COVID-19 High Risk Contacts

In some situations, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) will advise you if you are a high-risk contact. Currently OPH is seeing a rise in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 and is no longer able to contact trace as we have previously. OPH is now asking individuals who test positive for COVID-19 to be responsible for notifying their contacts that they may have been exposed. As required by public health law in Ontario, high-risk contacts must self-isolate for 14 days (Health Promotion and Protection Act). In most cases OPH will recommend that you (and/or the members of your household) get tested 7 days after you last came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. However, if you have symptoms, you should go for testing right away. Most people who become sick with COVID-19 show signs and symptoms approximately 5 days after being exposed to someone with COVID-19. In some cases, people who are infected do not have any symptoms at all. Testing is available by appointment ONLY at all testing sites. Please visit the OPH Testing page for more information.

Who is a close contact infographic (pdf - 941 KB, available in Somali and Arabic) (This document is currently not in an accessible format. An accessible document will be posted shortly)

Frequently asked questions

I have just learned that I have had a high-risk exposure to someone with COVID-19 and I am ‘fully vaccinated’, what now?

You may consider yourself ‘fully vaccinated’ when it has been 14 days after receiving your second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series approved by Health Canada:

• Moderna,

• Pfizer-BioNTEch,

• AstraZeneca.

Or, when it has been 14 days after receiving a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine series approved by Health Canada:

• Janssen (Johnson and Johnson).

If you do not have any symptoms of COVID-19 and were fully vaccinated at the time of your high-risk exposure to someone with COVID-19, you do NOT need to self-isolate at home or in the community.  However, there are some exceptions:

Exceptions Why?
Individuals who are residents of long-term care or retirement homes, patients admitted overnight to health care settings and residents of high-risk congregate settings (ex: group homes, shelters). There is a higher risk of severe disease and death in this population and risk of transmission in these settings.
High Risk Contacts (HRC) that are only partially vaccinated or within 2 weeks of receiving their second dose. Partially vaccinated individuals are not considered fully vaccinated and are still at risk for developing infection. 
Fully vaccinated individuals that have travelled internationally. All travellers entering Canada must follow Federal Quarantine Requirements including isolation and testing regardless of vaccine status.
HRC that are symptomatic. If symptoms occur, individuals must self-isolate and be tested immediately. Their household contacts should also self-isolate (unless fully vaccinated). Isolation can be discontinued for both the HRC and the household contacts if the HRC receives a negative test and is symptom free for 24 hours, or if a health care practitioner provides an alternative diagnosis. 
Immunocompromising conditions (e.g., organ or stem cell transplantation recipients, undergoing chemotherapy or immunosuppressive therapies) . More studies are currently being done on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines among individuals with immunocompromising conditions.


If you do not meet any of the exclusions above:

  • You do not need to self-isolate.
  • Your household members do not need to self-isolate.
  • If you develop symptoms, you must immediately self-isolate and seek testing, and your household members must also self-isolate (unless they are fully vaccinated).
  • You should still be tested in accordance with current recommendations or right away if you develop symptoms.
  • Inform your employer of your exposure and follow any restrictions from work as specified by your manager or Occupational Health Department.
What is a high-risk contact and how is this determined?

High-risk contacts can be a household and /or a close contact as defined below:  

  • household contact is anyone who lives with the person being tested like parents, siblings, roommates or someone who provided care to the person in the home (such as bathing, toileting, dressing, feeding). This includes other persons who may have similar unprotected contact with you (such as partners living in other households or people who visit with you indoors for prolonged periods without wearing masks or maintaining physical distancing).  
  • A close contact, also known as a high-risk contact, is someone exposed to a person who tested positive for the virus. Exposures can occur in your home, other indoor places where physical distancing is difficult to maintain and even outdoors, if people are close together for longer periods of time.  

In some situations, OPH may determine if someone is a high-risk contact based on information provided by the individual who tested positive. OPH may also determine this based on information received from the setting where the exposure took place, such as schools, day cares or workplaces. A detailed review of factors such as the individual’s symptoms, where they have been, and with whom they interacted are considered.

Due to the rise in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19, OPH is asking these people to help determine who their high-risk contacts are and to notify them. See “Why would I receive a high-risk letter from someone who tested positive for COVID and what do I do now?” to learn more about what situations are considered high-risk.

Why would I receive a high risk letter from someone who tested positive for COVID and what do I do now?

Due to the increase in people testing positive for COVID-19 OPH is asking those individuals to  notify their high-risk contacts and to share a high-risk contact letter with them via email.

High-risk situations include:

  • Being within six feet/two metres for 15 minutes or more
  • Multiple close encounters within a 24-hour period (even if each was less than 15 minutes)
  • Close physical contact such as shaking someone’s hand or giving a hug
  • Living in the same household
  • Providing care to someone (e.g., taking care of an elderly parent)

If you received a high-risk contact letter, please follow the instructions in the high-risk contact letter.

What does this mean for me and the people I live with/household members?

