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COVID-19

COVID-19

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The pandemic is not over, and the virus continues to circulate and evolve. The BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron is the main strain spreading in Ontario. This variant is more contagious than the previous Omicron sub-variant (BA.1), but evidence suggests there is no difference in severity. It is also possible to be re-infected, so individuals who have been previously infected should continue to take steps to reduce their risk of exposure, including staying up to date on all vaccinations you are eligible for, including your booster doses.

The high rate of community spread of COVID-19 in Simcoe Muskoka requires that everyone take responsibility for assessing their personal level of risk and take precautions when out in public. It is strongly recommended that everyone continue to wear a mask in all indoor public places to protect against viral spread and severe illness. We continue to stress the importance of vaccination and practicing all other personal protective health behaviours, such as limiting your number of close contacts, maintaining physical distance, staying home when ill, and practicing good hand hygiene. These simple yet crucial measures will help stop the spread of disease.

What to do if you have tested positive, have symptoms or been exposed to COVID-19

If you have symptoms or have been exposed do this self-assessment for recommendations on what to do next. If you took a PCR or a rapid antigen test (RAT) and got a positive result you MUST self-isolate and follow the instructions below. Antiviral treatments are now available for free by prescription to people with COVID-19 who are at higher risk of progressing to severe disease requiring hospitalization. Click here to find out if you are eligible for antiviral treatment and if it might be right for you.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, assume that you have the virus and may be contagious.

Symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or decreased or loss of taste or smell or two or more of the following: runny nose or nasal congestion, headache extreme fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches or joint pain or gastrointestinal symptoms (such as vomiting or diarrhea).

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive for the virus follow these steps to take care of yourself and protect others:

 

Step 1: You must isolate

  • for at least five days if you are:

    - fully vaccinated 

    - under 12 years of age

  • for at least 10 days if you are:

    -12 years of age and older and not fully vaccinated

    - immunocompromised

    - live in a highest risk setting

If you are the first person is your household with symptoms of COVID-19 (or a positive test) you do not have to extend your self-isolation period based on other household members becoming ill.

If you reach the end of your isolation period and have a fever or other symptoms, you must continue to isolate until your symptoms have improved for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours if the symptoms affect the digestive system) and you have no fever.

 

Step 2: Notify your close contacts

  • Notify your close contacts that they have been exposed and ask your contacts to visit Ontario.ca/exposed and to complete the COVID-19 self-assessment for more detailed instructions.
  • A close contact is generally anyone you were less than two metres away from for at least 15 minutes, or multiple shorter lengths of time, without a mask in the 48 hours before your symptoms began or your positive test result, whichever came first.

 

Step 3: Wear a mask after you finish isolating

  • After you finish isolating you should continue to wear a well-fitted mask in all public settings for five more days (or 10 days if you are immunocompromised) after your isolation period ends. This is because an infected person may be contagious up to 10 days after symptom onset/date of test.
  • You can participate in activities where masking can be maintained throughout, but you should avoid activities where mask removal would be necessary (such as dining out).
  • If you are involved in sports and cannot maintain physical distancing requirements or masking requirements if within 2 metres of others, you should not return to practice or play for an additional five days from the end of your isolation period (10 days from symptom onset or from the date of your test, whichever came first).
  • You can temporarily remove your mask for essential activities (such as when eating in shared space at school/work) while still maintaining as much distancing from others as possible.

Anyone who is exempt from wearing a mask may return to public settings without masking, but they should:

  • avoid visiting anyone who is immunocompromised or at higher risk of illness (for example, seniors)
  • not visit or go to work in any highest risk settings.

 

Step 4: Take additional precautions after isolation is over

  • You should not visit anyone who is immunocompromised or at higher risk of illness (e.g., seniors).
  • You should avoid non-essential visits to highest risk settings such as hospitals and long-term care homes. 
  • Employees working in highest-risk settings should report their exposure and follow their workplace guidance on return to work.

 

Do I need a negative test to return to work, school or activities?

A negative COVID-19 test, medical note or release from isolation from public health is not required to return to school, work or activities when your isolation period is over. Some people continue to test positive for up to 90 days after their COVID-19 infection. If you develop new symptoms compatible with COVID-19 after completing your required isolation you should isolate and speak with your health care provider.

You do not need to isolate if one of the following applies to you:
  • you have previously tested positive in the last 90 days and do not have symptoms
  • you are 18 or older and have received a COVID-19 booster dose and don't have symptoms
  • you are 17 or younger and your COVID-19 vaccines are up to date and you don't have symptoms.

