Family health

How to get tested for coronavirus in Canada, what the symptoms are, where to get help

A province-by-province breakdown of advice, requirements and who to call if you think you might have it—with information on who is most vulnerable.

Editor’s note: Some of the information in this story has changed. Please click here for the most up-to-date information.

As the coronavirus known as COVID-19 spreads in Canada, the sheer volume of information and misinformation about it can make it difficult to know exactly what is going on, and what to if you think you or someone near you could have the virus.

So Maclean’s has compiled information about the current situation in Canada, symptoms of COVID-19, who is most vulnerable to the virus, as well as self-isolation and notification details for each province and territory. We combed through the official coronavirus webpages of the federal, provincial and territorial governments, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), which recently published a preliminary report on the outbreak in China. Sources are noted throughout this post.

As each province and territory has its own health terminology—Telehealth Ontario vs. Health Link 811 in Alberta—much of the wording is taken directly from their sites to avoid confusion.

An important note: this information will undoubtedly be revised and updated by the authorities. So click on the links, especially the official sites, for the latest.

Also, wash your hands with soap. Often.

To go directly to information and instructions for your home province, follow the applicable link below:

British Columbia
Alberta
Saskatchewan
Manitoba
Ontario
Quebec
New Brunswick
Prince Edward Island
Nova Scotia
Newfoundland and Labrador
Northwest Territories
Yukon

Nunavut

Symptoms

Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to the virus while the average is 5-6 days after infection (PHAC and WHO)

According to the WHO report on COVID-19 in China, symptoms in confirmed cases included:

  • Fever (88%)
  • Dry cough (68%)
  • Fatigue (38%)
  • Sputum production (33%)
  • Shortness of breath (19%)
  • Muscle or joint pain (15%)
  • Sore throat (14%)
  • Headache (14%)
  • Chills (11%)

World Health Organization report from the end of February on COVID-19 in China found that:

  • 80% of patients experienced mild to moderate effects (fever, cough, maybe pneumonia—but not needing supplemental oxygen)
  • 14% suffered severe symptoms (requiring supplemental oxygen, including via a ventilator)
  • 1% were critical (respiratory failure, septic shock and/or organ disfunction/failure)

Who is most vulnerable?

As of March 11, the Public Health Agency of Canada assessed the public health risk as LOW for the general population. But there is increased risk of more severe outcomes for those:

  • Aged 65 and over
  • With compromised immune systems
  • With underlying medical conditions or chronic diseases including:
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • heart, renal or chronic lung disease (Ont.)

Those warnings follow the findings of that February WHO report on COVID-19 in China. According to the research team, the age difference among those affected was stark: 21.9 per cent of those over 80 years died, while just 2.4 per cent of all reported cases were children aged 18 and under (only 0.2 percent of those became critically ill).

As well, while 1.4 percent of COVID-19 patients with no other underlying conditions died, those with other conditions experienced much higher death rates:

  • cardiovascular disease (13.2%)
  • diabetes (8.4%)
  • hypertension (8.4%)
  • chronic respiratory disease (8%)
  • cancer (7.6%)

In more severe cases, public health authorities believe infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death (Sask). Yet, unlike the nature of influenza, pregnant women do not appear to be at a higher risk for the severe form of COVID-19, according to the WHO report.

If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms

Contact a care provider in your area to get tested (province-by-province contact information below). There are some basic caveats to observe, though, before and after you get tested, as the B.C. site explains:

  • If it becomes harder to breathe, you can’t drink anything or feel much worse than when you got tested, seek immediate medical care at an urgent-care clinic or emergency department. If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 911 or the local emergency number immediately.
  • Call ahead before you get medical care. If leaving your home for care, call ahead and tell the clinic you are coming in and that you just had a COVID-19 test. By calling ahead, you help the clinic, hospital, lab, urgent care or doctor’s office prepare for your visit and stop the spread of germs. Remind each health care provider that is taking care of you that you are waiting for COVID-19 test results.
  • Self-isolate

The health-care professionals will need to know: a) your symptoms b) where you have been travelling or living c) if you had direct contact with animals, for example, if you visited a live animal market d) if you had close contact with a sick person, especially if they had a fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

How have Canadians exposed to COVID-19 been affected?

