Ontario, Canada: COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool Recently Updated

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On May 27, 2020, Ontario updated its COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool (Tool), which was originally launched in March 2020. The interactive Tool requires users to respond to a series of questions and, based on their responses, recommends what actions the user should take next. Employers with operations in Ontario are encouraged to become familiar with how the Tool operates as it can support them in their efforts to keep their workplaces safe during the pandemic. The latest update of the Tool is described below.

Determining “At-risk group” and “close physical contact.”

The Tool identifies which individuals belong to an “at-risk group,” and defines “close physical contact.”

At-risk group

Individuals who meet one of the criteria listed below are in an “at-risk group” for purposes of the Tool:

  • Age 70 or older;
  • Getting treatment that compromises their immune system (e.g., chemotherapy, medication for transplants, corticosteroids, TNF inhibitors);
  • Having a condition that compromises their immune system (e.g., lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, other autoimmune disorder);
  • Having a chronic health condition (e.g., diabetes, emphysema, asthma, heart condition); and
  • Regularly going to a hospital or health care setting for a treatment (e.g., dialysis, surgery, cancer treatment).

Close physical contact

The Tool defines “close physical contact” as:

  • Being less than 2 metres away in the same room, workspace, or area for over 15 minutes
  • Living in the same home

Four severe symptoms

The Tool lists four potential severe symptoms of COVID-19:

  • Severe difficulty breathing;
  • Severe chest pain;
  • Feeling confused or unsure of where you are; or
  • Losing consciousness.

Seventeen additional symptoms

The Tool also lists 17 additional potential symptoms of COVID-19:

  • Fever (feeling hot to the touch, a temperature of 37.8 degrees Celsius / 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher)
  • Chills
  • Cough that is new or worsening
  • Barking cough, making a whistling noise when breathing (croup)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Runny nose (not related to other known causes or conditions)
  • Stuffy or congested nose (not related to seasonal allergies or other known causes or conditions)
  • Lost sense of taste or smell
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Headache that is unusual or long-lasting
  • Digestive issues (nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain)
  • Muscle aches
  • Extreme tiredness that is unusual
  • Falling down often
  • For young children and infants: sluggishness or lack of appetite

The Tool also addresses individuals who were in “close physical contact” with a person (High-Risk Individual) who:

  • Tested positive for COVID-19;
  • Is currently sick with a new cough, fever, having difficulty breathing; or
  • Returned from outside of Canada in the last two weeks.

Finally, the Tool asks individuals if they have travelled outside of Canada in the last 14 days.

The Tool provides recommendations for the actions that individuals in each of these distinct categories should take. While the recommendations in some categories have similarities, as the Q&As below indicate, none of the categories have the exact list of recommendations. 

Q. What actions does the Tool recommend for individuals who have one or more of the four Severe Symptoms?

A. Call 911 or go directly to their nearest emergency department, and take the self-assessment again (presumably when the symptom(s) subside, given their severity).  

Q. What actions does the Tool recommend for individuals who have one or more of the 17 Symptoms?

A. Among other things: (1) Go to a COVID-19 assessment centre to get tested; (2) Stay at home (self-isolate); (3) Only leave home for critical reasons (such as going to an assessment centre); (4) Monitor their health for a full 14 days after their symptoms started; (5) Tell people with whom they were in close contact two days before their symptoms started to monitor their health and self-isolate; (6) Work from home, if possible; otherwise call their manager and occupational health and safety representative to let them know if they are experiencing symptoms or have been instructed to self-isolate, and discuss next steps to ensure they and their company are taking the right safety precautions; and (7) Visit their local emergency department if they begin to experience worsening symptoms.

Q. What actions does the Tool recommend for individuals who in the last 14 days were in “close physical contact” with a High Risk Individual?

A. Among other things: (1) Go to a COIVID-19 assessment centre to get tested; (2) Stay at home (self-isolate) for 14 days; (3) Only leave home for critical reasons such as going to an assessment centre; (3) Work from home, if possible; otherwise call their manager and occupational health and safety representative to let them know if they are experiencing symptoms or have been instructed to self-isolate, and discuss next steps to ensure that they and their company are taking the right safety precautions; and (4) Get re-tested at an assessment centre if they start feeling sick, come into close physical contact with someone who has symptoms, or feel like they need a test.

Q. What actions does the Tool recommend for individuals in the “at risk group”?

A.  Among other things: (1) Stay at home (self-isolate); (2) Only leave their home for critical reasons (such as going to an assessment centre or for a medical emergency); (3) Work from home, if possible; otherwise, call their manager and occupational health and safety representative to let them know if they are experiencing symptoms or have been instructed to self-isolate, and discuss next steps to ensure they and their company are taking the right safety precautions; and (4) Visit an assessment centre if they begin to feel sick, come into close physical contact with someone who has symptoms, or feel like they need a test.

Q. What actions does the Tool recommend for individuals who travelled outside Canada in the last 14 days?

A. Among other things: (1) Stay at home (self-isolate) for 14 days; (2) Work from home, if possible; otherwise, call their manager and occupational health and safety representative to let them know if they are experiencing symptoms or have been instructed to self-isolate, and discuss next steps to ensure they and their company are taking the right safety precautions; and (3) Monitor their health and visit an assessment centre if they have symptoms or were told to do so by their local public health unit or their health care provider (doctor, primary care physician).

Bottom Line for Employers

The Tool can provide significant support to employers in Ontario, which are encouraged to become knowledgeable about how it operates. In addition, employers are encouraged to look to the Tool for guidance as they develop their own guidelines for:

  • The potential symptoms of COVID-19 to which they should be alert;
  • Determining which employees should be asked to leave the workplace and be directed to an assessment centre to get tested; and
  • Determining which employees should self-isolate and work from home, if the nature of their work makes that possible.

In accordance with its risk assessment, and as part of its overall health and safety plan, an employer should require employees to use the Tool and to follow its recommendations.

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