Common Questions about COVID-19
Find answers to some of the most common questions about COVID-19. Learn how it spreads, how long after exposure symptoms take to appear and what symptoms to look for. Find out what you can do to prevent COVID-19.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an illness caused by a coronavirus. COVID-19 has spread worldwide, including to British Columbia, and has been declared a global pandemic.
Symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to other respiratory illnesses including the flu and common cold. Common symptoms for COVID-19 include:
- Cough (or worsening of chronic cough)
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Loss of sense of smell or taste
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite.
Some less common symptoms include stuffy nose, conjunctivitis (pink eye) dizziness, confusion, abdominal pain, skin rashes or discoloration of fingers or toes. Anyone with symptoms, even mild symptoms, can get tested.
Symptoms may vary from person to person. Some people may experience mild symptoms, while others have more severe symptoms. If you have COVID-19, or think you might have it, help prevent spreading it to others by self-isolating from the start of your symptoms. If you are sick, stay home. To learn more about self-isolation, who should self-isolate and ending self-isolation, see Self-Isolation and COVID-19.
To learn about COVID-19 symptoms, what to do if you are feeling ill, and who may be at higher risk for complications, see Symptoms of COVID-19.
Reduce your risk of infection
Coronavirus is spread from an infected person through:
- Respiratory droplets spread when a person coughs or sneezes
- Close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands
- Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands
It is important to keep about 2 metres away from a person who is sick, to reduce breathing in droplets if they cough or sneeze.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Using soap and water is the single most effective way to reduce the spread of infection
- If a sink is not available, you can use alcohol based hand rubs (ABHR) to clean your hands as long as they are not visibly soiled. If they are visibly soiled, use a wipe and then ABHR to effectively clean them
- Do not touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
- Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces
- Do not share food, drinks, utensils, etc.
For more information on proper hand washing see:
- BC Centre for Disease Control: Hand washing
- Hand Washing: Help Stop the Spread of Germs (HealthLinkBC File #85)
- Public Health Agency of Canada: Reduce the spread of COVID-19: Wash your hands (PDF 298KB)
General cleaning and disinfecting:
- Clean and disinfect your home regularly to prevent the spread of illness including COVID-19. Water and soap (e.g. liquid dishwashing soap) or common household cleaning wipes can be used to clean dirt, crumbs, oil or other debris on surfaces
- Clean surfaces that are touched often (e.g., counters, tables, doorknobs, toilets, sinks, taps, etc.) at least once a day
- Clean with soap or detergent before disinfecting
- If possible, use store bought disinfectants. If store bought disinfectants are not available, you can mix household bleach with room temperature water (do not use hot water) in specific ratios to disinfect areas in your home. Household bleach should be diluted
- Rinsing and drying recommendations are important parts of the disinfection process
For more information on cleaning and disinfecting, as well as a table describing how to prepare a disinfecting solution using bleach and water, see BC Centre for Disease Control: Cleaning and disinfecting.
If you live in the same household with someone who has COVID-19 or has respiratory symptoms that started within 14 days of returning to Canada, you are at high risk of exposure and spreading the infection to others. Self-isolate at home for 14 days. If possible, stay in separate rooms, sleep in separate beds and use separate bathrooms.
Keeping transmission low
Physical distancing from others continues to be important when outside your home. Carry on with these simple tips to help keep the transmission of COVID-19 low.
- Stay at home and keep a safe distance from family when you have cold or flu symptoms
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- No handshaking or hugs outside of your family
- Keep a physical distance of about 2 metres between yourself and others when you are out.
To learn more about how you can protect yourself and others, see Physical Distancing at BC Centre for Disease Control
Wear a mask if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or are caring for a person with symptoms. Masks act as a barrier and help stop droplets from spreading when you cough or sneeze. Using a mask in combination with the above preventative measures can help protect those around you.
Non-medical or cloth mask
A cloth mask can help prevent respiratory droplets of an unknowingly infected person from coming into contact with others outside the home. A non-medical mask or face covering may be used for periods of time when you cannot keep a safe distance from others, such as on public transit.
Wearing a cloth mask alone will not protect you from COVID-19. Keep practicing preventive measures such as frequent hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting your surfaces and objects and physical distancing as much as possible.
To learn more about wearing a mask and types of masks, see BC Centre for Disease Control: Masks
Staying close to home
Staying close to home helps reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19. Self-isolation is mandatory after international travel. Learn more about travel within and outside of Canada at Travel and COVID-19.
Self-isolation and ending self-isolation
Self-isolation means staying home and avoiding situations where you could come in contact with others and is an important measure in stopping the spread of illness.