 

Instead for 10 days after the last exposure*, all household members should:

  • self-monitor for symptoms and isolate if you develop any symptom of COVID-19;
  • wear a mask and avoid activities where mask removal would be necessary (e.g. dining out; playing a wind instrument; high contact sports where masks cannot be safely worn);
  • not visit anyone who is at higher risk of illness, such as seniors, or any highest-risk settings (unless you previously tested positive in past 90 days).

If you do not meet any of the criteria above, you must isolate while the person with symptoms/positive test result isolates (or for 10 days if you are immunocompromised).

* 'Last exposure' refers to the last day you were exposed to the person in your household who was still isolating with either COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result (e.g., household contacts would have ongoing exposure until the end of the case’s isolation period if unable to effectively self-isolate in the home). If a child with COVID-19 was self-isolating from Monday to Saturday, the last exposure for the parent who was caring for the COVID-19 positive child would be the Saturday.

Do I have to extend my self-isolation if the people I live with also get COVID-19 after me?

For self-isolating household members that have not developed symptoms, if any other household member develops COVID-19 symptoms, they should extend their self-isolation until the last symptomatic (or COVID-19 positive) person has finished their self-isolation period.

The initial individual with symptoms of COVID-19 (or a positive test) does not have to extend their self-isolation period based on other household members becoming ill.


You do not need to isolate, but for 10 days you are required to:

  • self-monitor for symptoms 
  • wear a mask in all public settings, avoid activities where mask removal is necessary (such as dining out, high contact sports) and follow all other public health measures if leaving home.
  • avoid visiting highest-risk settings (such as hospitals, long-term care or retirement homes) or people who may be at higher risk of illness (such as seniors and people who are immunocompromised).

Your isolation period begins the day after you noticed your symptoms or the day after you got tested (and it was positive) – whichever came first. This day is considered “day 0”

Isolation ends at midnight on the sixth or eleventh day.

For example:

  • individuals isolating for 5 days - if symptoms develop on April 1st (day 0), the end of isolation date is April 7th (day 6).
  • individuals isolating for 10 days – if symptoms develop on April 1st (day 0), the end of isolation date is April 11th (day 11).
You must:
  • tell the staff you’ve been exposed
  • avoid going there for 10 days from your last exposure, unless you have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days and have no symptoms.

To help ensure sufficient staffing levels, workers in these settings may be required to return to work earlier than 10 days, with additional precautions such as testing. Speak with your employer for more information.

Highest-risk settings include:

  • hospitals and health care settings, including complex continuing care facilities and acute care facilities.
  • congregate living settings, such as long-term care and retirement homes, First Nation elder care lodges, group homes, shelters, hospices, temporary foreign worker settings, correctional institutions and provincial demonstration schools and hospital schools.
  • home and community care settings.

Protect yourself and others

Even as restrictions have eased, highly transmissible variants of COVID-19 continue to spread in our communities making it important that we all understand how to assess and reduce our risk to protect ourselves and others from getting and spreading the virus. 

During the pandemic we have been calculating our own personal level of risk from COVID-19, however without public health measures in place to create a base-level of protection our personal risk may have changed.

To better assess the risks we might face or the risks we may pose to others it is important to consider the following:

  • Do you have any symptoms?
  • Are you vaccinated with all of the doses you are eligible for?
  • Are you at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19?
  • Will you be entering closed spaces, crowded places or will you be in close contact with others you don’t live with?
  • Do you live with or will you be in close contact with any children, youth or adults who are at higher risk of severe illness? 
  • Do you live with or will you be in close contact with anyone who is unvaccinated?

After you have assessed the risk to yourself and others you can make decisions about which layers of protection to use.

It is important to remember the more layers of protection you use the safer you are against COVID-19. The following are steps you can take to protect yourself and others:

  • self-isolate if you have COVID-19 or if you have any symptoms of COVID-19
  • wear a well-fitted, three layer mask or a medical mask indoor public places (see more information about when and where masks are still required in the expander bar below)
  • physically distance from those outside your household
  • avoid crowds
  • work from home whenever possible
  • choose well-ventilated spaces
  • wash your hands frequently
  • cover your sneeze or cough

Each step you take acts as a layer of protection against COVID-19, with the strongest protection coming from getting vaccinated. As you combine each of these layers of protection, the safer you will be against the virus. Check out our Swiss cheese graphic that shows how this works (adapted with permission from the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics).


It is strongly recommended that you continue to wear a well-fitted three-layer mask or use a medical mask (or respirator) in all public indoor settings. In some settings and situations, mask use is still required. We should all be prepared that we may need to resume a requirement for mask wearing if a new variant of concern emerges, or potentially during the winter months when COVID and other respiratory viruses are likely to circulate again.

