COVID-19 Symptoms and Management

Last update: January 10, 2023

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Signs and symptoms

COVID-19 can cause illness ranging from a very mild, cold-like illness to a severe lung infection, including atypical presentations especially in older persons, children and people living with a developmental disability. It is important to note that people with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic while infected and transmission can still occur during their infectious period.

Please refer to the Ministry of Heath’s Management of Cases and Contacts of COVID-19 in Ontario (PDF) for the most up to date list of COVID-19 symptoms.

With ongoing community spread in Ottawa, please consider COVID-19 as a potential diagnosis for all patients presenting with symptoms of acute respiratory infection, regardless of their travel or contact history.  

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Requests for medical notes

OPH recommends that healthcare providers do not provide notes or statements attesting to a clinical assessment that COVID-19 has been “ruled out” as a cause of symptoms. OPH recommends instead that healthcare providers support the patient/parent/guardian to make appropriate declarations when completing any self-assessment questionnaires for their school or workplace (see screening tools below).

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Case and contact management in highest risk settings

Please refer to the Ministry of Health’s Management of Cases and Contacts of COVID-19 in Ontario  for the management of cases and contacts in highest risk settings, as it may differ from the public health advice for community settings provided below. Additional sector-specific guidance is also available.

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COVID-19 testing and Assessment Centres

These centres will perform COVID-19 testing for those who are eligible. Some of these centres also offer in-person clinical assessment of acute symptoms by a nurse or physician and treatment when indicated. Details on how to access a COVID-19 testing and assessment centre are available on our testing page as well as on the website of the Ottawa Testing Taskforce.

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Isolation requirements for COVID-19 cases in Ottawa

Isolation of cases is the mainstay of case management to break chains of transmission in our community and prevent more people from becoming ill.

Physicians and NPs can help decrease COVID-19 transmission in our community by reinforcing messaging around isolation requirements and appropriate testing. Please see the OPH Information for those who have symptoms, test positive for COVID-19 and high-risk contacts webpage for detailed information.

Individuals who are symptomatic or COVID-19 Positive

  • It is recommended that any person (regardless of vaccination status) presenting with at least one sign or symptom (PDF) self-isolate and stay home until fever is resolved and their symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (48 hours for gastrointestinal symptoms). Longer self-isolation is recommended in certain populations, including those associated with highest risk settings.
  • A person with a positive test result and no symptoms, does not need to self-isolate unless symptoms develop, but should follow the precautions below. If an individual develops symptoms, he/she should self-isolate immediately.
  • For a total of 10 days after the start of symptoms (or date of positive test result, whichever is earlier), individuals should:
    • Continue to wear a well-fitted mask in all public settings.
      • Wear a mask as much as possible in public settings (including school and child care, unless under two years old (24 months)). Exceptions would include removing the mask temporarily for essential activities like eating (e.g., when eating in shared space at school/work while maintaining as much distance from others as possible). 
      • Individuals can participate in activities where a mask is worn but should avoid non-essential activities where removing the mask would be necessary (e.g., dining out, playing a wind instrument, high contact sports where masks cannot be safely worn).
      • People who are exempt from masking (e.g., children under two years of age (24 months), etc.) may return to public settings without wearing a mask
    • Not visit anyone who is immunocompromised or at higher risk of illness (i.e., seniors)
    • Avoid non-essential visits to any highest risk settings.
    • Employees working in highest-risk settings should report their exposure and follow their workplace guidance on return to work.
  • This guidance is in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s Management of Cases and Contacts of COVID-19 in Ontario  (PDF).

Individuals testing positive (RAT or PCR)

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Notification and management of high-risk contacts

Individuals should inform others of their exposure

Individuals who test positive or who have symptoms of COVID-19 should notify their household members and similar close contacts that they are ill and refer them to the OPH Information for those who have symptoms, test positive for COVID-19 and high-risk contacts webpage.

A close contact is anyone an individual was less than two metres away from for at least 15 minutes, or multiple shorter lengths of time, without measures such as masking, distancing, and/or the use of personal protective equipment in the 48 hours before symptoms began or a positive test result, whichever came first.

For the latest information on guidance changes, please see the most recent Public Health Alert.

For more information please see the Ministry of Health’s Management of Cases and Contacts of COVID-19 in Ontario (PDF).

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Supports for patients required to isolate

The following supports are available through the City of Ottawa or Ottawa Public Health:

  • Ottawa Voluntary Isolation Centre
    • Ottawa has a Voluntary Isolation Centre (VIC) for people who do not have access to an adequate shelter or cannot self-isolate safely in their own homes. There are no costs associated to stay at the Centre.
  • Mental Health, Substance Use and COVID-19 - Ottawa Public Health
    • Provides information and resources related to mental health and substance use services, mental health resources for diverse communities, mental health resources for workplaces, and how individuals can protect their mental health during the pandemic and during winter months.

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Pharmaceutical Therapies

Please note that OPH does not coordinate access to pharmaceutical treatments for individuals with COVID-19. Provincially, pharmacotherapies are coordinated through Ontario Health. The Ministry of Health provides information for patients on testing and antiviral eligibility and access.

Ontario Health provides recommendation on the use of Paxlovid, see additional resources:

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Role of Ottawa Public Health

  • Using the Health Protection and Promotion Act, S.O. 2007, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) takes actions to protect the public and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community.
  • We collaborate with provincial and national public health partners, as well as local hospitals and community agencies, to assess the risk level in our community. We lead case investigation and management as such anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and contacts associated with highest risk settings fall under OPH’s jurisdiction. We also work with partners to coordinate the response to outbreaks and make recommendations based on the local situation.
  • Ottawa Public Health focuses on the health of the population as a whole. As such, all of our work is guided by public health ethics. The Ethical Framework for pandemic response that was developed by the Public Health Ethics working group to support Ottawa Public Health during the COVID-19 pandemic is available for download: The Ethical Framework for pandemic response (PDF - 437 KB).
  • All people who have tested COVID-19 positive (with molecular testing) are reportable to local public health under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
    • All COVID-19 positive PCR lab results are shared with OPH by our lab partners and followed up as appropriate.
    • Positive RAT results are not reportable to public health. If you have any questions, please contact the Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 phone line at 613-580-6744.
    • All deaths related to COVID-19 and cases of MIS-C are reportable to OPH. Please see the Testing, Results, and Reporting of COVID-19 web page for more details

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