviruses and flus are different, so the flu vaccine does not offer any protection against COVID-19.

How to minimize the spread of COVID-19

COVID-19 is incredibly contagious and spreads easily from person to person. Due to these facts, the Government of Canada is asking Canadians to do one of three things depending on their health condition: practice social distance, self-isolate, or go into quarantine. These steps will help ‘flatten the curve.’

What does ‘flatten the curve’ mean?

The term ‘flatten the curve’ refers to reducing the number of new COVID-19 cases within a certain period of time. Canadians can reduce the number of daily cases and reduce the demand being placed on our medical system by practicing social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine.


Image: Centre for Disease Control and The Canadian Press

Social distancing

Social distancing is exactly what it sounds like – limiting your contact with other people outside your household as much as possible. Canadian governments, organizations and businesses have taken the steps of reducing international travel, closing schools and non-essential services, asking people who can to work from home and cancelling events with a large number of people.

If you are not sick or showing symptoms, have not recently returned from travel, and have not been in contact with someone with COVID-19, you are able to practice social distancing. When practicing social distancing, you are able to leave your house run errands like groceries, but this should only be done when you absolutely need to. You should not touch or come in close contact to anyone else (so no high-fives or handshakes), and especially limit contact with the high-risk group of the elderly and immuno-compromised.

The more people practice social distancing, the better it will be for our healthcare system and ourselves.


A person must go into self-isolation if:

  • They are showing symptoms of COVID-19
  • They have been diagnosed with COVID-19
  • They have returned from international travel
  • They have been in contact with someone with a suspected or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.

Right now the recommended self-isolation period is 14 days. Unlike with social distancing, people who are self-isolating are not to go outside to run errands or interact with other people in any way. If they share a house with others, it’s recommended the person stay in one room and limit contact as much as possible.

You can ask friends of family members to bring you groceries and supplies, but these should be left outside for you to then retrieve – you should have no contact. You should not use public transportation, go to work or school, or come with 2 metres of other people if possible.


Quarantine means a large-scale containment of the disease implemented by the government. It’s for people – or groups of people – who may not have the disease but have been exposed to it. The purpose of a quarantine is to minimize the spread of disease, particularly when it’s on a large scale like COVID-19.

The terms quarantine and self-isolation are often used interchangeably by people. They do have similar meanings: if under quarantine, you have to do everything a person self-isolating has to do.


Adapted from Insider

Tips to prevent the spread of COVID-19

Wash your hands

One of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to use proper hand washing techniques. According to the World Health Organization, you should wash your hands for 30-40 seconds, or the length of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.


Source: World Health Organization

Tired of singing Happy Birthday over and over again? will generate a hand washing infographic to the lyrics of your favourite song.

Cough and sneeze into your sleeve

This is good practice no matter what. Always sneeze and cough into your sleeve or arm – never on your hands.

Clean surfaces regularly with antibacterial solution

COVID-19 can exist on surfaces for extended periods of time, so cleaning the surfaces of your home regularly is important. This includes your phone, keyboard, purses, or any other items you use regularly. Make sure to use an antibacterial solution!

Avoid the at-risk population

In order to reduce the demand on our healthcare system and minimize the risk of serious illness (which could lead to death), avoid interacting with Canada’s at-risk population, including:

  • The elderly (65+)
  • People with compromised immune systems
  • People with existing heart or respiratory conditions

You can still use video messaging, phone calls, and digital chats to keep in touch with people – just avoid in-person socialization.

Cancel all travel and social events

Part of social distancing is cancelling travel and social events. It’s incredibly frustrating for a lot of us to miss something we’ve been looking forward to, but it’s much more important to protect our health and the health of those around us.

Stay safe and focus on the positives

While this can seem like a dark and scary time, it’s important we all look at the positives. We live in a time where technology and social media can keep us connected. Families, neighbours and friends can support each other by dropping off groceries or picking up the phone to make sure people do not feel alone.

Most importantly, we have a lot of frontline workers who are going out every day to do what they can to help us. This includes nurses and doctors, first responders, pharmacy and grocery store workers, and many more. We can help them by staying home – and washing our hands.

Additional information

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