Information for the General Public

This page contains general information and answers to common questions about COVID-19.

Non-medical information about COVID-19 is available 7:30am-8pm, 7 days a week at 1-888-COVID19 (1-888-268-4319).

Visit to download the COVID-19 BC Support App or conduct a self-assessment.

For the current COVID-19 case counts, please go to: Data, Outbreaks and Public Exposures.

Long Term Care and Assisted Living Social Visiting Information 

Information for families of those living in Long-Term Care and Assisted Living sites

We understand that visitor restrictions because of COVID-19 have been difficult for families and friends. 

Please read below for information on social visits at Long-Term Care and Assisted Living sites. You can also use the BCCDC's Social Visiting Guidelines for Long-Term Care and Assisted Living Facilities resource to help you get ready for your visit. 

When will I be able to visit with my family member or friend who lives in a Long-Term care home or senior’s Assisted Living site?

Each facility is different and unique. Contact the site that you wish to visit for their process on visits, including how often visits are scheduled, and how long visits will be.

What can I expect at a social visit? 

The first step is to contact the site where your friend or loved one is living and schedule a visit with staff. Residents are able to visit with one, consistent, designated family member or friend. 

As a visitor, you will complete a screening process before every visit. Visits will not be permitted if the visitor or resident is sick.


If outdoor visit space is available, and visits take place outside, visitors do not need to wear a mask if they can maintain 2 meters of physical distance for the entirety of their visit.

Designated visitors will wear a medical-grade mask that is provided by the facility. The mask has to be worn for the entire duration of the visit.

What safety measures are in place? 

All operators of each facility now have the following details in place to protect residents/clients and support designated visitors, and will engage with families to let them know of their specific processes:

  • A clear process to identify and approve designated visitors.
  • The identified/designated location(s) to safely accommodate visits (while considering size and layout of the site, and the safey of residents and staff). Visit spaces may include:
    • Appropriate outdoor space
    • Indoor designated area 
    • Private client/resident rooms 
What about essential visits? How will these change?

Facilities will continue to support visitors for essential visits. Long-term care facility leadership and the clinical team will determine if a visit is essential. Essential visits shall be limited to one visitor per patient/client within the facility at a time (except in the case of palliative/end-of-life care).

Read more about essential visitor policy

COVID-19 Terms & Definitions


A case is an individual with a lab-confirmed COVID-19 infection. 


An outbreak is declared when a certain number of people who share a common space are diagnosed with COVID-19 within a 14-day period. Usually a Medical Health Officer will declare an outbreak so that specific actions can be taken to prevent further spread of the disease. 

In Long Term Care facilities – an outbreak is declared when one person (staff or resident) is a confirmed COVID-19 case. 

In Schools – an outbreak is considered as multiple confirmed cases within a 14-day period, with evidence of ongoing transmission occurring within the school and the school medical health officer has determined exceptional measures are required to prevent further transmission of COVID-19.


Island Health will provide updates on the locations and times of known possible public exposures to COVID-19 in our region when we have been unable to reach or identify all individuals potentially exposed via contact tracing.

If you are a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, Public Health will contact you directly to let you know. 

In Schools – an exposure is a single person with lab-confirmed COVID-19 infection (case) who attended school/work during their infectious period (48 hours prior to symptoms). 

Close contact

Spending 15 minutes or more within six feet of someone with COVID-19 is considered a close contact.

This is cumulative, meaning being near someone on multiple occasions for a few minutes at a time can also increase your exposure.


In Schools – a cluster is two or more confirmed cases within a 14-day period, with evidence of ongoing transmission occurring within a school setting and the school medical health officer has determined exceptional measures are required to prevent further transmission of COVID-19.

COVID-19 Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 signs and symptoms, including screening criteria, is available on the BCCDC website at

Are COVID-19 vaccines available?

Island Health is not booking any appointments for COVID-19 immunizations at this time. We will be taking the direction of the Provincial Health Officer on how we distribute the vaccine in the coming year – and that will include immunizations for the general public. That information will be shared on our website as plans are developed. 

Read more about the provincial plan

Learn about the vaccine

Do Vancouver Island residents have any restrictions on travel or gatherings?