As of March 11, there are 103 cases so far in Canada: B.C. (39), Alberta (14), Ontario (42), Quebec (7), per the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC):

  • One person has died of COVID-19
  • 13% of ill individuals were hospitalized
  • 76% were over the age of 40
  • 79% were travellers and 12% were close contacts of those travellers

Self-isolation and reporting

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, all travellers returning to Canada from Hubei province of China or Iran are advised to:

  • Self-isolate: stay at home and avoid close contact with others, including those in their home,for a total of 14 days from the date they left Hubei province or Iran
  • Contact the local public health unit within 24 hours of arriving in Canada
  • Contact your provincial/territorial/local health authorities if you experience symptoms of COVID-19

Travellers returning from other areas under active COVID-19 travel advisories for Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, France, Germany, Italy, Spain:

  • Monitor themselves for symptoms of the 2019 novel coronavirus for 14 days after leaving the affected area
  • Contact your provincial/territorial/local health authorities if you experience symptoms of COVID-19

As the specific information regarding self-isolation and reporting varies by province, here are the breakdowns, using the wording from their own websites. Please note that new information has and is causing their risk assessments to be re-evaluated.

What about travelling?

The risk of COVID-19 may be increased for:

As of March 11, Canada has active COVID-19 travel advisories for 10 nations particularly affected by the virus. Each advisory has detailed information for that specific country:

  • China (Level 3: avoid non-essential travel)
  • Iran (Level 3: avoid non-essential travel)
  • Italy (Level 3: avoid non-essential travel)
  • South Korea (Level 2: practise special precautions)
  • Japan (Level 2: practise special precautions)
  • France (Level 1: practise usual precautions)
  • Germany (Level 1: practise usual precautions)
  • Hong Kong (Level 1: practise usual precautions)
  • Singapore (Level 1: practise usual precautions)
  • Spain (Level 1: practise usual precautions)

Advice from government, and where to get information

Federal government

Official site here.

Getting advice: The Public Health Agency of Canada has an information line about COVID-19 at 1-833-784-4397. It has interpretation services available in multiple languages.


British Columbia

Official site here.

Getting help: contact your primary care provider, local public health office, or call 811 anytime to talk to a nurse at HealthLinkBC.

Self-isolation/reporting information:

People arriving in Canada from Hubei Province (China) Iran and Italy are asked to stay home and self-isolate for 14 days and monitor closely for symptoms of illness. If any symptoms arise, connect with your primary care provider, local public health office or call 811.

British Columbians should monitor their health while they are travelling and after they return. If you have any symptoms at all of a cold or influenza, even if they’re mild, stay away from others. If you have been to areas, particularly where we know there has been transmission of COVID-19, then call your health-care provider, call 811, call public health.

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Alberta

Official site here.

Getting help: call Health Link 811 for instructions if any symptoms begin

Self-isolation/reporting information:

Anyone returning from outside of Canada, should follow these steps:

  • monitor yourself for symptoms such as cough or fever for 14 days
  • self-isolate yourself and call Health Link 811 for instructions on follow-up testing if you:
    • feel ill after returning and/or experience symptoms
    • were in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19
    • were in a health-care facility in an affected country

If you have returned from the following locations, isolate yourself until 14 days have passed since that trip, even if you are feeling well:

  • Grand Princess cruise ship
  • Iran
  • Hubei province, China

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Saskatchewan

Official site here.

Getting help: call HealthLine 811 (204-788-8200 or 1-888-315-9257) for direction and to be connected to public health

Self-isolation/reporting information:

All travellers should self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough or difficulty breathing) for 14 days after returning to Canada and avoid places where you cannot easily separate yourself from others if you become ill. If you have even mild symptoms, stay home and call HealthLine 811 for advice.

If you have travelled to a country with a Level 3 travel advisory, limit your contact with others for a total of 14 days starting the day you began your journey to Canada. This means self-isolate and stay at home. Contact HealthLine 811 within 24 hours of arriving in Canada for direction.

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Manitoba

Official site here.

