Information for those who have symptoms, test positive for COVID-19 and high-risk contacts

⚠ As molecular testing (PCR and rapid molecular testing) is prioritized for those at increased risk of severe outcomes and those living and working in highest risk settings, molecular testing is no longer being recommended for all individuals in the community with symptoms of COVID-19. People who have symptoms or test positive on a rapid antigen test and are not eligible for testing are presumed to have COVID-19 and must follow the self-isolation instructions below.

Last updated: May 19, 2022

Additional information for:

People who have symptoms OR test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test or Rapid Antigen Test (RAT)

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, please read our Tested Positive Letter [pdf - 284 KB] (This document is currently not in an accessible format.)

You must self-isolate right away to protect those around you. Self-isolation prevents the spread of COVID-19. Self-isolation means staying at home, avoiding contact with other people including those in your household if possible, and only leaving home for independent exercise (while following the precautions listed below) or for critical reasons, like a medical emergency or urgent medical care. Visit the Government of Canada website for self-isolation instructions.  

What happens when you test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test?

You:

  1. May be called by a case manager
  2. Are asked to notify your high-risk contacts (contact tracing)

You may be called by a case manager. Case managers are trained health professionals.

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has partnered with the Ontario Ministry of Health (MOH) and Public Health Ontario (PHO). These organizations are helping OPH with case and contact management. Therefore, as a case or a contact, you may receive a call from the MOH or PHO instead of or in addition to a call from OPH.

Please be aware that you may receive calls from the facility where you were tested and/or the laboratory your test was sent to. They must tell anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 their results. This can mean you may get multiple calls over a few days. You may get more calls if other family members have positive test results, and they have the same phone number.

The laboratory also reports positive results to Ottawa Public Health (OPH). A case manager will call to review self-isolation information with you. They will also provide you with resources (PDF - 253 KB) that can help support you and your family during this time.

Contact tracing

The case manager will ask you to reach out to your high-risk contacts to notify them that they were exposed and may be required to self-isolate.

You will be asked to consider:

  • Places you visited during the time you could transmit the virus
  • Anyone you were in close contact with during the time you could transmit the virus

Your rights, our rights

You have a right to be treated with respect and kindness. We will strive to answer all your questions to the best of our abilities. Our goal is to support you through this and collect the information we are required to. Your personal health information and the health of you and your family are very important to us.

We ask that you kindly listen to the advice provided and help us collect the information we need to keep the community safe.

If you would like to learn more about case and contact management, watch this video

You may receive an SMS/Text from Ottawa Public Health before being contacted by a case manager

If you test positive for COVID-19, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) may attempt to reach you using automated SMS/text messaging before a case manager calls you. The SMS/text message will clearly identify that it was sent by OPH, and it will include a secure link to a mobile-friendly online form that contains important information. We would like for you to complete the details in the form, such as your health status, if you have symptoms, and who you were in contact with. Submitting your information through the form will ensure OPH case managers have access to the information before calling you, which can make the call from the case manager shorter.  Please remember that OPH will never ask you for your banking information or social insurance number.

Accessing Medical Care During Self-Isolation

You must follow the self-isolation requirements. This is the law. However, there may be exemptions allowed in certain situations.

If you are in distress, go to the nearest Emergency Department or call 9-1-1 (experiencing significant trouble breathing, chest pain, fainting, or have significant worsening of any chronic disease symptoms). You can break isolation in order to seek urgent medical care.

Note that urgent medical care includes babies under 3 months of age with a fever who should be seen by CHEO or the nearest emergency department. Be sure to tell the hospital you are COVID-19 positive or isolating due to symptoms or being a close contact. For non-emergency situations where you need medical help, visit a COVID-19 Care Clinic.

Isolation may also be broken to attend essential medical appointments with a healthcare professional that cannot be delayed, such as attending appointments for newborns 24-72 hours after discharge from hospital. Please discuss this with your healthcare provider before attending your appointment.

Ottawa has a voluntary isolation centre for people who do not have access to suitable shelter or cannot self-isolate safely in their own homes. See our voluntary isolation centre web page for more information.

