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Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions, followed by answers from our clinicians and physicians. Several of these questions came from a Town Hall meeting with MLA Norm Letnick, Interior Health CEO Susan Brown, and Interior Health Chief Medical Health Officer Sue Pollock.

Download questions received following the virtual Town Hall meeting with MLA Norm Letnick.


Can people without symptoms spread COVID-19?

It is possible that people infected with COVID-19 may be infectious before showing significant symptoms, however based on currently available data, the people who have symptoms are causing the majority of the virus spread. 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.


Why are people who are returning from travel abroad required to self-isolate even if they don’t have symptoms?

People can be infected with the COVID-19 virus and it may take up to two weeks before they show any symptoms.   Those who are infected with COVID-19 may have little to no symptoms and can spread the disease to other people during this time. That’s why it’s critical everyone who has been travelling self-isolate for the two week period, to ensure they do not have the virus and do not spread it.


What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

All people in British Columbia should be on high alert and self-monitoring for symptoms. Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should immediately self-isolate for 14 days and limit contact with others. Symptoms of COVID-19 may be mild or severe. Mild symptoms may include some of all of the following: Low-grade fever, cough, malaise, fatigue, heavy mucus, sore throat as well as gastro-intestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea. More severe symptoms may include any of the above as well as fever, shortness of breathing, difficulty breathing and or chest pains.


After speaking with a Nurse Practitioner her main concern was that we are not completing enough testing, in fact she needed to get approval to test me, a patient with a viral pneumonia.

Testing is not needed for everyone. If people have symptoms, they should contact their primary care provider (call first) or dial 8-1-1. If you feel like you have symptoms or are sick, you need to self-isolate for 14 days. Testing guidelines from the BCCDC limit testing to people with symptoms who are:

  1. Hospitalized or are likely to be hospitalized
  2. Health-care workers
  3. Residents of long term care facilities
  4. Part of an investigation of a cluster or outbreak

When are we going to start testing symptomatic people to control the spread? When are we going to test everyone, since asymptomatic people are a major concern for people spreading the virus unknowingly?  Should we have everyone wear a mask to help prevent the spread as asymptomatic people could be a major issue of the spread of the virus since we aren’t testing?

Testing is not needed for everyone, although everyone who needs a test will get it. Testing is happening by referral only. There is a not a drop-in testing service – if people have symptoms, they should contact their primary care provider (call first) or dial 8-1-1.

To support testing of people who meet specific criteria, testing guidelines from the BCCDC limit testing to people with symptoms who are:

  1. Hospitalized or are likely to be hospitalized
  2. Health-care workers
  3. Residents of long term care facilities
  4. Part of an investigation of a cluster or outbreak

Patients without symptoms, or those with mild symptoms, who can be managed at home, should not be tested. The exception is health-care workers with COVID-19 infection who have recovered and require a negative test prior to returning to work.

Check out the BCCDC symptom self-assessment tool for help determining if you might need further assessment or testing for COVID-19.

Everyone should not wear a mask as that would be a waste of critical supplies. Masks need to be utilized by health-care workers to ensure they are safe. The best way for everyone to stay safe is to listen to the recommendations of Dr. Bonnie Henry and practice physical distancing, staying two metres away from other people and staying home as much as possible.


When are we going to speed up the process for COVID testing results? Mine took 6 days

When the outbreak began, Interior Health had to send test samples to the BC Centre for Disease Control so the turnaround time could take a few days, depending on how many tests the BCCDC was handling. Now that we have a test lab set up at Kelowna General Hospital and we are able to do the testing at KGH, we have a very rapid turnaround time, sometimes as quick as 24 hours. If the patient is positive for COVID-19, a case management plan is set up very quickly.


Why is IH keeping the communities a secret? This is not fair to the communities, we have a right to know.

Interior Health is following the guidelines as set out by Dr. Henry and Minister Dix. Because of patient privacy we cannot confirm individual cases, unless there is a pressing public health need to do so.  We have to assume the virus is everywhere and the public needs to practice proper physical distancing techniques so that we can flatten the curve.


