Last updated: April 27, 2021
What is a COVID-19 Outbreak?
We understand that, when cases occur in public settings or workplaces, residents may be curious or concerned about the potential of an outbreak. HPEPH follows provincial guidance regarding COVID-19 outbreaks.
We declare an outbreak when there is evidence of COVID-19 transmission (spread) spread within the establishment.
For there to be reasonable evidence of spread in the establishment, at least two cases of COVID-19 are identified within the establishment. While provincial guidance differs depending on the setting, at least one case must have been acquired within the establishment. In acute care and long term care settings, to declare an outbreak both cases could have reasonably acquired within the establishment.
To determine if a case could have been reasonably acquired within the establishment, public health completes an investigation to find out if the individual could have been exposed to COVID-19 through another known source. If there is no other known source, public health concludes that the individual could have reasonably acquired COVID-19 within the establishment.
This investigation begins in less than 24 hours after we are notified of the positive case, and depending on the complexity of the situation, can take a few days to complete.
What is a community outbreak?
A community outbreak is defined as multiple cases impacting several linked locations in the community and/or in populations impacted by shared risk factors. A community outbreak is not necessarily limited to one location/establishment.
Cases come from at least two different households/living spaces and at least two cases share an epidemiological link (e.g., connection in person, place, and time) in the community setting within a 14-day period where at least four of the cases could have reasonably acquired their infection in the setting.
Affected populations may share a common social group, community, neighbourhood, event, team, or multi-unit dwelling.
In certain situations, affected populations may share common social determinants of health which place them at increased risk.
Why does HPEPH share the names of some organizations with an outbreak and not others?
HPEPH operates under strict guidelines that prohibit us from sharing any information that could reveal the identity of an individual.
While some organizations may choose to share information about the occurrence of a case or outbreak in their workforce, this disclosure does not alter the privacy legislation that HPEPH is mandated to uphold, and as such, we do not typically publicize the work location of a positive case or outbreak unless this is required to meet public health objectives.
Public health objectives that are cause for sharing this information include contact tracing, advising high risk contacts to isolate, and in certain instances advising low risk contacts to monitor for symptoms. Typically, widespread public notification is not necessary because we are able to communicate with all contacts directly.
HPEPH is required to publicly disclose outbreaks in all long-term care facilities and schools.
What can I do if I hear about an outbreak from a source other than HPEPH?
We realize it can be worrisome to hear rumors about cases or outbreaks in the community.
Please remember that HPEPH reaches out directly to individuals who are known to be at risk of exposure to a confirmed case. We will share information publicly, to protect the health of residents, when this is not possible.
Please continue to practice COVID-19 prevention behaviours such as staying home when sick, washing your hands, distancing from those outside your household, and wearing a face covering when distancing is difficult or not possible.
This year there is no such thing as “just a cold”. If you feel unwell, do not go to work or school, complete the COVID-19 screening, and follow its instructions.
All of these precautions will help reduce your risk, and the risk of those around you.