Outdoor Exercise During Self-Isolation

You may leave your home for outdoor exercise by yourself or with a caregiver. You must maintain physical distance of at least two metres (six feet) from others at all times and wear a mask in common areas when leaving if you live in an apartment building, condo, or hotel. You must not go to outdoor fitness classes or personal training sessions.

Self-isolation period for people who have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test or rapid antigen test (RAT)

When calculating your self-isolation period, calculate day zero of your isolation as either: 
- Symptom onset date (For example, if you began symptoms on April 10, April 10 is day zero and your last day of isolation is 11:59 pm on April 15); 
- Testing date (For example, if you do not have symptoms and were tested on July 15, July 15 is day zero and your last day of isolation is 11:59 pm on July 20). 
Both examples are for an isolation period of five days.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and are not eligible for PCR/RAT testing, see You have symptoms and are concerned you may have COVID-19 infographic (pdf - 321 KB) This document is currently not in an accessible format. An accessible document will be posted shortly. 

As molecular testing (PCR and rapid molecular testing) is prioritized for those at increased risk of severe outcomes and those living and working in highest risk settings, molecular testing is no longer being recommended for all individuals in the community with symptoms of COVID-19. People who have symptoms and are not eligible for PCR testing are presumed to have COVID-19 and must self-isolate as outlined below.

Self-isolation period for people who have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test or rapid antigen test (RAT)
Isolation PeriodScenario

Five days from the date your symptoms started or the date of your positive test, if available (whichever is earlier)

and if you have symptoms, until your symptoms have been improving for 24 hours (or 48 hours if gastrointestinal symptoms) and you do not have a fever.

If you are:

  • Fully vaccinated* (regardless of age)
  • Under 12 years of age (regardless of vaccination status)

10 days from the date your symptoms started or the date of your positive test, if available (whichever is earlier)

and if you have symptoms, until your symptoms have been improving for 24 hours (or 48 hours if gastrointestinal symptoms) and you don’t have a fever.

If you are:

  • 12 years of age or older and not fully vaccinated*
  • Immunocompromised (regardless of age or vaccination status) including cancer chemotherapy, untreated HIV infection with CD4 T lymphocyte count 20 mg/day (or equivalent) for more than 14 days and taking other immune suppressive medications.
  • Living in a highest risk setting**
  • Hospitalized for COVID-19 related illness

20 days from the date your symptoms started or the date of your positive test, if available (whichever is earlier)

and if you have symptoms, until your symptoms have been improving for 24 hours (or 48 hours if gastrointestinal symptoms) and you don’t have a fever.

If you are:

  • Severely ill (requiring ICU level of care)

For a total of 10 days (or 20 days if you are immunocompromised) after the start of symptoms (or date of positive test result, whichever is earlier), you must:

  • 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 2 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). 
    • Participation in activities where a mask is worn may be resumed, but you should avoid 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)
  • Not visit or attend work in any highest risk settings**.
  • Employees working in highest-risk settings** should report their exposure and follow their workplace guidance on return to work.

Frequently Asked Questions about Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) and PCR tests

How to collect a sample for a rapid antigen test (RAT) 

I’m symptomatic and I’ve done a RAT that is positive

You are no longer required or encouraged to get a confirmatory PCR or rapid molecular test. It is not necessary to report positive Rapid Antigen test results to OPH.

If you test positive from a rapid antigen test or are presumed positive based on your symptoms, see isolation instructions

Household contacts of individuals who test positive or are presumed positive based on their symptoms may be required to self-isolate.  

You should also reach your non-household contacts by providing them with the high-risk contact letter (pdf - 212 KB, this document is not in an accessible format). Individuals who are eligible for a lab-based PCR test are encouraged to get tested.

I’m symptomatic and I’ve done a RAT that is negative

If you complete two RATs, separated by 24-48 hours, and both are negative, you may end self-isolation once your symptoms are improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours if gastrointestinal). Your household members may also discontinue self-isolation, as long as they are asymptomatic.

If you are required to isolate as a high-risk contact of COVID-19, please complete your isolation period.

If you are not able to complete two RATs, you are presumed positive based on your symptoms and you must follow the self-isolation instructions for people who have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test or RAT. You are no longer required or encouraged to get a confirmatory PCR or rapid molecular test.

Household contacts of individuals who test positive or are presumed positive based on their symptoms may be required to self-isolate.  

