COVID Basics

Please note that as things change rapidly, Q&As and guidelines will be updated. Review this website often to ensure you have the most up to date information or consult your leader if you have concerns or identify discrepancies. 


What is coronavirus/COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses found mostly in animals. In humans, they can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV). The new coronavirus has been named COVID-19.

Anyone concerned that they may have been exposed to, or are experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, should contact their primary care provider, local public health office, or call 8-1-1.

The Province has created 1 888 COVID-19 to connect British Columbians needing non-medical information about COVID-19. This includes the latest information on travel recommendations and social distancing, as well as access to support and resources from the provincial and federal governments. 1-888-COVID-19 is available seven days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. in 110 languages. The 8-1-1 number is also in place for medical-related COVID-19 questions.

What we know: 

On December 31, 2019, health authorities in Wuhan, China, reported a cluster of atypical viral pneumonia cases associated with stallholders at a market selling seafood and live animals in the city.

On January 9, 2020, the World Health Organization reported the cases were linked to a new type of novel coronavirus. The WHO has officially named the illness from this virus coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The number of cases linked to this outbreak is changing quickly and public health authorities are monitoring the situation closely.

The spectrum of illness has been mostly mild to moderate, with a few experiencing more critical illness.

Check the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) bulletins on emerging respiratory viruses for current information. General information on the Coronavirus Disease is also available from the BCCDC. Check the World Health Organization website for situation updates on Coronavirus Disease.

How is coronavirus transmitted? 

Coronavirus is spread from an infected person through:

  • Droplets spread when a person coughs or sneezes
  • Close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands
  • The virus is not known to be airborne (e.g. transmitted through the particles floating in the air) and it is not something that comes in through the skin.
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands 

What is the difference between droplet contact and airborne transmission? 

Droplet Contact:  Some diseases can be transferred by large infected droplets contacting surfaces of the eye, nose, or mouth. For example, large droplets that may be visible to the naked eye are generated when a person sneezes or coughs. These droplets typically spread only one to two metres and are too large to float in the air (i.e. airborne) and quickly fall to the ground. Influenza and SARS are two examples of diseases capable of being transmitted from droplet contact. Currently, health experts believe that coronavirus can also be transmitted in this way.

Airborne transmission:  This occurs when much smaller evaporated droplets or dust particles containing the microorganism float in the air for long periods of time. Transmission occurs when others breathe the microorganism into their throat or lungs.  Examples of diseases capable of airborne transmission include measles, chickenpox and tuberculosis.  Currently, health experts believe that coronavirus cannot be transmitted through airborne transmission. 

What are the symptoms? 

The symptoms of COVID-19, are similar to other respiratory illnesses, including the flu and common cold. They include cough, sneezing, fever, sore throat and difficulty breathing.

If you have traveled to the affected area of Hubei Province, China, and develop these symptoms, avoid contact with others and call ahead to a health-care professional. Do the same if you develop symptoms and have been in contact with a confirmed case or a traveller returning from the affected area with these symptoms.

Tell your health-care professional:

  • your symptoms;
  • where you have been travelling or living;
  • if you had direct contact with animals (for example, if you visited a live animal market); and
  • if you had close contact with a sick person, especially if they had a fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

Call ahead to the health-care facility you are planning to visit so they can be prepared to take precautions. In an emergency, describe your symptoms, travel history and any sick contacts when you first arrive at the facility so that appropriate precautions can be taken.
Until more is understood about the virus, older people and people with a weakened immune system or underlying medical condition are considered at higher risk of severe disease.

Can you get sick from people who are asymptomatic (early stage of being sick before they show symptoms of infection)?
There is still a lot we don't know about COVID-19 and there are studies underway to better understand it.
There have been a few instances of transmissions before the person became sick or the symptoms were mild that the person did not know they were sick. Those are exceptions as most people became ill from being in close contact with someone who showed symptoms such as coughing and sneezing, therefore transmitting the virus through droplets. This is why B.C. health officials are focused on putting protection around people are ill and showing symptoms, in order to decrease the spread to others. 

Listen to Dr Eleni Galanis answer this question.
Can you get sick from touching a package from China? 

To our knowledge, no one has become ill from touching a package from China so far and the risk is low.

COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory droplets that come from a person's throat or lungs when they're coughing or sneezing. While droplets can fall on surfaces including packages, viruses in the coronavirus family don't survive very long on surfaces.  They are sensitive to the environment and likely won't survive for the amount of time it takes for packages to travel internationally. We recommend washing your hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds as a precaution to further lower your risk of getting sick from COVID-19 and other viruses. Whenever you have touched surfaces, packages or other people, wash your hands before you touch your face, take care of other people or prepare food. 

Listen to Dr. Eleni Galanis answer this question.

What do I do if I think I have coronavirus disease?  
If you think you have the symptoms of COVID-19, please stay home. Patients with mild respiratory symptoms (including cold symptoms) should not be tested. COVID-19 presents as a mild illness in the majority of patients. Seek medical assessment if respiratory symptoms worsen.

A self- assessment tool from the Ministry of Health is available at: 

If you have questions related to COVID-19 you can also call 1-888-268-4319 (1-888-COVID19) between 7:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily.

How are we sharing information with the public?  

Providence Health Care advises that you visit Vancouver Coastal Health's Coronavirus Disease  page on its homepage with information for the public and links to the BC Centre for Disease Control, Public Health Agency of Canada and the World Health Organization, along with our latest statement, questions and answers and links to Physicians' Updates and letters from Medical Health Officers that are sent out to partners. Also, you can visit HealthLink BC for the latest updates. 

Anyone with health concerns is encouraged to call 8-1-1. 

The Province has created 1-888-COVID-19 to connect British Columbians needing non-medical information about COVID-19. This includes the latest information on travel recommendations and social distancing, as well as access to support and resources from the provincial and federal governments. 1-888-COVID-19 is available seven days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. in 110 languages.

Please feel free to share these resources with colleagues, clients, family, friends and members of the public.

We are reporting only when we get a positive case, but are not sharing private patient information with the public.

How is B.C. preparing for a spread of COVID-19? 

The Ministry of Health and BCCDC, working with many partners, have plans and are prepared to respond to new illnesses of public health concern.

We have been actively monitoring the situation with COVID-19, together with national and international groups, to be ready for identifying and caring for those who may have COVID-19 and to prevent its spread.  B.C. developed one of the first tests to confirm COVID-19. 

A Provincial Coordination Committee is in place to respond to COVID-19 in British Columbia. This committee will co-ordinate provincial preparedness and response across our health sector.

What is self-monitoring and self-isolation?  


Click here for more information for those who are self-monitoring due to contact with a case of COVID-19 or travel to an affected area.


Click here for more information for those who are self-isolating due to contact with a case of COVID-19 or travel to an affected area.

Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?  
When a disease is new, there is no vaccine until one is developed. It can take many years to develop a new vaccine. 
What is a pandemic?  

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic. The word pandemic can be a scary word for people, but it simply means the world-wide spread of a newly identified virus. We often use it for newly identified influenza viruses. The word pandemic is not an indication of how severe the virus might be. While the risk to British Columbians remains low, work continues at federal, provincial and local health authority levels.

The provincial government has also activated its advanced COVID-19 response to protect British Columbians. For more information, visit the province's pandemic preparedness plan.

Vancouver Coastal Health's pandemic plans are also posted publicly. 

This page last updated Mar 26, 2020 9:51pm PDT