British Columbia

States of emergency, isolation, grocery shopping: We answer your COVID-19 Facebook questions

We asked members of CBC Vancouver’s Coronavirus in B.C. Facebook group for their questions about COVID-19, and we were inundated with queries. We’re going to do our best to provide answers to most of your questions.

Members of CBC Vancouver's COVID-19 Facebook group sent us their questions. We answered

Travellers arriving from outside Canada are asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. Members of CBC's Facebook group wanted to know if the government has the power to enforce that request. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

We asked members of CBC Vancouver's Coronavirus in B.C. Facebook group for their questions about COVID-19 — and we were inundated with queries.

We're going to do our best to provide answers for most of your questions, calling experts where possible and relying on the most reliable sources of information.

Many questions concern the details around self-isolation: Is it mandatory? Is everyone affected? What happens if it affects different members of a family?

You also had questions about possible vaccines, about shopping and about the best ways to keep yourself healthy while trying to live a normal life and protect the safety of others.

What's the difference between Ontario's 'state of emergency' and B.C.'s 'public health emergency'?

Ontario Premier Doug Ford made his declaration under his province's Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, whereas B.C. has declared a public health emergency under the province's Public Health Act.

Among the powers the Ontario legislation gives to the premier is the authority to close "any place, whether public or private, including any business, office, school, hospital or other establishment or institution."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Tuesday that funds would be supplied to senior homes to increase COVID-19 precautions in protection of seniors. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

In B.C. provincial medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the emergency declaration will give her the ability to be "faster, more streamlined and nimble" in carrying out her directions.

The province previously declared a public health emergency in response to the opioid crisis in 2016.

Health Minister Adrian Dix says it means the provincial health officer can issue verbal orders "with immediate effect." And it also means that she can call on peace officers to carry out those orders.

The legislation also gives Dix the power to amend regulations without the consent of the cabinet.

Is self-isolation for travellers mandatory?

At this point, all provincial and federal government communication stresses that travellers returning to Canada, people who are showing symptoms or who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or people who have had possible exposure to the novel coronavirus are being "asked" to self-isolate.

That's deliberate language.

With the declaration of a public health emergency in B.C., that request became an order. As Henry says, it's the legal way of saying "this is voluntary unless you don't do what we say."

A COVID-19 sign is pictured on a kiosk as international travellers arrive at the Vancouver International Airport on Monday. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The Public Health Act gives authorities the means to force you to stay inside and it allows them to call on peace officers to enforce their directions.

So, in short, if you're told to self-isolate — do it while they're still "asking" nicely.

But what about essential workers?

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control says certain workers may be exempt from the need to self-isolate after travelling because they provide essential services.

"This includes first responders to life threatening events, health care workers who are essential to delivering patient care and life-saving services, critical infrastructure workers such as drinking water, hydro, internet and natural gas and workers who are essential to supply society with critical goods such as food and medicines."

But the BCCDC stresses that any decision to exempt essential workers should be based on a risk assessment that prioritizes the need not to spread COVID-19.

Who should get tested? What's the process? How does it work? 

The B.C. Ministry of Health has developed a COVID-19 self-assessment tool to help you determine if you should be tested.


People with respiratory symptoms who are either hospitalized or likely to be hospitalized; working in the health care system; residents of long-term care facilities; or part of an investigation into a cluster or outbreak should be tested.

People without symptoms or with mild respiratory symptoms which can be managed at home, including people who have returned from travel in the past 14 days do not need to be tested.

Canada's public health agency also has information sheets about the symptoms of COVID-19 and the meaning of self-monitoring, self-isolation and isolation.

If you're asked to self-monitor, you should avoid crowded places and keep a distance of two metres from others. If you're asked to self-isolate, you need to stay at home for two weeks. The difference with isolation is that it applies to people with symptoms who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who are waiting for results from a test.

And if you've been told to isolate, you have to stay at home until your public health agency advises you that you're no longer at risk of spreading the infection to others.

If you're concerned, please call 811 or the province's dedicated information line at 1-888-COVID19.

Should you worry about people handling groceries? What about transit? What about fitness classes?

In all situations, public health authorities are recommending that you maintain a healthy distance apart from other citizens, whether on transit or in a grocery store. 

And wash your hands liberally with soap and hot water before and after touching a surface that you think may have been touched by someone else — including fruit, vegetables and the cash and coins you use to purchase them..

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture addresses concerns around food handling and the novel coronavirus on its home page.

"Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19. Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. For that reason, it is critical to follow the four key steps of food safety — clean, separate, cook and chill."

As far as fitness classes are concerned, public facilities in cities like Vancouver are closed, which means you would have to go elsewhere, and any fitness class with more than 50 people is banned. Some gyms have cut down on the size of classes in order to comply with public health suggestions.

And to be extra safe, why not check out the wide range of options for solitary home workouts offered through YouTube?

What about a vaccine? Can you get COVID-19 twice? Is acetaminophen better than ibuprofen for treatment?

At this point, human tests for vaccines are beginning on patients. But the head of the U.S. National Institutes of Health has said that even if the testing goes well, a vaccine wouldn't be available for widespread use for 12 to 18 months, with other labs saying it could take up to two years.

Scientists are currently exploring the question of whether a person could get COVID-19 twice

A pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller, left, the first shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

The Guardian explored this concern with some of the U.K.'s top scientists, in response to a report that a Japanese woman who had the virus tested positive again after being cleared of it. But the consensus appears to be that if the coronavirus is like most other viral infections, people who have had it will have some type of immunity.

U.K.'s National Health Service was initially advising the use of Ibuprofen, but France's health minister suggested that anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen may aggravate the coronavirus. Scientists say this needs to be studied more.

In any case, if you have COVID-19, you should follow your doctor's advice for treatment, not Twitter.

And finally, you had questions about specific situations: an adult son with asthma working as a chef in a busy local restaurant; a wife and mother returning from Mexico; aging relatives.

If you have concerns, you can call the province's dedicated information line at 1-888-COVID19.

At the end of the day, many of the choices you have to make are both personal and as a citizen who is part of a bigger community.

The best advice we can give you in any of those situations is to listen to public health authorities. 

Anyone with respiratory conditions or suppressed immunity because of a condition or age is asked to avoid contact with other people as much as possible — particularly if they have even the slightest sniffle.

And as much as you can, stay home.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at 



Jason Proctor


Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.


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