You should also reach your non-household contacts by providing them with the high-risk contact letter (pdf - 212 KB, this document is not in an accessible format). Individuals who are eligible for a lab-based PCR test are encouraged to get tested.

I’m asymptomatic and I’ve done a RAT that is positive

You are no longer required or encouraged to get a confirmatory PCR or rapid molecular test. It is not necessary to report positive Rapid Antigen test results to OPH.

If you test positive from a rapid antigen test or are presumed positive based on your symptoms, see isolation instructions.

Household contacts of individuals who test positive or are presumed positive based on their symptoms may be required to self-isolate.  

You should also reach your non-household contacts by providing them with the high-risk contact letter (pdf - 212 KB, this document is not in an accessible format). Individuals who are eligible for a lab-based PCR test are encouraged to get tested.

I’m asymptomatic and I’ve done a RAT that is negative

You do not need to self-isolate unless you are isolating because of a close contact (and meet the criteria for self-isolation).

I’m symptomatic but I tested negative on a PCR. Do I (and my contacts) still need to isolate?

People who have symptoms that are eligible for testing and test negative on a PCR test may discontinue isolation once symptoms have been improving for 24 hours (or 48 hours for gastrointestinal) unless you were aware of or notified that you were exposed to someone who tested positive or had symptoms of COVID-19. If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or symptoms of COVID-19 and are required to self-isolate, you must complete your required isolation even with a negative PCR test. Household members of people who get a negative PCR test and do not have any symptoms, no longer need to isolate.

People who are contacts of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 (high-risk contacts)

If you were exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, complete this self-isolation determination tool to find out if you need to self-isolate.

Please share this high-risk contact letter (PDF - 250 KB) to anyone you were in close contact with, beginning 48 hours before your symptoms started (or 48 hours before your positive result, if you have no symptoms), up until you started self-isolating. (This document is not in an accessible format.)

Who is a close contact infographic (PDF - 1 MB) (available in Arabic and Somali)

How to identify your close contacts (PDF - 311 KB) 

What is a high-risk contact and how is this determined?

A high-risk contact is someone who was in close contact with a person who had symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 during the time they could transmit the virus to others (period of communicability). A person’s period of communicability is 48 hours before their first symptom started, or 48 hours before their test date (if they have no symptoms) until their self-isolation period has ended. Close contact is being within two meters (six feet) of a person who had symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 for more than a brief encounter or having multiple close encounters, without adequate protection. See our Masks page for more information on using masks.

Some examples of high-risk situations include:

  • Physical contact such as shaking someone’s hand, hugging kissing, being sneezed or coughed on
  • Living in the same household (this excludes individuals who live in a completely separate unit such as a self-contained basement apartment)
  • Providing care to someone (e.g., taking care of an elderly parent).

OPH may decide that someone is a high-risk contact based on information provided by the person who tested positive. OPH may also decide this based on information from where the exposure took place, such as schools, day cares or workplaces. OPH assesses many factors to determine if a contact had a high-risk exposure. This includes where you were, how long you were together, how close you were and if masks were worn.

Do high-risk contacts need to go for testing?

As molecular testing (PCR and rapid molecular testing) is prioritized for those at increased risk of severe outcomes and those living and working in highest risk settings, molecular testing is no longer being recommended for all individuals in the community with symptoms of COVID-19.

You may go for testing if you meet the criteria mentioned on our testing webpage. If you develop symptoms and are not eligible for testing, please see Self-isolation period for people who have symptoms of COVID-19 but can’t get tested.

If you don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms, you do not need to get tested.

How long do I need to isolate for?

Isolation period for non-household contacts of people who have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test or rapid antigen test (RAT)

When calculating your self-isolation period, calculate day zero of your isolation as either: 
- Symptom onset date (For example, if you began symptoms on April 10, April 10 is day zero and your last day of isolation is 11:59 pm on April 15); 
- Testing date (For example, if you do not have symptoms and were tested on July 15, July 15 is day zero and your last day of isolation is 11:59 pm on July 20). 
Both examples are for an isolation period of five days.