Are physicians required to self-isolate if they return from travel?

Everyone is required to self-isolate upon their return from travel, except for health-care professionals like physicians. The Provincial Health Officer has said that healthcare professionals are an essential service and are needed in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. While they are working they will have to wear proper Personal Protective Equipment and they will have to abide by physical distancing regulations.


We are already seeing an early arrival of summer residents and vacationers to our large area. What plans are in place to handle a virus spread with increased population?

The Provincial Health Officer has ordered many of the businesses where the virus could be spread to close and local authorities have already closed several public gathering spots such as parks and beaches. The Federal Government has taken steps to ban sick travellers from domestic flights and the border between Canada and the USA is closed to non-essential traffic. Residents and vacationers will have to adhere to the physical distancing regulations put in place by the Provincial Health Officer. Provincial Health Officers in other provinces right across Canada have been giving similar direction to residents of Canada about physical distancing, hand hygiene and staying inside and isolating if they have symptoms.


If a COVID19 case is linked to an essential service, such as a grocery store, will the location be publicly released to trace spread?

Public Service Announcements will be issued in situations where there is a need to advise the broader public of potential exposures in the community. The decision to issue a PSA is made on the advice of medical health officers. 


What is the risk of COVID-19 to newborns?  

There is currently no evidence of mother-to-child transmission through childbirth when the mother gets COVID-19 in the third trimester and no evidence to suggest a developing child could be negatively affected by COVID-19.

If you plan to give birth in a hospital or birth centre, learn about the policies they have in place. Most hospitals and birth centres have a reduced visitors or a no-visitor policy and in most cases, only one support person may be permitted.

We are still learning how COVID-19 affects pregnant women but at this point there is no evidence that suggests pregnant women are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.

Click here for more information.


If you have been self-isolating for 14 days, and you’re feeling fine, is it ok to go for a walk alone, as long as you maintain a distance of two metres between other people?

Yes, you can go outside for a walk after your 14-day isolation period. It’s important to maintain proper physical distancing at all times.


Is it ok for a person who is symptomatic and self-isolating, to spend time with other family members in their homes?

It is better if those you live with can stay somewhere else, especially if they have a weak immune system or chronic health conditions. If you need to share a home, stay and sleep in a room with good airflow that is away from others. Use a separate bathroom if you can. Wear a face mask (surgical/procedure mask) if you are in the same room with anyone. Avoid face to face contact; friends or family can drop off food outside your room or home. If you are a caregiver to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or has respiratory symptoms, see this guide.


I’ve heard awful stories from other parts of the world about the treatment of people with disabilities during this pandemic. What is the situation in Canada? Should people be worried if they are seniors or have disabilities that they will be denied care?

No. We are providing treatment to patients based on their clinical need. Where patients have mild symptoms and are able to manage their illness at home, we are supporting them to recover in their home. Patients who require higher levels of care are receiving it through our hospitals.


Can B.C. make it mandatory for people to wash or sanitize their hands and wear masks before entering any businesses? This has worked in other countries to reduce spread.

The Provincial Health Officer has said that the risk of transmission through handling cash is low.

However, customers and employees are encouraged to follow the direction of the PHO, including proper physical distancing, washing their hands frequently, and always before eating, after using the washroom, when they arrive to work, and when they arrive home. 

Where possible, stores may also wish to move to card or contactless payment methods to further reduce the risk of transmission.


Why isn’t B.C. in a lockdown like other jurisdictions? Wouldn’t extremely strict measures for three months be preferable to this carrying on for 12 months?

A lockdown is what some parts of the world are calling the steps they’re taking during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it means different things in different places. 

Here in B.C., the Provincial Health Officer has issued a number of orders aimed at ensuring the safety of all British Columbians during the COVID-19 response.

This includes direction on staying at home when possible, physical distancing in the public, limits on size of gatherings, the shift to provide take-out and delivery service only at restaurants and bars and the curtailment of other services in which close proximity can take place between workers and customers.