As of November 19, there are province-wide restrictions in effect. All individuals, places of work and businesses in B.C. must significantly reduce social interactions and travel. 

For details, see

How can I get the gargle test?

Individuals (ages 4+) with COVID-19 symptoms can be tested using a gargle test or a nasopharyngeal swab. Both are good options and will tell you if you have COVID-19. The gargle test method involves swishing and gargling sterile salt water and spitting it into a collection tube. Before calling to book an appointment, please use the self-assessment tool at to determine if you or your child needs a COVID-19 test. If a test is recommended, call 1-844-901-8442 to book an appointment (daily 8:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.).

Read more about gargle testing.

How can I be tested?

If you develop cold, influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms, use the BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool to help determine if you need further assessment or testing for COVID-19. You can complete this assessment for yourself, or on behalf of someone else, if they are unable to.

If an individual has no symptoms, even if they are a contact of a confirmed case or a returning traveller, they do not require a test.

At this time, any physician or nurse practitioner can order a test for a patient with cold, influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms based on their clinical judgment.

If you do not have a primary care provider  please call Island Health’s Call Centre at 1-844-901-8442 to be assessed to determine if you need testing. Appointments for COVID-19 testing must be pre-booked through a primary care provider or Island Health’s Call Centre. Testing sites are unable to accommodate unscheduled or walk-in visits. Find a testing site, also known as a collection centre, at a location near you.

Island Health asks members of the public to please not go to a hospital emergency department seeking COVID-19 testing. However, people experiencing a medical emergency should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

Read more about symptoms, testing and isolation.

For more information, please visit the BCCDC webpage on COVID-19 testing.

Does my child need a doctor's note to return to school?

No, children do not require a health-care provider note (i.e. a doctor’s note) to confirm they can return to school. A health-care provider's note is not required to confirm the health status of any individual, beyond those required to support medical accommodation as per usual practices.

See the K-12 guidance document for schools.

Are face masks required in Island Health facilities?

In accordance with Ministry of Health policy, masks must be worn by all persons visiting a health-care facility, including hospitals, health centres, physician’s offices and outpatient clinics. Island Health has also taken steps within our facilities to reduce the risk of transmission with physical barriers and signs to promote physical distancing. Please help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a face mask or covering when visiting an Island Health facility.

Who needs to self-isolate?

People returning to BC from travel outside of Canada must stay home for 14 days and provide a self-isolation plan, and people who have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 must stay home for 14 days after their last encounter.

Individuals should monitor themselves daily for symptoms like fever and cough. Those who develop symptoms should stay home and complete the self-assessment at and follow the recommendations provided.

If you develop symptoms, continue to self-isolate for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started OR 14 days from when you started self-isolating, whichever is longer. 

Learn more about isolation protocols

I don’t have symptoms, but I want a test before I travel. What can I do?

If you are considering non-essential travel, please know that the current recommendations for British Columbians are to travel within BC and explore our diverse and beautiful province.

Currently, publicly funded testing for asymptomatic travellers is not available in BC.

There may be private-pay clinics that offer testing for a fee to people who require asymptomatic testing for reasons that fall outside of BC public health recommendations, as outlined in the testing guidelines, such as for travel or employment. 

Please check with the embassy in the country where you will be travelling for full details on COVID-19 requirements. In many cases, if you are not able to test prior to travel, you will have an option to follow self-isolation measures on arrival or get tested at you destination, or both.

Who can I contact about people who are not following self-isolation rules?

It is our strong expectation that people who are required to self-isolate will do so. Compliance is very important to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Travellers returning to Canada or passing through Canada to gain access to Alaska must submit and have approved self-isolation plans and self-isolate for at least 14 days or 10 days after onset of symptoms, whichever is longer, as per the Emergency Order under the federal Quarantine Act, whether or not they have respiratory symptoms. There are some individuals who are exempt from this order to provide essential services. 

Please find more information in the provincial news release.