Isolation period for non-household contacts of people who have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test or rapid antigen test (RAT)
ScenarioIsolation Period
High-risk contacts who do not live with the person who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 on a PCR or RAT test and do not live in a highest risk setting

You are not required to self-isolate, as long as you do not have symptoms. If you develop symptoms, self-isolate immediately.

For a total of 10 days after the last contact with the person who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 (on a PCR or RAT), you must:

  • Self-monitor for symptoms and self-isolate if you develop any symptom of COVID-19
  • 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 2 years old). 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). 
    • Participation in activities where a mask is worn may be resumed, but you should avoid 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, 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).
  • Not visit or attend work in any highest risk settings**.
  • Employees working in highest risk settings** should report their exposure and follow their workplace guidance.
High-risk contacts who live in a highest risk setting**

You must self-isolate for 10 days regardless of age or vaccination status.

If you develop symptoms continue to self-isolate and get a PCR test, if you are eligible. If you are not eligible for testing, follow the instructions "Self-isolation period for people who have symptoms of COVID-19 but can’t get tested" above.

High-risk contacts who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days on a RAT or molecular test (i.e., PCR) only

You are not required to self-isolate and can attend highest-risk settings**, as long as you don’t have any symptoms. You must self-monitor for symptoms for 10 days following your contact with the person who tested positive or has symptoms.

If you develop symptoms self-isolate according to Self-isolation period for people who have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test or a rapid antigen test (RAT).

Isolation period for household members of people who have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test or rapid antigen test (RAT)
Isolation period for household members of people who have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test or rapid antigen test (RAT)
ScenarioIsolation Period

Household members who live with the person who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 on a PCR or RAT

And

  • Are 18 years of age and older and have already received the booster dose

Or

You are not required to self-isolate, as long as you do not have symptoms. Please follow the Precautions for Household Members (under the table).

If you develop symptoms, self-isolate immediately.

Household members who live with the person who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 on a PCR or RAT

And

Have previously tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days (based on positive PCR or RAT).

You are not required to self-isolate and can attend highest-risk settings**, as long as you do not have symptoms. Please follow the Precautions for Household Members (under the table).

If you develop symptoms, self-isolate immediately.

Household members who live with the person who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 on a PCR or RAT 

And 

Do not meet any of the exceptions above

 

You must self-isolate for the same amount of time as the person who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 on a PCR or RAT).

If another household member develops COVID-19 symptoms, you should extend your self-isolation until the last person with symptoms, or a positive result has finished their self-isolation period (the initial person with symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test result [on a PCR or RAT] does not have to extend their self-isolation period).

Please follow the Precautions for Household Members (under the table).

Precautions for Household Members:

If self-isolation is complete in less than 10 days, or if self-isolation is not required, for a total of 10 days after the last exposure*** to the person who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19, ALL household members must:

  • Self-monitor for symptoms and self-isolate if they develop any symptom of COVID-19 
  • 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 2 years old). 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).   
    • Participation in activities where a mask is worn may be resumed, but you should avoid 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, 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)  
  • Not visit or attend work in any highest risk settings** (unless previously positive in the past 90 days).
  • Employees working in highest risk settings** should report their exposure and follow their workplace guidance.

If more household members develop symptoms or test positive, the period of self-isolation and/or period to follow precautions for asymptomatic household members will be extended from the day the additional person developed symptoms or tested positive (the initial person with symptoms or a positive test result is not required to extend their period of following additional precautions).

Example:

  • Person A tests positive on a RAT and is required to self-isolate for five days based on their health status.
  • Person A lives with four household members who are all fully vaccinated and received the booster.
  • The household members would be required to follow the additional precautions listed above for 10 days.
  • Another household member (Person B) develops symptoms and begins self-isolating.
  • The remaining household members are required to re-start their 10 days of additional precautions following the last date of exposure to person B. Person A is required to follow the additional precautions for a total of 10 days from their symptoms onset or positive test result. They are not required to re-start their 10 days of additional precautions if more household members develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR or RAT.
Children Exposed at School or Child Care Settings
For additional information on close contacts who are exposed at schools or childcare settings, visit Supporting schools and Supporting Child Care and Early Years during COVID-19.

Additional Information

How to speak to a Public Health Nurse?

Please call 613-580-6744 and follow the prompts to the COVID-19 phone line. Our phone line is open Monday to Friday from 8 am to 4:30 pm.

