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Information about the COVID-19 virus 

Last updated: December 22, 2020

COVID-19 symptoms 

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. Symptoms of COVID-19 may include:

  • Fever
  • New or worsening cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Decrease or loss of sense of taste or smell
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose or nasal congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)

About the virus: protecting yourself, how it's spread, and more

How can I protect myself from COVID-19?

Physical distancing is an important measure we must take to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This means keeping a six-foot distance from others when out on essential errands or enjoying the outdoors. That’s about the maximum distance that droplets from a person’s cough or sneeze can travel, which is one of the ways the virus is spread.

If you are ill (even with mild symptoms) it is important that you stay home to prevent the risk of spreading your illness to others. Ask someone to purchase groceries for you, or use a delivery service.

Along with physical distancing, it is important to wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer to help prevent exposure to, and transmission of, illness.

Other important ways that we can prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Practising proper cough and sneeze etiquette: By coughing/sneezing into a tissue, or into your sleeve or arm (and immediately washing your hands afterwards)
  • Not touching your face: A virus's port of entry is your eyes, nose, mouth
  • Cleaning your hands before eating/drinking
  • Cleaning frequently touched objects and surfaces: Like bathroom sinks, kitchen counters, etc.

For vulnerable populations (people who are immunocompromised, seniors and pregnant women) should extra precautions be taken to protect myself from this illness?

The COVID-19 pandemic is a concerning time for our community, and in particular for those who are immunocompromised, elderly or pregnant. Researchers are still studying this novel coronavirus and how it affects people who are vulnerable.

Sunnybrook’s Infection Prevention and Control team has these reminders to help reduce your risk of catching this or other infectious illnesses:

  • Do during the COVID-19 pandemic what you routinely do to protect yourself: wash your hands, keep them away from your face, stay away from people who are unwell.
  • Practice physical distancing: We’ve been hearing this a lot. It means limit your close contact with others, stay away from crowds, and keep 2 m physical space from others. Stay at home as much as possible. This helps reduce the spread in the community, thus protecting you further.
  • Carry hand sanitizer if you must go out, and clean your hands frequently.
  • If someone in your home is ill with a fever, cough, cold or other infectious illness, spread out if possible. Designate some space for each of you. Sleep separately if you don’t already and you have the space to do so. The person who is sick with cough, cold, fever, etc. should wear a mask when they are with you.
  • Wipe down high-touch surfaces daily.
  • Physicians in Ontario are encouraged to move to virtual visits. Ask your doctor if that’s possible for your next appointment.
  • And lastly, have a conversation with loved ones and friends about what they can do to protect you and how important it is: wash their hands, keep their hands away from their face; stay home when unwell; practice physical distancing — this means stay home as much as possible.

How does COVID-19 spread?

Research shows that the COVID-19 virus is spread through close contact with an infected person.

This close contact can occur in two ways: droplet and contact.

Droplets means respiratory droplets produced by an infected person’s sneeze or cough. These can travel up to 6 feet (1.8 metres). A person becomes infected when droplets from a cough or sneeze directly enter the body through the eyes, mouth or nose.

Contact means touching a person or object directly, such as door handles, that have droplets on them from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. Unwashed hands contaminated with COVID-19 can introduce the virus to your body when you touch your eyes, mouth or nose.

Learn more about how COVID-19 spreads

Washing your hands often and avoiding touching your face are two very important ways to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

More tips and information on protecting against COVID-19

Is it true that people can spread this virus even with only mild symptoms?

COVID-19 can spread from people with mild symptoms. 

In the majority of instances, COVID-19 spreads person-to-person via people who are symptomatic. These people have a cough or fever and feel unwell.

To be safe, though, it is important for everyone to self-monitor for symptoms. If you have even mild symptoms, stay home.

Is there any treatment or cure available for COVID-19?

There are currently no approved treatments or cures available for COVID-19. Researchers around the world are working together to better understand the COVID-19 virus in order to test treatments and develop new approaches to combat this virus.

For patients who are in hospital, supportive care is provided. In some cases, people may require a ventilator to breathe.

Sunnybrook remains at the pulse of any new and emerging research. Clinical trials are ongoing at the hospital to ensure evidence-based treatments can be safely developed for all COVID-19 patients.