Where and when masks are still required:

  • Public transit, long-term care, retirement homes, health-care settings, congregate care and living settings, shelters and jails.
  • Individuals who have COVID-19 should wear a mask on days 6-10 following a five-day isolation period or days 11-20 following a 10 day isolation period.
  • Individuals who are a close contact of someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask and maintain as much distance as possible from others for 10 days after exposure.
  • Individuals who are returning from outside of the Canada should wear a mask for 14 days upon their return.

Consider your personal risks and the risks to those around you when making decisions about masking in crowded indoor public spaces.

  • Are you going to be in a closed/indoor space?
  • Are you going to a crowded space?
  • Will you be in close contact with others you don’t live with?
  • Are you immunocompromised or will you be in contact with someone who is immunocompromised?

Showing kindness to those that continue to mask is also strongly encouraged as a way to show respect for each other’s personal choices and private health decisions.

To learn about face coverings or masks and how to properly wear, fit, remove and clean your mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19 visit Ontario.ca.

COVID-19 is currently spreading in our community at a very high rate. If you choose to host or attend a gathering or event, you have the option of continuing to layer personal protective measures, even when they are no longer required.

Gathering in smaller groups of people while physical distancing and wearing a face mask, particularly when indoors, continues to be the safest way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In addition, we strongly recommend staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination by receiving all doses and boosters you are eligible for.

If you are hosting a gathering or event:

  • Ask guests to NOT attend if they have symptoms, even if they are mild.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces.
  • Provide all the necessary supplies for your guests, including hand sanitizer, soap and water.
  • Open windows, if possible.
  • If you are serving food and drinks, wash your hands often while preparing and serving food and suggest all those gathered do so before and after eating.

If you are invited to a gathering:

Attending an organized outdoor event is likely safer than an indoor event but the risk of COVID-19 spread is still there.

  • Stay home if you are ill, even if your symptoms are mild.
  • Do not attend if you are isolating.
  • If you are immunocompromised or at higher risk of severe disease and/or exposure to COVID-19, consider joining virtually or not attending the event.

If you are attending a gathering:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Cover any cough or sneeze.
  • Wear a face mask if physical distancing is not possible.

Overnight guests:

  • Ensure hand sanitizer, soap and water are available, and wash your hands often.
  • Avoid singing or shouting, especially indoors.
  • Monitor for COVID-19 symptoms (hosts and guest).
  • Have a plan for what to do if someone becomes ill, even with mild symptoms.

Learning to live with COVID-19

The easing of public health restrictions is giving us the opportunity to get back to the things we love to do. But after two years of living with these restrictions, these changes may also bring challenges. You might be worried about how fast these changes are being made or what future increases in COVID-19 transmission in our community might mean for your health, or the health of vulnerable people in your life.  Living through a pandemic has been challenging for us all, and we have all experienced the effects differently.

There is going to be a range of emotions felt by members of our community about these changes, especially as there is continued uncertainty about the course of the pandemic. Even positive feelings may require an adjustment period to work through. It's important to be patient with yourself, with others, and with your feelings. The following are some ways to take care of your emotional and mental health through these changes affecting our personal, social and professional lives.

Remember you are in charge

As restrictions ease many of the things you haven’t been able to do in a while, such as going to a movie or a concert, are now fully available to you once again. Take time to assess what you feel comfortable participating in and what you don’t. If you feel anxious, ease slowly back into activities that are easy to manage, such as a face-to-face visit with a close friend you haven’t seen in a long time, and build up from there.

Get information from trusted sources

There are a variety of messages coming from different sources that may confuse the actions you should be taking. We encourage you to find information about COVID-19 trends and protective actions from our website, Ontario.ca, or the Government of Canada.

Check in with others when making plans

Before socializing with others, talk about the situation with them to make sure everybody is on the same page about what feels comfortable. Some things to consider in your conversation can include: how many people will be present, where will the event take place, if indoors will the space be well ventilated, will food be present, will guests feel comfortable wearing a mask?

Talk or write about how you feel

It can feel isolating or lonely when you're struggling with the pace of the changes and the challenges we have faced during the pandemic. Chances are that someone you know feels the same way. Opening up to a person you trust can be really helpful, whether it's a friend or family member, a health care provider or an organization’s helpline or online forum.

Another way to explore your feelings may be to keep a diary or journal. This can help to track your mood over time and remind yourself of the progress you have made. As your confidence begins to grow, you can look back over your entries to see how far you have come.


