COVID-19 High Risk Contacts

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) will advise you if you are a high-risk contact. 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, some 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.

Frequently asked questions

What is a high-risk contact and how does OPH determine this?

Being a high-risk contact means that you (or a member of your household) were in contact with someone with COVID-19 for longer than 15 minutes and/or closer than two metre distance, in the last two weeks.

Ottawa Public Health will identify all those who may be considered high-risk close contacts based on information provided by the individual who tested positive. As well, information is received from collaboration with the setting where the exposure took place, such as schools, day cares or workplaces. Ottawa Public Health identifies high risk “close contacts” through a detailed review of factors such as the individual’s symptoms, where they have been, and with whom they have interacted.

Many factors must be considered when determining close contacts, including but not limited to:

  • What were the shared spaces accessed by the individual(s) who has tested positive for COVID-19?
  • Were they part of the same group as the individual who tested positive for COVID-19?
  • Was Personal Protective Equipment used (such as masks/face shields)?

 Interactions where people briefly come within 2 metres (6 feet) of each other, such as walking by someone in a hallway or on the sidewalk, are generally not considered “close contacts”. 

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 or 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. OPH will advise you of your next steps when you get tested/when results are received.

What does self-isolation mean for me?

When you have been identified as a high-risk contact, and are not showing symptoms, you are considered category orange on the Tested What Now Handout: you must self-isolate at home, meaning you need to stay home for at least 14 days from the date of your last exposure to the individual that tested positive. 

People in isolation are not to leave their home, unless to be tested for COVID-19 or for medical care. While at home, monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 each day.

High risk contacts should isolate from their household members, whenever possible, regardless as to whether they have symptoms or not. 

If it is not possible to isolate away from your household members (i.e., parents of young children), ensure that you wear a mask during interactions, wash your hands often and maintain a 2M distance when possible.

Frequent disinfection of all surfaces is also important in keeping the household safe. If you are the primary caregiver of someone who is a high-risk contact (such as a child or other family member), visit the Government of Canada page : How to care for someone with COVID-19 at home for advice on how to stay safe.

What does self-isolation mean for my household?

Household members of people who are asymptomatic high-risk contacts must stay home except for essential reasons for the duration of their self-isolation period. Essential reasons to leave the home include:

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

Household members will need to start self-isolation if the high-risk contact or other household contact begins to show symptoms. 

Symptomatic individuals in the household should be tested for COVID-19. If the person who is a high-risk contact, or one of their household members develops symptoms, the person with symptoms should assess whether their risk category moves from Orange to Red on the Tested What Now Handout. They should wear a mask, be separated from other family members if possible, and be tested for COVID-19. Family members are also required to self isolate while awaiting the test results of the testing individual. If the results are negative, the individual must continue their 14-day isolation. Household members may end isolation but continue to stay home except for essential reasons.

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 people to isolate as soon as possible. This, in turn, 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 all 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: qualityassurance@telask.com
  • 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 7:30 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 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • 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 7:30 am to 6:00 pm
  • Weekends, from 9:00 am to 4:00 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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