RCMP will follow up with travellers by phone or site visit to ensure individuals are following their approved    
self-isolation plans.  If the RCMP have indicated they will not follow-up, you can send the details to the following two email addresses: Or Additionally, complaints can be send to the CBSA Border Watch Line at 1-888-502-9060.

How do I protect myself and my family?

Follow the usual recommendations to prevent other common respiratory viruses. 

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. If handwashing facilities are not available, you may use hand sanitizer. 

Follow good respiratory etiquette. Cough or sneeze into your elbow sleeve, dispose of tissues appropriately and immediately wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and avoid contact with sick people to prevent the spread of respiratory illness. 

Stay home if you are sick. 

Are face masks required?

As outlined in the mask mandate order, masks are required for everyone in many public indoor settings. A face shield is not a substitute for a mask as it has an opening below the mouth.

There are exemptions for:

  • People with health conditions or with physical, cognitive or mental impairments who cannot wear one
  • People who cannot remove a mask on their own
  • Children under the age of 12

Learn more about this public health order

Can you provide some guidance about assisted and independent living sites?

Independent living, assisted living and long-term care provide different levels of health services and support for their clients, and are governed differently. 

Independent living
Clients in independent living facilities are independent and rent living space on site. There is no specific health regulatory body for independent living.  Therefore, complaints are referred to the Seniors Advocate at 1-877-952-3181 or 

The Residential Tenancy Board has jurisdiction where a tenant rents a home, such as Independent Living accommodations. Persons in Independent Living may receive home care services through Island Health's community health services, as well may be receiving other health services just as they would if they were in their own home. Landlords and tenants can apply for dispute resolutions when they can't resolve a problem related to a tenancy. 

Assisted living
Clients in assisted living are independent and can make individual choices, but require a supportive environment due to physical and/or functional health challenges. Assisted living is regulated by the Assisted Living Registrar under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act and the Assisted Living Regulation. Questions and concerns can be sent to 1-866-714-3378 or

Assisted living operators have been asked to reduce COVID risk within their facilities. This may include asking clients to follow voluntary practices, such as not leaving the facility or voluntarily self-isolating after return from any absence. Facilities may also choose to adopt additional practices, such as enhanced cleaning, physical distancing in dining areas and common rooms, to help reduce risk. Non-essential services, such as hair salons and personal services are not recommended in assisted living at this time. 

Multiple types of living on a single site
Some operations include independent living, assisted living and/or long-term care on a single site. In some cases, operators have chosen to apply orders for long-term care or guidance for assisted living to the entire site. If you feel that your loved one is required to follow guidelines that are not appropriate, please follow up with the facility operator first to find a reasonable solution. If there are still concerns that are not addressed, please follow up with the appropriate regulatory agencies.

Learn about COIVD-19 guidance for long-term care and assisted living

Can the virus be transmitted without symptoms?

COVID-19 is spread by the respiratory droplets an infected person produces when they breathe, cough, sneeze, talk, or sing. If you are in contact with an infected person, the virus can enter your body if droplets get into your throat, nose, or eyes.

There have been instances of transmission before the person became sick or when a person's symptoms were so mild that they did not know they were sick.

However, it is unclear if this contributes to significant spread of the virus in the population. Most people become ill from being in close contact with someone who shows symptoms such as coughing and sneezing, therefore transmitting the virus through droplets. The BC CDC continuously reviews the evidence and update information regularly.

A message of thanks from Island Health President and CEO, Kathy MacNeil


COVID-19 Virtual Townhall

On May 19, Island Health CEO Kathy MacNeil, and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Richard Stanwick, joined MLAs Norm Letnick and Ronna-Rae Leonard to answer your questions about COVID-19 in our region. Watch the recording of the live-streamed Virtual Townhall below, or on YouTube.


On April 21, Island Health CEO Kathy MacNeil, and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Richard Stanwick, spoke with local MLAs to answer your questions about COVID-19 in our region. Watch the recording of the live-streamed Virtual Townhall below or on YouTube


Videos from Island Health's Chief Medical Health Officer

Hover over the video to click through and watch the series or visit our COVID-19 showcase on Vimeo.

Reviewed: DAILY
Last update: January 7, 2021 at 2:30 p.m.

News & Events

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