Before calling, please check our resources for information:

Download the OPH Sick Note to send to your employer

If you are required to self-isolate based on the information above and your employer requires a sick note, download the OPH sick note [pdf - 159 KB]

Why am I still testing positive for COVID-19 after my self-isolation period has ended? Am I still contagious?

PCR Test after infection:

Continuing to test positive after recovery from COVID-19 infection is common, with some people still testing positive on a PCR test for weeks or months after their initial infection. This is because the PCR test is detecting viral remains that are no longer living and unable to cause infection. This means you are no longer contagious.  Therefore, it is not recommended that individuals without symptoms undergo PCR testing for at least 90 days after the initial COVID-19 infection.  If the person develops new symptoms of COVID-19 within that 90 day period, consultation with a health care provider is recommended to help with the decision on whether to do further testing. Note that individuals who develop new symptoms of COVID-19 should complete the provincial screening tool and follow the isolation and mask use instructions provided.

Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) after infection:

Rapid antigen tests (RAT) are generally less sensitive to the virus than PCR tests and work better in symptomatic people.  If a person tests positive using a RAT, with or without symptoms, they should follow isolation and mask use guidelines until they have completed the required self-isolation period and symptoms have been improving for 24 hours, even if a test repeated within the isolation period is negative.

By 10 days after developing symptoms or testing positive (20 days if immune compromised), there are very few people who have any remaining viable virus – which means they are no longer contagious. Therefore, required isolation and masking precautions can be ended based on time from symptom onset or positive test date (whichever is earlier) and further testing is not recommended.

After testing positive for COVID-19 on either a PCR test or RAT, individuals can begin participating in RAT screening programs (e.g., workplace programs that test for COVID-19 infection regularly in those without symptoms) 30 days after the initial COVID-19 infection. If the person develops new symptoms of COVID-19 during the 30 day period following a positive RAT, consultation with a health care provider is recommended to help with the decision on whether to do further testing. Note that individuals who develop new symptoms of COVID-19 should complete the provincial screening tool and follow the isolation and mask use instructions provided.

Definitions

*Fully vaccinated means that it has been at least 14 days since you received:​

  • The full series of a COVID-19 vaccine authorized by Health Canada (e.g., 2 doses of Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca/COVIDSHIELD, Novavax or Medicago OR 1 dose of Janssen [Johnson & Johnson]) or any combination of such vaccines, or
  • One or two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine not authorized by Health Canada (e.g., Sinopharm) followed by one dose of a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine authorized by Health Canada (e.g., Pfizer- BioNTech or Moderna) or
  • Three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine not authorized by Health Canada (e.g., Abdala).

**Highest risk settings include:

  • Hospitals+, including complex continuing care facilities. 
  • Congregate living settings, including, Long-Term Care, retirement homes, First Nation elder care lodges, group homes, shelters, hospices, correctional institutions and hospital schools.
  • Workplace and living settings for international agricultural workers.

+Health care settings to be considered are locations where a high number of patients are immunocompromised (e.g., dialysis clinics, outpatient chemotherapy clinics, transplant clinics). Follow your employer’s guidelines for returning to work. If your employer is not providing guidelines for returning to work, health care workers should assess the risks and benefits of returning to work after five days of isolation. Consider if returning to work may result in multiple high-risk individuals (as defined above) being infected due to the small risk of still transmitting the virus.

In general, most community settings would not be considered highest-risk (e.g., dental, optometry).

Child-care facilities including schools are not considered ‘highest risk’ unless they are a congregate living setting and/or are associated with a health care environment for immunocompromised or otherwise medically complex individuals (e.g., respite care). 

***Last exposure refers to the last day the household member was exposed to the person who is isolating with COVID-19 symptoms, or a positive COVID-19 test result:

  • If unable to effectively self-isolate in the home, household members would have ongoing exposure until the end of the isolation period of the person who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19.
  • If there is ongoing exposure, the last day of exposure to the person who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19 is the last day of the isolation period of the person who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19.

For example, if a child with COVID-19 was self-isolating from Monday to Saturday, the ‘last exposure’ for the parent who was caring for the COVID-19 positive child would be Saturday.

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