How to protect yourself and others from COVID-19

With the March 13 announcement that all UBC classes will be moved online for the duration of the term beginning March 16, the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has become much more tangible for members of the UBC community, so it’s more important than ever to be aware of the best means for keeping yourself and others safe.

The basics

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), the most effective things you can do to protect yourself against COVID-19 are frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands. If you need to cough or sneeze, do it into the crook of your arm or use a kleenex, and wash your hands afterwards.

While hand sanitizers may seem like a more effective way of keeping your hands clean, they still don’t beat soap and water. In situations where you don’t have access to a sink, however, they are the next-best thing.

When using sanitizers, make sure they contain at least 60 per cent alcohol to be effective against COVID-19, and the BCCDC recommends cleaning “visibly soiled” hands with wipes before using a sanitizer.

Masks are most effective at preventing sick individuals from spreading their illness to others, but for healthy individuals it's unclear whether they offer any more protection and healthy people buying masks can leave health care workers or vulnerable members of the population at a higher risk due to supply shortages.

For individuals with chronic conditions that may put them at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, the BCCDC has provided additional guidance on ways to stay safe.

The Canadian government has not yet put any formal travel restrictions in place, but as of March 12, Provincial Medical Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is strongly recommending against non-essential travel outside of Canada, including to the US. All travelers returning to Canada should self-isolate for 14 days and monitor themselves for the development of any symptoms.

Feeling ill?

One thing that presents an additional challenge to the public health apparatus is the fact that the symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to the flu or a cold. According to the BCCDC, they include a fever, sore throat, cough and difficulty breathing.

If you are presenting these symptoms, the first thing public health authorities recommend is calling your healthcare provider. They will be able to advise you on whether or not you should be tested. You can also call 8-1-1 to be connected to HealthLinkBC, which will also be able to assist you.

One thing authorities are recommending against at this stage is seeking COVID-19 testing without contacting your healthcare provider first. In a March 13 press conference, BC Minister of Health Adrian Dix urged people not to seek testing before calling HealthLinkBC or their primary care provider to prevent putting undue strain on the public health system.

“Just so everybody understands, if we open such sites or when we open such sites, it’s not for people to go [to] if they’ve not been referred there by anyone,” he said. “Those decisions will be made by medical professionals.”

For individuals who are self-isolating because they have recently returned home from abroad, are feeling ill, or have been instructed to by a health care professional, the BCCDC is instructing avoiding all face-to-face contact for a full two weeks.

This means staying out of public areas like shops, restaurants, your place of work and your place of worship. It also means that if you live with roommates, you should stay in your room, use a separate bathroom if possible, wear a mask if you have to be in a room with others and avoid sharing dishes or utensils.

Individuals who are self-isolating and notice changes in their health are advised to call 8-1-1 and if you have to leave home for medical care, the BCCDC discourages taking transit, taxis or ride-sharing services to prevent exposing yourself to others.

‘I’m calling on everyone in BC’

Another point both Henry and Dix emphasized in the March 13 press conference was that BC residents should view personal protective measures like frequent hand washing as ways to not only protect themselves, but also their communities at large.

“When we ask people to wash their hands regularly, that’s playing a part. When we ask you to throw away kleenexes and not touch your face, that’s playing a part. When we ask you to support other people in the community, that’s playing a part,” Dix said.

Despite the fact that the elderly and immunocompromised, among other groups, seem to be more adversely impacted by COVID-19, Henry echoed the sentiment that the healthy have a responsibility to protect people other than themselves by taking precautions.

“These are the things we do to protect ourselves from getting ill,” said Henry. “But also we know that this virus is most likely to be spread to the people who are closest to us. So we need to do this to protect our families and our close friends and our communities.”

“I’m calling on everyone in BC to work with us to do that,” she concluded.

For more information, visit the websites of the BCCDC, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the World Health Organization. For updates on UBC’s response to COVID-19, visit