COVID-19 Self-Isolation, Symptoms and Testing
This information outlines guidance that applies to the general community and to school and child care settings. Guidance may differ for those who work in highest risk settings such as a hospital, long-term care home or a retirement home. Employees who have COVID-19 symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 should speak with their employer and follow any workplace guidance for return to work.
How long to stay home when sick
If you're sick, stay home to prevent infection from spreading to others. Whether you test positive for COVID-19 or not, if you're experiencing symptoms you should stay home until:
- You have no fever, without the use of fever reducing medication and
- Your symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours or 48 hours if you have nausea, vomiting and / or diarrhea
Do your best at home to self-isolate to help prevent other household members from getting sick. Learn how to properly self-isolate. If you need medical attention, call Health811 at 8-1-1 or your primary care provider.
When your symptoms are improving, Niagara Region Public Health encourages (but does not require) individuals to have two negative COVID-19 rapid tests ideally 24 hours apart before leaving isolation at home. If it has been 10 days from when your symptoms began and you continue to test positive on these tests but your symptoms have improved, you may leave isolation.
- If you live in a highest-risk setting, are immunocompromised or hospitalized
Self-isolate for at least 10 days from the date of test or from when symptoms began (whichever is earlier / applicable).
If you are someone with severe illness requiring intensive care, self-isolate for at least 20 days (or at discretion of hospital infection prevention and control) from the date of test or from when symptoms began (whichever is earlier / applicable).
Symptoms also need to be improving before leaving isolation.
Assume you may have COVID-19 and may be contagious if you have:
Any one or more of the following symptoms:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath
- Decreased or loss of taste or smell
Any two or more of the following symptoms:
- Runny nose or nasal congestion
- Extreme fatigue
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches or joint pain
- Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
After your symptoms have improved
When you are no longer isolating at home, you should take the following additional precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses.
For 10 days after your symptoms started:
- Wear a mask in all public settings including in schools and child care centres. Learn about masks.
- Avoid non-essential activities that would require you to remove your mask, for example dining out, playing wind instruments or playing high contact sports where masks can't safely be worn
- Avoid visiting anyone who is immunocompromised or at higher risk of illness, for example, seniors
- Avoid non-essential visits to highest risk settings, such as hospitals and long-term care homes
- How to prevent infection from spreading
Protect yourself, those around you and our health care system by using layers of protection.
In the community, it is the responsibility of the individual with COVID-19 symptoms or COVID-19 positive test to determine who their close contacts are and to let them know of their potential exposure.
A close contact is anyone who was less than two metres away from a COVID-19 positive individual or person with symptoms even for short periods of time. The interaction would have occurred in the 48 hours before their symptoms began or before they received their positive test result if no symptoms and until they started self-isolating.
- What to do if you are a close contact
Whether you are a household or a non-household close contact, for a total of 10 days after your last exposure to the COVID-19 positive case or individual with COVID-19 symptoms:
- Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. If you begin to develop symptoms, self-isolate immediately and follow the guidance for how long to stay home.
- Wear a mask when out in public including in schools and child care
- Avoid non-essential activities that would require you to remove your mask (for example, dining out, playing wind instruments, playing high contact sports where masks can't safely be worn)
- Avoid visiting anyone who is immunocompromised or at higher risk of illness (for example, seniors)
- Avoid non-essential visits to highest risk settings such as hospitals and long-term care homes. If the visit cannot be avoided, wear a medical mask, maintain physical distancing and let the highest risk setting know about your recent exposure.
Niagara Region Public Health also encourages close contacts to test themselves using a rapid antigen test before going to a public space (for example, work, school, shopping centres) for 10 days after their last exposure to the COVID-19 positive case or individual with COVID-19 symptoms.If you test positive but do not have any symptoms, it is encouraged for you to isolate until you have two negative COVID-19 rapid tests, ideally 24 hours apart. This is to increase confidence that you will not spread the virus to others. If you continue to test positive 10 days after your first positive test but still do not have any symptoms, you may leave isolation.
COVID-19 testing and assessment
Take the provincial COVID-19 self-assessment if you have any COVID-19 symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19.
There are two main types of tests available in Ontario:
- Molecular tests - These include PCR and rapid molecular testing. Only certain individuals are eligible for these tests. Learn who is eligible for a molecular test.
- Rapid antigen tests - Find free rapid antigen tests near you
It's important to remember that a COVID-19 test is only a snapshot of your health on the specific date and time the swab was taken. No testing is perfect and a negative result doesn't mean you won't become positive for COVID-19.
If you're at a higher risk of severe illness due to COVID-19 and have symptoms, you should get tested for COVID-19 and seek care as soon as possible. This is because you may benefit from available COVID-19 treatments if you test positive. A health care provider will determine if treatments are right for you.
It's possible to be re-infected with COVID-19. Even if you previously tested positive for COVID-19, if you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, follow the guidance for how long to stay home and get tested if you can access a test as you may be infected again.
- Where to get tested
Public Health does not have access to your COVID-19 test results. Ask the health professional taking your swab / COVID-19 test how you'll be receiving your test results.
You can get tested at the following clinics if you meet the eligibility criteria. You don't need to be a patient at these clinics to receive a COVID-19 test. This is not a full list of testing locations.
- Fort Erie: Fort Erie Medical Clinic drive-through testing by appointment only. To book an appointment, email email@example.com.
- St. Catharines: PromptDoc Clinic by appointment or walk-in. Walk-in testing available during specific hours only.
Some pharmacies in Niagara offer COVID-19 testing for eligible individuals. Find a participating pharmacy near you.
Learn about COVID-19 testing and treatment.
If you test positive
If you test positive on a COVID-19 rapid antigen test or PCR test, stay home to prevent infection from spreading. If you test positive on a rapid antigen test, you do not need a PCR test to confirm your result unless directed by a health care provider.
Anti-viral treatment is available for eligible individuals. If you have symptoms, have a positive test result and are at higher risk of severe COVID-19, it's important to reach out to a doctor right away. Treatment is most effective if administered within five days of symptom onset. You can access treatments by contacting:
- Your family doctor. If you don't have one, visit find a doctor to learn about walk-in clinics and family physicians accepting new patients.
- Health811 at 8-1-1
- Urgent Care Ontario (online only)
- Local participating pharmacies
- COVID-19 testing before a social event or gathering
If you don't have symptoms and don't have a known exposure to someone with COVID-19 and you have access to a rapid antigen test, you should take the test as close to the event as possible, for example, on the same day, ideally within a few hours of the event.
- COVID-19 frequently asked questions for patients - College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario
- Caring for pets and COVID-19 - Public Health Agency of Canada
- Post COVID-19 condition (long COVID) - Public Health Agency of Canada. If you think you may be experiencing long COVID, reach out to your health care provider to see what supports are available and how to manage your symptoms.