To be clear, these are direct orders from the Public Health Officer – her orders were made to protect our most vulnerable, to protect our health-care system, and to protect our health care workers who are undertaking a tremendously difficult task.  These orders are temporary measures that will have a positive long-term impact.

For those who have been given orders to self-isolate or for businesses which have been asked to close, it is your obligation, your responsibility to the community and all British Columbians. It is also an order. All British Columbians must abide by this direction.  Peace officers can be enlisted to enforce these orders if required.


Is there a tip-line for concerned members of the public to report when they are aware of businesses that are not following the orders of the PHO?

The only businesses that have been ordered to close are personal care services, dine-in restaurant services, bars and nightclubs, and now also gyms and fitness centres as of April 2.  Any business or service that has not been ordered to close, may stay open if it can adapt its services and workplace to the orders and recommendations of the Provincial Health Officer.

Employers have a responsibility and an obligation to provide workers with safe working conditions, as laid out in WorkSafeBC’s Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines, and as stated by the Provincial Health Officer.

Local by-law officers are being redeployed to help ensure compliance with the Provincial Health Officer’s orders and make sure they’re enforced.  If you are seeing a contravention of that order, you should contact your local bylaw enforcement to report it. This number can be found through your local government’s website. We want to make sure bylaw officers can tackle the most serious risks so we ask the public to use their judgement and only contact bylaw officer when necessary.


What should we do if we know of individuals who should be self-isolating, but who are continuing to go out in public?

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advises that physical distancing is an important line of defence for all us.  This is new for everyone, and we know these changes are difficult for people. It’s important to remember that members of the same household do not have to practice physical distancing of 2 meters at home or in public, as long as they can maintain safe physical distance from others.  We all need to take personal responsibility and make the right choices now to protect our most vulnerable and our health care workers.


I need to visit an IH location. Are your hours affected by COVID-19?

Regular operations of many Interior Health programs, services and sites are impacted by COVID-19. Please call ahead if you are unsure about a previously scheduled appointment. Visit Find Us on interiorhealth.ca for locations and regular operating hours.


I’ve recently returned to Canada. What precautions do I need to take?

If you have arrived in Canada from another country, you must self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for symptoms. Self-isolation means staying home and avoiding all situations where you could come in contact with others. The BCCDC has more information on self-isolating on their website.


How can I keep from getting infected?

The most important thing you can do to prevent infection is to wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face. Stay away from people if they or you are ill. Maintain social distancing in public settings – fingertip to fingertip apart from others. To help reduce your risk of infection:

  1. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Using soap and water is the single most effective way of reducing the spread of infection. Handwashing poster
  2. If a sink is not available, alcohol based hand rubs (ABHR) can be used to clean your hands as long as they are not visibly soiled. If they are visibly soiled, use a wipe and then ABHR to effectively clean them.
  3. Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth with hands.
  4. Cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue or the crease of your elbow when you sneeze or cough. Properly dispose of used tissues.
  5. Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  6. Do not share food, drinks, utensils, etc.
  7. Stay home when you are sick

Should I wear a mask?

  • Masks should be used by sick people to prevent transmission to other people. A mask will help keep a person’s droplets in.
  • It is less effective to wear a mask in the community when a person is not sick themselves. Masks may give a person a false sense of security and are likely to increase the number of times a person will touch their own face (e.g., to adjust the mask).
  • Health-care workers will wear surgical masks, eye protection and gowns in order to protect themselves and other patients. During health-care procedures in which aerosol sprays may be generated (for example, when giving certain inhaled medications), health-care workers should wear specialized masks.

What if I have a chronic condition?

  • Current information suggests that older people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease are at higher risk of developing more severe illness or complications from COVID-19. If you are at higher risk for COVID-19 complications, follow general preventative strategies against infection, and should you become ill, seek medical help early.
  • Read this patient handout for patients with chronic health conditions  for more information. 

Should I stockpile supplies?