Getting help: call Health Links – Info Santé for advice on where to go to be assessed

Self-isolation/reporting information:

If you have symptoms of a respiratory illness (regardless of travel), even if mild, stay home until your symptoms are gone.

Self-isolation is recommended for the following groups for 14 days after departing the area, or since their last known contact or exposure:

  • travellers returning from Iran, Italy or the Chinese province of Hubei
  • contacts of a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19
  • laboratory workers exposed during work

Self-monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19 is recommended for the following groups for 14 days after return to Manitoba, or since their last known contact or exposure:

  • All returning international travellers,
  • Close contacts (within two meters/six feet) of individuals with flu-like symptoms who have travelled internationally within 14 days prior to becoming sick

International travellers who develop cold or flu-like symptoms within 14 days of returning to Manitoba should contact Health Links-Info Santé to determine if testing for COVID-19 should be considered. In cases where testing is not recommended, they should stay home (self-isolate) until they are well.

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Ontario

Official site here.

Getting help: contact Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or your local public health unit

Self-isolation/reporting information:

Travellers who have returned from Hubei province in China or from Iran should:

  • contact their local public health unit within 24 hours of arriving in Canada
  • stay at home and avoid close contact with others, including those in their home, for a total of 14 days from the date they left Hubei province (China) or Iran
  • contact Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or their local public health unit if they experience symptoms of the 2019 novel coronavirus

Travellers who have returned from areas under a travel health advisory for COVID-19 should:

  • monitor themselves for symptoms of the 2019 novel coronavirus for 14 days after leaving the affected area
  • contact Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or their local public health unit if they experience symptoms of the 2019 novel coronavirus

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Quebec

Official site here.

Getting help: contact Info‑Santé 811

Self-isolation/reporting information:

People who have symptoms
People who report symptoms at the airport will be assessed by a quarantine officer. Under the Quarantine Act, the officer is authorized to take appropriate measures if there is a potential public health risk, such as ordering the traveller to be taken to hospital for a medical examination.

People who do not have symptoms
Travellers from Hubei Province, China must follow the detailed recommendations on the Coronavirus disease (COVID‑19) in China page.

Travellers from Iran must follow the detailed recommendations on the Coronavirus disease (COVID‑19) in Iran page.

Travellers from mainland China and other countries must follow the detailed recommendations on the Coronavirus disease (COVID‑19): Travel advice page.

Travellers from the MS Westerdam, a Holland America cruise ship, must follow the detailed recommendations in the “For passengers from the MS Westerdam cruise ship” section of the Coronavirus disease (COVID‑19): Travel advice to obtain the specific recommendations issued by the Government of Canada.

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New Brunswick

Official site here.

Getting help: contact Telecare 811

Self-isolation/reporting information:

All travellers returning to New Brunswick should monitor themselves and their children closely for symptoms for 14 days. Upon return, they should monitor their health for fever, cough or difficulty breathing and avoid places where they cannot easily separate themselves from others if they become ill.

Travellers from some destinations will be given advice by the Canadian Border Services Agency and may be asked to stay at home for 14 days regardless of symptoms. Those people will be notified of this when they arrive in Canada.

If you develop a fever, cough or difficulty breathing within those 14 days:

  • isolate yourself from others as quickly as possible
  • immediately call Telecare 811 before seeking medical attention.
  • describe your symptoms and travel history
  • follow their instructions carefully
  • New Brunswick hospitals are prepared to receive patients for diagnosis and treatment of symptoms, and there are protocols in place to ensure a potential case is not spread to other users of the hospital system. By contacting Telecare 811, these practices will be put in place before your arrival and during your time at the hospital.

On March 10, Education Minister Dominic Cardy announced that everyone who returning home from international locations after March 8 should stay away from schools, early learning facilities and educational offices for 14 days. The isolation notice also applies to the University of New Brunswick.

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Nova Scotia

Official site here.

Getting help: call 811 for assessment (Nova Scotia Health Authority has established COVID-19 assessment centres. If you need in-person assessment, 811 will refer you to a centre. Don’t go to a COVID-19 assessment centre unless 811 referred you)

Self-isolation/reporting information:

Nova Scotia Health Authority is limiting visitors at all sites to prevent the spread of any respiratory illness, including COVID-19.

