The rules are changing so readers have a lot of questions about self-isolation, social distancing and quarantine.
- André Picard answered additional reader questions including “Can someone without symptoms spread the virus?” and if food delivery is safe.
- Our FAQ also includes definitions of commons terms like social distancing, self-isolation, and flattening the curve.
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- Mandatory self-isolation
- Who has to self-isolate?
- What happens on day 15?
- How to self-isolate with kids?
- How do separated couples keep their family safe?
- Is okay to go for a walk?
- Why are there so few “recovered” cases?
- Does a carrier stop being contagious?
- If you recover, are you immune?
- Do patients lose their sense of smell?
- Can the virus be trapped in our clothes?
- What about shared laundry facilities?
- Should we avoid touching our ears?
Table of contents
What is mandatory self-isolation for travellers?
It’s like when you land on the Monopoly square that orders “go directly to jail, do not pass go.”
As of March 25, all travellers returning from abroad (including the United States) – by plane, train, boat or automobile – must go directly home and stay there for 14 days. No stopping at the store on the way. No going out for walks. No shopping. No visitors. Leaving the house is allowed only for essential medical care. This is no longer a polite request: It is a legal order.
Under the terms of the Quarantine Act, violators could face up to six months in prison and/or $750,000 in fines.
Are travellers the only ones who have to self-isolate?
Everyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 must stay home for at least 14 days, until they have been given the all-clear by public health officials. This is also a legal obligation.
What happens on day 15 of self-isolation?
If you have tested positive for coronavirus, after 14 days you must undergo testing to ensure you are now negative, and be cleared by public health. If you self-isolated because you were showing symptoms, or because you had travelled outside Canada before the legal order, you can resume normal living. Or, at least new normal living, where we are all expected to practise social distancing.
What do you do if you’re supposed to be in isolation and have kids?
Ideally, you want to minimize contact with other people, including your children. But that’s not always realistic. If you have tested positive, it is recommended that, as much as possible, you remain in one room and avoid sharing a bathroom. If you live with someone infected, you have a good chance of being infected (the risk percentages are all over the map so not worth mentioning). The good/comforting news is that children tend to only suffer mild illness, for reasons that are unclear.
How does a separated couple keep their family safe when one parent is staying home and the other parent works in a social setting but still wants to spend weekends with the kids?
Family dynamics can be difficult to manage at the best of times, and coronavirus adds another degree of complexity. Custody agreements should be respected, with few exceptions. If one of the parents is infected with COVID-19 or has recently travelled outside Canada, the child or children should probably stay put – because that parent is not allowed to leave the house.
Otherwise, the usual advice applies: Try to keep contact to a minimum.
There seems to be a lot of conflicting information. Who can go for a walk?
Anyone can go for a walk who:
- Has not been diagnosed with COVID-19;
- Does not have symptoms of COVID-19;
- Has not travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days.
That means most people can go out for a walk, but they should not congregate and they should practise social distancing by keeping at least two metres from others.
But the official advice is also stay at home as much as possible.
There are thousands of coronavirus cases, but few people are listed as “recovered.” Why?
To be considered recovered, you must have a positive test, complete 14 days in isolation, then undergo two more tests, at least 24 hours apart, both of which must be negative. While it may feel like this pandemic has been going on for a long time, few people have actually spent two weeks in isolation. Because there has been a shortage of tests, retesting patients has not been a priority.
Does a COVID-19 carrier with mild or no symptoms stop being contagious after 14 days? Or are they forever contagious?
Viral illnesses, whether a common cold or COVID-19, run their course and then you stop being infectious. Most people who are infected with COVID-19 start showing symptoms 5-14 days after exposure. Generally speaking, when you start feeling better, you stop shedding the virus and are no longer infectious.
I was sick but it was mild so I was told by public health that I did not need a coronavirus test. Am I immune now? Do I still need a test?
Soon – it is hoped – there will be a serology test, which is a blood test that will tell us who has been infected and developed antibodies (meaning they would likely be immune). This information will be important as measures such as self-isolation and social distancing are lifted, because people with immunity should be able to return to work safely.
If you have COVID-19 and get better are you immune?
After a viral illness (or a vaccination), the body develops antibodies that confer immunity. However, immunity is not always absolute because viruses can mutate. That’s why we need a flu shot every year. There is some debate about whether people can be reinfected with coronavirus. At this time, the principal concern for the vast majority of people is still not getting infected in the first place.
Do people with COVID-19 lose their sense of smell?
There are reports that early symptoms of COVID-19 can include anosmia (loss of smell) and dysgeusia (loss of taste). But the principal symptoms remain a dry cough, chills and fever.
Can the virus be trapped in our clothes? Should we wash clothes differently to be safe?
The virus can survive even on soft surfaces such as clothing for hours, but they are not seen as a major risk of transmission. Wash your clothes as you normally would. However, if someone in your household is infected, you should take extra precautions when doing a wash, such as wearing disposable gloves and using hot water. Many people who work in high-risk settings such as hospitals remove their work clothing at the door, and then wash and change before interacting with other family members.
Can you get COVID-19 from using your apartment’s shared laundry facilities?
The biggest risk is always from other people, so maintain a physical distance of two metres and wash your hands before and after visiting communal spaces. But the virus is not going to live in the washer or dryer.
We’re being asked to wash our hands constantly but why not wash our faces? Since our ears are connected to our nose and throat why don’t doctors tell us to not touch our ears?
Regular handwashing is recommended. Not touching your face – and your mouth and nose in particular – is also important. That’s because the coronavirus enters the body principally through the mouth and nose. Viruses rarely enter the body through the ears – even those that give us earaches – because they are not an efficient entry point.
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