Those who live in your home (i.e. siblings, parents, roommates) with the person who is considered a high-risk contact should stay home except for the essential reasons and self-monitor daily (using the screening tool: for adults or for children). 

Essential reasons to leave the home include:

  • attending work/school/childcare;
  • essential errands such as groceries;
  • attending medical appointments; or
  • picking up prescriptions.

Testing and isolation is only indicated in household members (those living in the same house as the high-risk contact) if someone in the household tests positive for COVID-19, has symptoms of COVID-19, or if they were personally exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. 

All household members are required to immediately begin isolation if someone becomes symptomatic and the symptomatic individual needs to get tested.

Where can I find the approved screening tools?

Should I go for COVID-19 testing?

High risk contacts should go for COVID-19 testing, but the timing of the COVID-19 tests is important. The date you go for testing is determined by the two factors:

  1. If you have COVID-19 like symptoms
  2. When you last had contact with the person who tested positive for COVID-19

If you have COVID-19 like symptoms go for testing immediately.

If you do not have COVID-19 like symptoms, OPH advises you to get tested 7 or more days after your last contact with the person that tested positive for COVID-19. This date is included in the automated message from OPH. Testing is available by appointment ONLY at all testing sites. Please visit the OPH Testing page for more information.

What if my test is negative?

If you were identified as a high-risk contact and your test is negative, you still need to remain in isolation for 14 days and your household members must continue to stay home except for essential reasons. It can take up to 14 days after being exposed to someone with COVID-19 for you to start showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and to test positive. Testing should take place no earlier than 7 days after initial close contact with a confirmed case, unless the contact has symptoms of COVID-19 or is advised otherwise by public health. The timing of testing is important as a person may be incubating (the time it takes for the disease to develop into an infection) and COVID-19 may not show on the test result if tested too early.

Even if after waiting 7 days to be tested, the result is negative, it remains important for the contact to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms for 14 days from exposure to the confirmed case, and for household members to stay home except for essential reasons. You will be helping to protect others because COVID-19 can develop for up to 14 days after exposure, even if you receive a negative test result earlier in the isolation period. 

Why does Ottawa Public Health sometimes use an automated message?

Ottawa Public Health uses automated messages when there are a high number of individuals to reach. It allows Ottawa Public Health to reach more people quickly, which helps high-risk contacts to isolate as soon as possible. This reduces potential COVID-19 transmission in the community.

When will I be receiving automated messages?

Ottawa Public Health uses technology to rapidly follow-up with high-risk contacts to ensure that they are following public health guidance and staying in isolation.

You will receive your first automated message as soon as we have enough information to contact you. Two more potential messages will be sent depending on your last day of exposure and isolation dates (Day 7 and Day 14). Please listen to the message(s) very carefully. 

What if I receive another automated message telling me different things?

You may receive more than one automated message if you are identified as a high-risk contact in more than one setting. If the automated message tells you to self-isolate until two different dates, you should self-isolate until the later date. For example, if you are identified as a high-risk contact at a school telling you to self-isolate until March 20th, 2021 and at a social event telling you to self-isolate until March 23rd, 2021, you should self-isolate until the later day, March 23rd, 2021.

If you are unsure what to do or have questions, please call 613-580-6744 and follow the prompts to the COVID-19 phone line. Our phone line is open Monday to Friday from 7:30 am to 6pm, and on weekends from 9am to 4pm.

What does the automated message sound like?

If you are identified as a high-risk contact and OPH has determined that they have enough information to add you to the automated lists, you will potentially receive:

  • a text from number: 888-286-0549
  • an email from sender:
  • a phone call with ID: Ottawa Public Health or 613-580-2424

The opening line will include:

“This is an urgent message from Ottawa Public Health (OPH).” or 

"A message from OPH"

Depending on your last day of exposure, the message that you receive after the intro line will vary.

Where do I call if I want to speak with a nurse?

If you have questions that have not been answered above or in our frequently asked questions page and you would like to speak with 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 6 pm, and on weekends from 9 am to 4 pm.


Contact Information

Provincial Vaccine Information Line

  • 7 days a week, from 8 am to 8 pm
  • Call if you have questions about Ontario's COVID-19 vaccination program.
  • Service is available in multiple languages.
  • Telephone: 1-888-999-6488
  • TTY: 1-866-797-0007

Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 Telephone Line

  • Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 4:30 pm
  • Weekends, from 9 am to 4 pm
  • Translation is available in multiple languages
  • Telephone: 613-580-6744 follow the prompts to the COVID-19 telephone line
  • TTY: 613-580-9656

Emergency Services

  • If you are in distress (e.g., significant trouble breathing, chest pain, fainting or have a significant worsening of any chronic disease symptoms), do not go to the Assessment Centre or a COVID-19 Care clinic. Go to the nearest Emergency Department or call 9-1-1.

See someone not respecting COVID-19 rules?

How to access help during COVID-19

  • 211 Ontario can help you find financial and social support during COVID-19
  • Telephone: 2-1-1

Related Information

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