Coronavirus FAQ: what it is, how it spreads and who to call


The novel coronavirus strain we have come to know as COVID-19 is rapidly spreading across the globe. While top experts say the risk to Canadians remains low, residents are on edge as new cases are diagnosed every day, including those contracted via human-to-human transmission.

The government is providing daily updates on cases and how Canada is responding, but questions still abound about how the virus is transmitted, what the symptoms are and who to call if you think you may have it.

Here’s a quick look at the basics of what you should know about the virus, what to do in case of suspected infection and how to protect yourself.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China and causes a respiratory infection.

It is a novel strain of coronavirus — part of a large family of viruses that can cause a range of illnesses from the common cold to pneumonia and bronchitis. The SARS outbreak in 2003 was also caused by a coronavirus.

The first presumptive case of infection in Ontario was identified on Jan. 25.

Latest number of cases on Ontario: COVID-19 in Ontario

How does it spread?

Coronaviruses spread mainly from person to person through close contact.

The risk of catching a severe case of the virus is higher if your immune system is compromised due to old age or chronic disease.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms are flu-like and can range from mild to severe. They include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

Complications from COVID-19 can result in serious conditions like pneumonia or kidney failure and in some cases, death.

Can COVID-19 be treated?

There is no specific treatment for coronaviruses and no vaccine that protects against them. Most people with common human coronavirus illnesses recover on their own.

To manage symptoms, the government recommends taking the same measures as you would with a common cold: drink plenty of fluids, get lots of rest and sleep as much as possible and try using a humidifier or take a hot shower to help with a sore throat and cough.

Who to call if you think you have the virus

Unrelated to travel:

If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, call Telehealth Ontario for medical advice at 1-866-797-0000 for medical advice. You can also contact your local public health unit. Click here to find a public health unit close to you: Public Health Units.

Be sure to tell them your symptoms and travel history including any countries you visited.

During and after travel:

  • If you become sick while travelling or after you get back, avoid contact with others and call Telehealth or contact your local public health unit. Tell them your symptoms, where you have been travelling or living and if you had direct contact with animals or with a sick person.
  • If you feel sick during your flight or upon landing, tell a flight attendant or a Canada border services agent.

After return from an affected area:

  • You may need to self-isolate for 14 days because you may have been exposed to COVID-19. Staying home and limiting your contact with others will help prevent further spread.
  • If your symptoms feel worse than a common cold and you went to an affected area within 14 days of when your symptoms began, once again, call Telehealth or contact your local public health unit and be sure to reveal your symptoms and travel history.

The locations identified as affected areas are:

  • China (mainland)
  • Hong Kong
  • Iran
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • South Korea

How to protect yourself

Since there are no vaccines for coronaviruses, it’s essential to take some basic, everyday steps to protect yourself and prevent the spread of illness.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water and disinfect with alcohol based sanitizer. Watch the video below for a tutorial on how to properly wash and disinfect your hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze – use your elbow and cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home if you are sick

If you are travelling in an area with known cases of COVID-19, it is best to avoid:

  • Contact with animals, alive or dead, including chickens, ducks, wild birds and pigs
  • Surfaces with animal droppings or secretions
  • Farms, live animal markets and places where animals are slaughtered