Protect Against Respiratory Illness: Layer Up!

January 16, 2023

Ontario, including Huron and Perth, is currently experiencing a very challenging season of respiratory illnesses. “Layer up” this fall and winter, to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community from viruses such as COVID-19, influenza, RSV and colds.

Layers of Protection

To reduce your risk and prevent getting sick this season, there are several actions to take:

  • Stay home when sick
  • Get vaccinated and stay up-to-date with vaccines (including COVID-19 and influenza)
  • Wear a mask, especially in indoor public settings and consider wearing a mask in crowded outdoor settings
  • Avoid crowded indoor spaces, choose well ventilated spaces when possible
  • Maintain physical distance (two metres)
  • Wash your hands often
  • Screen yourself and loved ones for any symptoms and use rapid tests
  • Improve ventilation and filtration in your home and maintain HVAC systems
  • Seek out antiviral treatments, if eligible

Each of these actions can be thought of as “layers” and each layer adds protection. The more layers an individual uses, the more protected they are.

Using many (or all) of these layers regularly, especially if you or your loved ones are at high risk, will reduce the spread of respiratory illness.

Who is at risk?

Are you, or a loved one, at higher risk of respiratory illness, such as COVID, influenza, or RSV?

High-risk individuals include:

  • Older adults (ages 70+)
  • Pregnant individuals
  • Those who haven’t received all of the recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses or the flu shot
  • Those who have a chronic medical condition
  • Those who are immunocompromised
  • Children under five years of age
  • Children in  child care or school settings


As of December 21, 2022 children ages five to 11 are eligible to receive a bivalent booster dose if it has been at least six months since their last dose. More information is available in the provincial news release.

Our best protection against serious illness, hospitalization and long-term effects of respiratory illnesses is vaccination. It is important to get vaccinated when you are eligible and stay up to date with routine immunizations. Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to protect you and those around you from infectious diseases.

  • Everyone 6 months of age and older is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Check our Get a Vaccination page to learn more.  
  • Everyone 6 months of age and older is also eligible to receive an influenza vaccine ("flu shot"). See Influenza Immunization for more information on where you can receive your annual influenza vaccine.
  • There is no vaccine for RSV.

Staying home/isolation

If you are sick, stay home to prevent getting others sick. Stay home except to seek testing or medical care if required.

You should stay home until all of the following apply to you:

  • Your symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours if you had nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea)  
  • You do not have a fever
  • You do not develop any additional symptoms

For more information, an online self-assessment and screeners for child care, school and long-term care, visit Protection from COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses | Province of Ontario.

If you have questions related to COVID-19 testing and isolation guidelines, please call the Provincial Testing and Isolation Information line at 1-888-777-0730.


The Chief Medical Officer of Health strongly recommends that Ontarians mask in all indoor public settings, including in schools and in childcare settings. Wearing a well-fitting mask , especially in crowded, indoor spaces, will reduce the spread of illness.

Further, wear a mask at all times when you are outside your home and in public places (including school and child care, unless under two years of age) if you:

  • Are recovering from COVID-19 symptoms and are no longer isolating. Wear a mask for 10 days from when your symptoms started
  • Have tested positive for COVID-19 and do not have symptoms. Wear a mask for 10 days from the positive test result
  • Have been identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19 symptoms and/or a positive test result for 10 days from last exposure

Children aged 2 to 5 should only wear a mask if they are being supervised,  if they can safely tolerate masking, and if they can put the mask on and take it off.


If you are planning to have an in-person gathering, consider your friends/family who are at higher risk of serious outcomes from respiratory illness:

  • Consider which indoor gatherings are the most important to you and avoid indoor gatherings that are non-essential
  • If hosting a gathering, you can lower your risk of respiratory illness by having it outdoors
  • If hosting an indoor gathering, reduce your risk by opening windows to ensure proper ventilation and minimizing close, crowded environments
  • If you are hosting, do not gather if you are sick. If a guest feels ill before the gathering, they should not attend
  • If you plan to visit friends/family who are at a higher risk of serious impacts, avoid crowded, indoor spaces in the days leading up to your visit

Other layers to consider leading up to an in-person gathering include ensuring you are up-to-date on influenza and COVID-19 vaccines, wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, and limiting your exposure to others, including limiting other gatherings.

Monitoring your Symptoms/Testing

Molecular testing (PCR and rapid molecular testing) is no longer recommended for all individuals in the community with symptoms of COVID-19. Instead, PCR testing is prioritized for those at increased risk of severe outcomes and those living and working in highest risk settings. Visit COVID-19 Testing, Tracing, and Results for information on local testing availability.

People who have symptoms or test positive on a rapid antigen test (RAT) should assume they have COVID-19 and must self-isolate. Find out more on the province's Protection from COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses webpage.

Have RATs ready for your household to use when needed, and make sure that the tests are not expired. For more information about rapid testing for at-home use and to find a list of participating retail locations, visit Rapid testing for at-home use.

If you have questions related to COVID-19 testing and isolation guidelines, please call the Provincial Testing and Isolation Information line at 1-888-777-0730.

For more information about influenza, including what to do if you get sick, visit The flu | Province of Ontario.

Antiviral Treatments


Antiviral treatments are available for free by prescription to individuals with COVID-19 who are at a higher risk of developing severe symptoms. These treatments must begin within 5 to 7 days of symptoms starting. Please visit our COVID-19 Testing, Tracing and Results webpage for more information on antiviral treatments and eligibility.


Antiviral treatments are available by prescription to individuals with influenza who are at a high risk for complications, or those with moderate to severe illness. These treatments work best if administered within 48 hours of symptom onset. Speak with a health care provider to determine if you are eligible and if treatment is right for you.

For more information, visit Influenza Antiviral Treatment | Public Health Ontario, September 2021.

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

Through the Respiratory Syncytial Virus Prophylaxis for High-Risk Infants Program, the Ministry of Health covers the full cost of the drug palivizumab used to prevent a serious lower respiratory tract infection caused by RSV in infants who are less than 2 years of age at the start of RSV season and who are at high risk for RSV disease. The drug is only provided during the active season to infants who meet the ministry’s eligibility criteria for funding.

For more information, visit the province's webpage, Respiratory Syncytial Virus.