covid 19 virus

Facts about COVID-19

Last Edited/Reviewed: December 13, 2021

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What is COVID-19?
Why are there different kinds of COVID-19?
How is COVID-19 spread?
Symptoms of COVID-19
Incubation Period of COVID-19
Diagnosing COVID-19
Vaccine Information


What is COVID-19?

A respiratory virus first identified in 2019 belonging to the coronavirus family. Named for the appearance of the proteins on the outer layer of the virus that surround it like a crown (Corona in Latin translates to crown). The -19 represents the year the virus was first identified.

Why are there different kinds of COVID-19?

Similar to many other viruses such as the flu, the COVID-19 virus has mutated over time. Mutations may allow viruses to spread more quickly and may become deadlier.

How is COVID-19 spread?

Respiratory viruses, like COVID-19, spread through respiratory droplets and aerosols from an infected individual. Respiratory droplets are larger than aerosols and fall more quickly. Aerosols are smaller particles that can remain suspended in the air for some time and spread over distance. Airborne transmission through aerosols is an important piece of how COVID-19 can spread. In general COVID-19 can spread from person to person by:

  • Breathing in droplets or aerosols from the infected person after they cough, sneeze, laugh, or sing.
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus droplets on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing or sanitizing your hands.
  • Personal contact with the infected individual such as shaking hands, hugging, or kissing.

* Wearing a well fitted mask, social distancing, getting vaccinated, and practicing handwashing/sanitizing can help reduce the risk of person to person spread.

The highest risk of transmission is close, unprotected contact with an infected individual. There is a lower risk of transmission when you can maintain a distance of more than 2-metres from the individual infected with the virus. With this in mind, long distance transmission can occur under certain conditions, including:

  • Where there is poor ventilation, or recirculation of unfiltered or untreated air. (Info on adequate ventilation, click here)
  • Improved ventilation can help remove virus particles from the air, even something as simple as opening a window helps reduce the risk. Ventilation means that air is flowing with fresh air replacing stale indoor air.
  • Air recirculation is moving air around within a space, without any filtration occurring or exchange. This includes most ceiling fans and fans that don’t have filters built in. Ventilation does not reduce close transmission (within 2 metres). It is essential that all public health measures are used and followed.
  • Long exposure time.
  • Activities promoting heavy breathing such as singing, exercising, and shouting.

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Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from person to person. They may also vary in different age groups. Seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing or chest pain. If you are uncertain if your symptoms qualify you for testing, use the Self Assessment Tool.

Incubation Period of COVID-19

Symptoms may take up to 10 days to appear after exposure to COVID-19. The virus can be spread to others from someone who’s infected but not showing symptoms. This includes people who haven’t yet developed symptoms (pre-symptomatic) or never develop symptoms (asymptomatic). This is why individuals who are not fully immunized and who have a known high-risk exposure must isolate for the time period indicated by public health (typically 10 days), regardless of receiving a negative COVID-19 test result.

Diagnosing COVID-19

The only way to be certain if you are infected or not is through PCR testing. By getting tested, your swab will be sent to a lab where they will be able to tell if the virus is in the sample. Rapid testing is increasingly being used to support screening for COVID-19, but should not be used to determine if someone is infected. A positive rapid test should be followed by a PCR test through an approved testing centre (see COVID-19 testing locations (ontario.ca)).

COVID-19 Treatments

There is no specific treatment for COVID-19 at this time. Cases admitted to hospital who meet eligibility criteria may receive COVID-19 monoclonal antibody therapy at the discretion of their medical team. Individuals recovering from COVID-19 at home are encouraged to monitor their symptoms and treat them accordingly. If you are uncertain about what medication to use to treat your symptoms, consult your local pharmacist.

Vaccine Information

Vaccines are safe, effective, and the best way to protect you and those around you from serious illnesses like COVID-19.Vaccines work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. This can reduce your risk of developing COVID-19 and make your symptoms milder if you do contract it.

COVID-19 vaccination information is changing rapidly in Canada and locally. For more information, check out our vaccine info page.

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