Anyone who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or has returned from international travel should self-isolate and watch for symptoms of COVID-19 that can appear up to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
Anyone with COVID-like symptoms should self-isolate after symptoms start.
To learn more about self-isolation, who should self-isolate and ending self-isolation, see Self-Isolation and COVID-19.
Self-monitoring means paying close attention to how you feel to see if you develop any COVID-like symptoms such as fever, cough, or difficulty breathing. You may also need to help children or close contacts who are older or chronically ill and are self-monitoring.
To learn more about self-monitoring, see How to self-monitor at BC Centre for Disease Control.
Testing is recommended for anyone with cold, influenza or COVID-like symptoms, even mild symptoms.
You no longer need a referral from a health care provider and you do not need to call 8-1-1 if you have symptoms and would like to be tested for COVID-19. You can use the BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool to help determine if you need further assessment for COVID-19 testing by a physician, nurse practitioner or at a local collection centre.
Anyone with symptoms, however, mild, can get tested for COVID-19. While anyone can get tested, some symptoms can also be signs of other conditions or medical issues and you may need to seek medical care. If you are unsure whether to seek medical care or get tested, contact your health care provider, call 8-1-1 or use the BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool.
Click on the links below for a list of collection centres (locations where you can be tested) across the province to find one near you or call 8-1-1 to find the nearest centre.
It is particularly important to test symptomatic individuals who are at higher risk. These individuals will continue to be prioritized and includes health-care workers, essential services providers and individuals who are vulnerable to complications due to COVID-19.
Testing is not required if you do not have symptoms.
With the increase in social interactions in our communities, you may be concerned about community exposure to COVID-19. For information about community exposures from your local health authority, see:
- First Nations Health Authority
- Fraser Health
- Interior Health
- Island Health
- Northern Health
- Vancouver Coastal Health
As social interactions continue in our community, you may also be concerned about socializing safely. To learn more about safe socializing to reduce risk of COVID-19 exposure, see:
- BC Centre for Disease Control: Event Planning
- BC Centre for Disease Control: Safer Social Interactions
- Government of BC: Good Times
There is no specific treatment for COVID-19. Many of the symptoms can be managed at home. Drink plenty of fluids, get plenty of rest and use a humidifier or hot shower to ease a cough or sore throat. Over the counter medication (e.g. Tylenol) can be used to reduce fever and aches. If you are recording your temperature, do this before taking fever-reducing medicines or wait 4 hours after the last dose.
When a disease is new such as COVID-19, there is no vaccine until one is developed. Possible vaccines are under investigation. It can take time to develop a new vaccine.
Most people recover from coronaviruses on their own. People who develop a more serious illness may need supportive care in or out of the hospital. If you do need to see a health care provider, call them ahead of time so they can arrange for you to be assessed safely. Wear a mask to protect others.
Doctors and nurse practitioners are available to provide in-person care during the COVID-19 pandemic, and some offices may offer telephone and video appointments as well. If you need care, please contact your health care provider. Or use the HealthLinkBC Directory or call 8-1-1 to find a health care provider in your community.
When seeing a health care provider, please tell them
- Your symptoms
- Where you have been travelling or living
- If you had close or prolonged contact with a sick person, especially if they had a fever, cough or difficulty breathing
For more information on what you can do if you have symptoms, see Symptoms and COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic can bring up feelings of confusion, sadness and anxiety that are hard to manage. You may find yourself stressed out over the latest news or feeling lonely during self-isolation. These are normal feelings when faced with uncertainty. It is more important than ever to take care of your mental health and be kind to yourself. Learn more about mental health and COVID-19:
- Mental Health and COVID-19
- BC Centre for Disease Control: Mental well-being during COVID-19
- Government of Canada: Taking Care of Your Mental Health (PDF 371KB)
Children, Youth and Families
Parenting during the pandemic can be challenging. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you may have questions about your health and your baby’s health. You may have additional concerns about parenting while your children are staying home. Learn more about infant and maternal health and helping your children cope during the pandemic:
As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, changes have been made to ways pharmacists can provide medications. This includes providing refills and emergency supplies of prescription drugs. Pharmacists are not able to provide new medications without a prescription. To learn more about changes to pharmacy services see:
There is a lot of information about COVID-19 and the province’s response to the pandemic. For a list of the trusted sources we use at HealthLinkBC 8-1-1 to provide British Columbians with health information and advice, see Useful Resources for COVID-19.
For information on COVID-19 in other languages, see BC Centre for Disease Control’s Translated Content page. American sign language videos are also available.
If you have concerns or questions about your health contact HealthLinkBC (8-1-1) at any time or speak with your health care provider.
Last updated: August 5, 2020