» Learn more about COVID-19 research happening at Sunnybrook

» Learn more about COVID-19 clinical trials happening at Sunnybrook

I've heard about COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes and hospitals across Ontario. What does this mean?

An outbreak means that two or more patients who are being cared for in a health-care facility for something other than COVID-19 have tested positive for the illness. This outbreak criteria is set by public health.

Year round, Sunnybrook has extensive infection prevention and control measures and protocols in place to help us prevent, prepare for and control any outbreaks that may occur.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sunnybrook has taken extra protective and surveillance measures among our patients and our staff to help mitigate any risk of hospital acquired infections. Our experts, alongside our health system partners, have also developed COVID-19 specific outbreak plans to ensure every possible measure is put in place to prevent and contain any outbreaks.

What does "community transmission" mean?

COVID-19 is circulating in the community in Toronto. This means that people who have not travelled outside of Canada are at similar risk for COVID-19 as those who have travelled. Because there is COVID-19 circulating in the community, this makes travel history less relevant to a person’s risk of developing the virus. Instead, it makes it all the more important to self-monitor for symptoms, even mild, and to ensure we are staying home if we feel even the slightest bit unwell.

What exactly is a pandemic?

When we talk about a pandemic, we're talking about a new virus spreading across the globe and across countries affecting a high proportion of the population. It’s important to remember that “pandemic” is not related to the severity of an illness, or the number of fatalities associated with an illness. 

How is Sunnybrook prepared to handle this virus?

Our experience in treating infectious diseases and managing outbreaks, as well as our extensive training, has helped prepare us for this type of issue. Our infection prevention and control team has been working with our emergency department and many other areas of the hospital to ensure screening is taking place and proper precautions such as personal protective equipment are in use to safeguard our staff and patients. Sunnybrook continues to work closely with Toronto Public Health, the federal and provincial governments, and other health partners.

I am a Sunnybrook staff member, physician or student. Where can I get the latest information that pertains to me?

All Sunnybrook staff, physicians and residents should continue to check Sunnynet and their Sunnybrook email inboxes for the latest updates. Students, residents and clinical fellows could also visit our dedicated information for students and learners.

Getting tested for COVID-19

I have symptoms of COVID-19. What do I do?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should visit an assessment centre to get tested. Please self-isolate, and only leave your home to go to an assessment centre for testing. 

If you were in close physical contact with anybody in the 48 hours before your symptoms began, please tell them to monitor their health and self-isolate.

Please note that COVID-19 testing guidelines for children differ from those for adults. To view new COVID-19 testing guidelines for children, please visit the Government of Ontario's website.

» View more information, including a list of COVID-19 assessment centres in Ontario

If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or go to your closest emergency department. 

Should I be tested for COVID-19?

How do I book an appointment at Sunnybrook's COVID-19 Assessment Centre?

For information about Sunnybrook's COVID-19 Assessment Centre, including appointment bookings and location, please visit sunnybrook.ca/assessment

When somebody is required to follow self-isolation protocols, what does that mean?

Public health has established self-isolation protocols for people who are required to self-isolate due to COVID-19. Below you can find some self-isolation guides:

Toronto Public Health

Public Health Ontario

For more information about self-isolation, please visit toronto.ca/coronavirus or the Public Health Ontario website.

Travel and COVID-19

Is travel still a risk factor for COVID-19?

COVID-19 is circulating in the community in Toronto. This means that people who have not travelled outside of Canada are at similar risk for COVID-19 as those who have travelled. Because there is COVID-19 circulating in the community, this makes travel history less relevant to a person’s risk of developing the virus. Instead, it makes it all the more important to self-monitor for symptoms, even mild, and to ensure we are staying home if we feel even the slightest bit unwell.

The COVID-19 vaccine

Sunnybrook received our first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine on December 21, 2020, and began administering doses on December 22, 2020. Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine by visiting Sunnybrook's COVID-19 vaccine hub or the Government of Ontario website.

Update on COVID-19 cases in Ontario

For the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 cases in Ontario, please visit the Ontario Ministry of Health's website.

COVID-19 response fund

You have an essential role in this fight.

Your support will be put to work immediately, allowing Sunnybrook to direct these funds where they are needed most.

Donate to our COVID-19 response fund »