  • On March 14, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry advised: “We ask all British Columbians to be measured in their purchase of groceries and other basic necessities.
  • Our retail supply-chain providers have assured us they have an abundance of supply and are restocking regularly. There is no need to stockpile.

If I have COVID-19, how can I avoid infecting others?

  • Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 – Fever, new cough, or difficulty breathing – should immediately self-isolate for 14 days and limit contact with others.
  • Wear a face mask. When you are sick, wearing a face mask (surgical or procedure mask) helps to stop the spread of germs from you to others. Wear a face mask when you are in the same room with other people and when you get medical care. If your mask gets wet or dirty, change it and wash your hands right away. You and those you live with do not need to buy and wear other types of masks, such as an N-95 respirator mask.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes. When you feel a cough or sneeze coming on, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Don’t have a tissue? Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow, not your hands. Wash your hands right away after you sneeze, cough or touch used tissues or masks. Throw used tissues into a lined trash can in your room and tie up that trash bag before adding it with other household waste.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It is best to dry your hands with a paper towel and throw it away after use. If you can’t wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Learn more
  • Do not share household items. Do not share dishes, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding, or other shared belongings. After using these items, wash them with soap and water.
  • Flush the toilet with the lid down. COVID-19 virus may also be present in poop (stool or feces). Always wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet.
  • General cleaning. Water and detergent (e.g., liquid dishwashing soap) or common household cleaning wipes should be used. Apply firm pressure while cleaning. Surfaces should be cleaned at least once a day. Clean surfaces that are touched often (e.g., counters, table tops, doorknobs, toilets, sinks, taps, etc.) at least twice a day.

What should I do if I need medical care?

  • Pay attention to your health and how you are feeling after getting the test. You can call 8-1-1 anytime to talk to a nurse at HealthLinkBC and get advice about how you are feeling and what to do next. 8-1-1 has translation services in 130 languages.
  • Urgent medical care means that there is a change in your health that needs medical help right away. If it becomes harder to breathe, you can’t drink anything or feel much worse than when you got tested; seek urgent medical care at an urgent care clinic or emergency department. If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
  • Call ahead before you get medical care. If leaving your home for medical care, call ahead and tell the clinic you are coming in and that you just had a COVID-19 test. By calling ahead, you help the clinic, hospital, lab, urgent care or doctor’s office prepare for your visit and stop the spread of germs. Remind each health care provider that is taking care of you that you are waiting for COVID-19 test results.

How do you ensure that people who are told to self-isolate, actually self-isolate? What if they were to go out in public, like to a grocery store?

  • Public Health asks three groups of individuals to self-isolate. The first group are confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a second group are asymptomatic close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case and asymptomatic travelers from areas severely affected by COVID-19. These two groups are asked to self-isolate for 14 days and are called daily by a Public Health nurse who monitors their health, as well as behaviours (if they have been out in public). If individuals in these two groups do not self-isolate, Public Health can use legal powers under the Public Health Act to ensure that self-isolation occurs.
  • The third group asked to self-isolate are low risk individuals who are tested for COVID-19. These individuals are asked to self-isolate for typically 96 hours until they receive their COVID-19 testing results.
  • The spread of COVID-19 occurs with sustained close contact with an affected individual, for example, sitting in a car on a long trip, or living in the same household. Grocery stores – which are open and where people tend to walk around – are unlikely places to allow for virus spread.

Why are the communities and/or identities of people with COVID-19 not being shared with the public?

  • Anyone who may be at risk of exposure to COVID-19 gets contacted by the public health officials who are supporting confirmed cases and their close contacts.
  • We will not be identifying the specific location of confirmed cases unless public health providers cannot be certain they have reached all those who need to be contacted and who therefore might be a risk to the public.
  • We want people who have symptoms to contact us, and to feel safe contacting us, knowing their privacy will be protected so the steps to protect the health and safety for all can be taken. This is why privacy is important to everyone. It allows public health providers to do the work they need to do to keep everybody safe.