  • Good2Talk: A phone and texting service that provides confidential support to post-secondary students. Call 1-866-925-5454.
  • Kids Help Phone: Children and youth 18 and under who need to talk to someone about their mental health can call Kids Help

For more COVID-19 information:

Long COVID or Post COVID-19 Syndrome describes a range of symptoms which can persist for weeks to months after severe, mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic COVID-19 infection. The symptoms associated with long COVID are varied and many, and affect people in different ways. They may remit and relapse. Most common symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • memory problems
  • sleep disturbances 
  • shortness of breath
  • headaches
  • general pain and discomfort
  • difficulty thinking and concentrating

Prevention of Long COVID

The best way to prevent Long COVID is to prevent infection from COVID-19 through vaccination and other preventive measures like wearing a mask, physical distancing, and handwashing. 

Treatment of Long COVID

Any person who has Post COVID-19 symptoms should seek assessment with their health care provider.

Resources: 

The Simcoe Muskoka Safe Voluntary Isolation Site (SVIS) is a place for people who need to self-isolate due to COVID-19 but do not have access to an adequate shelter or cannot safely self-isolate in their own homes. The SVIS is designed to give people a secure, comfortable, and private space to rest and recover, without fear or anxiety of transmitting the virus to their family, roommates, or other people they live with. 

Self-isolation is a proven way to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 among household members and the community at-large. People in Simcoe Muskoka must self-isolate if they have any of the following:

  • Symptoms of COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status and/or if they get tested.
  • A positive COVID-19 test result.
  • Recent close contact with someone who has COVID-19 symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test result.
  • A household member who has had recent close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

 

Do you need help to self-isolate?

Any Simcoe Muskoka resident that is unable to safely self-isolate is eligible to access this service. There are no costs associated with staying at the SVIS and transportation can be arranged for those who need it, free of charge. Through case and contact investigations, public health professionals at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit will assess individuals’ needs to help identify those who require safe accommodation for COVID-19 self-isolation. Please call our Health Connection line at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 ext. 5829 or send an email to Health Connection using our online form for more information and how to access this service.

Please note that the health unit is required to provide your COVID-19 status, either positive or negative, to the SVIS so that they can take any necessary infection prevention and control measures. Your COVID-19 status will only be shared with necessary staff.

The City of Barrie, the City of Orillia, the Town of Collingwood and the Town of Midland are participating in the province-wide Wastewater Surveillance Initiative for COVID-19. Since February 2021, they have been providing samples from their wastewater treatment plants that are analyzed to measure the amount of COVID-19 present.

Tracking the number of people who test positive for COVID-19 is one way to look at the overall level of COVID-19 activity in a community; however, not everyone with COVID-19 has symptoms or is tested, and waiting for test results takes time.

Studies have shown that a significant proportion of people with active COVID-19 infections shed the virus in their stool, sometimes even before symptoms start. Municipal wastewater treatment plants collect and treat wastewater from across their communities, which allows for centralized measuring of the level of COVID-19 genetic material (known as RNA) present in the wastewater. Testing wastewater captures both asymptomatic and symptomatic people, is comprehensive, anonymous, and positive detections are not attributable to an individual. This data is another tool that can help shed light on whether the infection rate in these communities is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same.

The samples are analyzed by Ontario Tech University. Wastewater surveillance for our local communities is updated on our COVID-19 Wastwater Surveillance HealthSTATS page..

This initiative poses no risk to the public or municipal workers. Wastewater systems are closed off from the public and there is currently no epidemiological evidence that wastewater is a route of transmission of COVID-19. Wastewater workers will continue to follow routine practices to prevent exposure to wastewater. 


Researching the impacts of public health measures

The health unit conducted a situational assessment in July 2020 and a local impact survey in November 2020 to understand the impacts that some public health measures have had on us. The sections below include the reports and findings of the assessment and the survey. 

Local COVID-19 Impact Survey Results

In March and April 2021, approximately 2,800 Simcoe Muskoka residents 18 years and older responded to an online survey about their beliefs and behaviours specific to the pandemic, as well as pandemic-related concerns and impacts (financial, mental, physical, and social). These results build upon the those from the previous impact survey (conducted in November 2020 and released in April 2021). Results and comparisons between time periods have been posted on SMDHU HealthSTATSCOVID-19 Local Impact Survey Results webpage.

SMDHU Mitigating Harms of Public Health Measures Situational Assessment

Our health unit, along with several other public health agencies, completed a situational assessment from April to July 2020 to determine how community-based public health measures negatively affected the health and well-being of the general population and sub-populations, and to identify ways to help reduce these effects.

The situational assessment includes several parts, which together inform the overall report findings and considerations for further action. The final report and each of its component reports are linked below.

Page last updated: May 4, 2022

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