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What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an acute respiratory infection caused by a coronavirus strain that began spreading in people in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. It is a new respiratory virus and it can cause mild to severe illness in people. The COVID-19 virus is not the same as the other coronaviruses that commonly circulate among people and cause mild illness, like the common cold.

How COVID-19 Spreads


COVID-19 spreads mainly from person-to-person, through close contact with others and through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This is similar to how influenza also spreads.

Spread from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects

The virus can also spread when someone touches an object or surfaces with the virus on it, and then touches their mouth, face, or eyes.

Types of transmission

Local transmission occurs is when the source of infection is known and can be traced back through the contacts of someone with COVID-19.

Community transmission occurs is when people have become infected with COVID-19 in an area and are not sure how or where they became infected. 

Signs and Symptoms of COVID-19

People with confirmed COVID-19 have a range of symptoms from little to no symptoms to severe illness (e.g., pneumonia), and in some cases death. Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms may appear as early as two days or as long as 14 days.


COVID-19 infections are diagnosed by a health care provider, based on the symptoms, and are confirmed through laboratory tests.


There is currently no vaccine to prevent a COVID-19 infection, nor is there a treatment currently for COVID-19. Individuals with COVID-19 should drink plenty of fluids (stay hydrated) and get plenty of rest. To prevent an infection, it is best to avoid exposure to the virus.


What we know so far about novel coronavirus: Public Health Ontario

Coronavirus fact sheet

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Last modified: 
Friday, March 27, 2020 - 11:51am