To help protect older Nova Scotians, and those most at risk for severe illness, government is restricting visitors who have travelled outside the country in the last 14 days from entering long-term care homes. As always, don’t enter a facility if you’re feeling unwell.

If you’ve travelled outside Canada, you should closely monitor your health for 14 days after you get back to Canada.

If you’ve travelled recently and you start to feel unwell, you should self-isolate. This means you should stay home, away from the public.

If you develop a fever, with a temperature 38 C or higher, or a cough, you should call 811 for assessment.

Nova Scotia Health Authority has established COVID-19 assessment centres. If you need in-person assessment, 811 will refer you to a centre. Don’t go to a COVID-19 assessment centre unless 811 referred you.

If you’ve been directed to self-isolate, you can get information from Nova Scotia Health Authority Public Health by contacting the nearest office.

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Prince Edward Island

Official site here.

Getting help: Call 811 for instructions

Self-isolation/reporting information:

The P.E.I. Chief Public Health Office is advising Islanders travelling outside of Canada to monitor themselves and their children closely for 14 days after returning home. Even if you are feeling well, you are advised to take the following precautions for a two-week period:

  • avoid attending large gatherings
  • delay visiting elderly people or anyone with underlying medical conditions
  • call 811 for instructions if experiencing any new symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing

Arriving travellers who have been in Hubei province (including Wuhan) or Iran voluntarily self-isolate for 14 days after arriving home. Self-isolation means these travellers should stay at home and not attend school or work. Returning travellers from Hubei are encouraged to call 811 to connect with local Public Health for further advice and support.

All travellers who have returned from travelling outside of Canada (other than Hubei province or Iran) are being asked to monitor themselves and their children closely for 14 days after returningand to call 811 if they develop any symptoms (fever, cough, or difficulty breathing).

If you have not been travelling recently but are still concerned about coronavirus, please read the following questions carefully:

  1. In the past 14 days, have you been in close contact with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus?
  2. In the past 14 days, have you been in close contact with a person with fever or acute respiratory illness (new or worsening cough or difficulty breathing) who has been outside of Canada within 14 days prior to becoming ill?

If the answer is yes to either question, stay at home and call 811 for further assessment.

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Newfoundland and Labrador

Official site here.

Getting help: follow-up with your health care provider or call the NL Healthline at 811

Self-isolation/reporting information:

If you have traveled to Hubei province in China or Iran, or have been in contact with a suspect or confirmed case of COVID-19 and have symptoms mentioned above, you may be at risk. Avoid contact with others and follow-up with your health care provider or call the NL Healthline at 811.

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Yukon

Official site here.

Getting help: phone 811 or your health provider

Self-isolation/reporting information:

If you have signs of a respiratory infection (fever, cough or shortness of breath)
AND within 14 days have:

  • travelled to affected countries;
    OR
  • have lived with, or provided direct care to a person who is a probable or confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19);
    OR
  • lived with, or provided direct care to, a person with acute respiratory illness who has recently travelled to affected countries.

Please stay at home and phone 811 or your health provider.

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Northwest Territories

Official site here.

Getting help: tell your health care provider

Self-isolation/reporting information:

If you or your family member have travelled outside of N.W.T. within the last 14 days, the N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer advises that you:

  • Follow healthy respiratory practices.
  • Monitor yourself for symptoms. If you develop fever, cough or difficulty breathing contact a local health-care provider. If your symptoms are severe call 911.  It is best to call in advance and tell the local health-care provider of any recent travel or contact with travellers.
  • If you feel unwell, avoid close contact with others.

In collaboration with federal and provincial partners, the N.W.T. Chief Public Health Officer advises that, if you visited China’s Hubei province or Iran within the last 14 days you should isolate yourself for 14 days upon your return. This is precautionary and we advise self-isolation even if you are feeling well.

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Nunavut

Official site here.

Getting help: call your local health centre

Self-isolation/reporting information:

If you have been travelling through an affected region and you start having symptoms of COVID-19, or you believe you may have been exposed to an individual with the virus, immediately isolate yourself from others and call your local health centre. Describe your symptoms and travel history.

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