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Preventing and treating illness

April 01, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) self-isolation: What you need to know

What does self-isolation mean? And what are the rules if you have to self-isolate because of the coronavirus? Here’s what you need to know.

Please note: This article is accurate at the time of publication (stated above). But with the situation around coronavirus changing frequently, you may not see the most up-to-date information in the text below. To receive the latest updates around COVID-19, please visit the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website and the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 page.

Many countries, including Canada, have urged people to self-isolate to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). But what does self-isolation mean? And how long do you have to do it? Here’s some helpful information:  

What does self-isolation mean?

It means staying at home, avoiding contact with others and self-monitoring* your symptoms for 14 consecutive days.  

(*Self-monitoring means observing yourself for symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough, fever and difficulty breathing.)

What happens if you develop symptoms, even if they’re mild?

You need to isolate yourself. This means staying home and avoiding other people. The Government of Canada also recommends contacting your Public Health Authority as soon as possible and following their instructions.

What’s the difference between self-isolation and isolation?

  Self-isolation Isolation

What does it mean?

It means you have to:

  • stay home,
  • monitor your symptoms for 14 days, and
  • avoid contact with others.

It means you have to:

  • stay at home until your Public Health Authority says you’re no longer at risk of spreading the virus to others, and
  • avoid contact with others.

When do you have to do it?

You have to self-isolate if:

  • you’ve travelled outside of Canada in the last 14 days,
  • you’ve had contact with someone who has COVID-19 or
  • your Public Health Authority asks you to.

You have to isolate if:

  • you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19,
  • you’re still waiting for your COVID-19 test results, or
  • your Public Health Authority asks you to.

Check out the Government of Canada’s page for more information on the differences between self-isolation and isolation.

Apart from staying at home, what else must you do during self-isolation?

It’s also important to practice physical distancing. Why? Because it’s one of the best ways to reduce the spread of illness during an outbreak or pandemic.

What does physical distancing mean?

It means:

  • avoiding crowded places and non-essential gatherings,
  • avoiding common greetings, such as handshakes,
  • limiting contact with people at higher risk like older adults and those in poor health, and keeping a distance of at least 2 arms-length (approximately 2 metres) from others.

What if you’re in self-isolation, but need to go outside?

If you must leave your home, wear a mask or cover your mouth and nose with tissues. Try to maintain a 2-metre distance from others to reduce the risk of passing the virus. 

What happens if your employer asks you to self-isolate?

Carefully review your employer or company’s policy around COVID-19. If they haven’t provided any clear policies yet, ask for them.

Some employers may insist that you work from home during this pandemic.  Or, they may ask you to stay at home or work from home if you’re feeling sick or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

Your employer can also answer any questions you may have regarding sick days and paid leave for unpredictable health events like COVID-19.

Talk to your HR department for more info.

Do you need to stay away from pets and animals when you self-isolate?

If you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, the government recommends that you avoid close contact with pets and animals.

Currently, there’s no evidence that pets or animals can spread the virus. But there are still many unknowns about animals in relation to COVID-19. Until health authorities learn more, it’s best to limit your contact with them if you’re sick.

Try to have someone else take care of your pet if you’re sick. If you must care for a pet during this time, then remember to wear a face mask and wash your hands (before and after) you touch them.

Do you need to wear a face mask during self-isolation?

You don’t have to wear a mask if you’re healthy.

What if you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms? Then your health care provider may recommend you wear a mask while you’re seeking or waiting for care. In this case, masks can help reduce the spread of infection. How? The mask acts as a barrier and helps stop the tiny droplets from spreading you when you cough or sneeze.

What if you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19? You must try to avoid contact with others if you’re isolating. But if you have to be near someone (like a caregiver), then you should wear a face mask when you’re around them. If you’re not able to wear one (in case you have trouble breathing), then ask your caregiver to wear one when they’re in the same room as you.

What hygiene practices should you follow during self-isolation?

Health officials recommend practicing good hygiene on a daily basis to reduce the spread of an illness. This means:

  • washing your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,
  • using a tissue or the bend of your arm (not your hand) when you cough or sneeze,*
  • not touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, and
  • cleaning high-touch surfaces often with regular household cleaners or diluted bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts water).  

(*Dispose of any tissues you have used as soon as possible in a lined waste basket and wash your hands afterwards.)

When can you stop self-isolation?

Your doctor, health-care provider or public health authority can advise you on when you can stop self-isolation. They can help determine if you’re at a low risk of spreading the virus on to others.

Where can you get more information about COVID-19?

Being in self-isolation due to the coronavirus can be upsetting. But try not to panic. Remember to get advice on what to do from health-care professionals and look to trusted sources for accurate information.

We recommend visiting the following sites for the latest updates on COVID-19:

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