COVID-19 Symptoms and Management

⚠ As COVID-19 cases and contacts continue to climb in Ontario and here in Ottawa, we expect that the Ministry of Health approach to COVID-19 testing will change with new prioritization criteria that will focus on vulnerable populations and essential workers. In the interim, Ottawa Public Health advises in the event that you are unable to access timely PCR testing and regardless of your vaccination status, you must self-isolate if: 

  • you or anyone in your household has tested positive on a rapid antigen test 
  • you are a household member of someone who has tested positive on a PCR test 
  • you or anyone in your household are experiencing any of the most common symptoms of COVID- 19 
    • Fever (Temperature of 37.8 C or greater) and/or chills
    • Cough (new or worsening)
    • Shortness of breath
    • Decrease or loss of taste or smell
    • Extreme tiredness, lack of energy, feeling of being unwell (not related to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in the past 48 hours)
    • Muscle aches and pains (not related to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in the past 48 hours)
    • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea

Please be aware that COVID-19, in particular Omicron, often presents with minor symptoms (cough, fatigue, and/or congestion or runny nose) or causes no symptoms at all.

Last update: January 11, 2021

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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 well as contact tracing, and as such anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 and their identified high-risk contacts 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 are reportable to local public health under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
    • Note: Given the high volume and widespread infections of COVID-19 in our community, physicians and health care professionals are no longer required to notify OPH of symptomatic patients suspected of having COVID-19 at this time. We have removed the Online COVID-19 Reporting Tool from our website. All COVID positive lab results for COVID-19 are shared with OPH by our lab partners and followed up as appropriate. Note that Rapid Antigen Test results are not reportable, but a positive Rapid Antigen Test should prompt confirmatory PCR testing if available. If you have any questions, please contact the Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 phone line at 613-580-6744.

When notified of a case, OPH takes the following steps: 

  1. Aim to contact the individual within 24 hours of receiving the positive result for public health follow up (Note: It is the responsibility of the ordering physician or health care provider to communicate test results to their patients and provide clinical follow up as appropriate.)
  2. Ensure isolation of cases
  3. Initiate case investigation
  4. Provide education, support and links to community resources as needed
  5. Conduct contact tracing

Note: Our case management team is experiencing significant capacity challenges, which is leading to a delay in reaching individuals who test positive for COVID-19. As a result, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is asking individuals who test positive for COVID-19 to notify their high-risk contacts to advise them that they might have been exposed.

To learn more, please see Ottawa Public Health’s Information for those who test positive for COVID-19 and high-risk contacts.

Physicians and nurse practitioners may receive questions from patients about their symptoms or their COVID-19 results before OPH has been in touch. We appreciate your support in reinforcing self-isolation. We also recognize the important role that physicians and NPs play in supporting patients with their individual health concerns.

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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 COVID-19 Reference Document for Symptoms (PDF) for the most up to date COVID-19 symptoms.

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

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 their school or workplace screening self-assessment questionnaire (see screening tools below) or their return to school/childcare attestation form (PDF - 261 KB) and encourage patients to be tested when indicated.

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Isolation requirements 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 and appropriate testing when patients develop symptoms, are named as a high-risk contact or test positive for COVID-19.

Note: Due to the surge in demand for testing, COVID-19 testing is no longer available for everyone in a timely manner. Because of this unfortunate reality, OPH will be directing people with any symptoms of COVID-19 or who tests positive on a rapid antigen test who are unable to access a timely COVID-19 PCR test to assume that they are infected with Omicron and self-isolate immediately for 10 days from symptom-onset or positive rapid antigen test result. Their household contacts, regardless of vaccination status, are also directed to isolate. Symptomatic individuals must self-isolate even if they test negative on a rapid antigen test as these tests can produce false negative results.

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

For more information on recent Provincial isolation requirement, please see the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Case, Contact and Outbreak Management Interim Guidance: Omicron Surge (pdf).

Asymptomatic contacts of a confirmed case will be advised on testing and isolation requirements by OPH or by the case that they had contact with. Please see Ottawa Public Health’s Information for those who test positive for COVID-19 and high-risk contacts for more information.

Supports for patients required to isolate

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

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