1. Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  2. Symptoms, testing and vaccine

Coronavirus (COVID-19): symptoms, testing and vaccine

Symptoms, who can be tested, how to self-isolate and information on the COVID-19 vaccine.


Watch for symptoms. Symptoms can vary from person to person and in different age groups. Symptoms may take up to 14 days to appear after exposure to COVID-19.

Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • feverish (chills, sweats)
  • new or worsening cough
  • sore throat
  • runny nose or nasal congestion
  • headache
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

The severity of COVID-19 symptoms can range from mild to severe, and in some cases, can lead to death. Current information suggests most people don't experience severe illness or need to be hospitalized.

What to do if you experience symptoms

Complete a COVID-19 Self-assessment if in the past 48 hours you have had or you're currently experiencing:

  • fever (i.e. chills/sweats) or cough (new or worsening)

Or: Two or more of the following symptoms (new or worsening):

  • sore throat
  • runny nose/nasal congestion
  • headache
  • shortness of breath/difficulty breathing


Testing is available throughout the province. Don't go to a COVID-19 assessment centre unless you're referred and have an appointment.

You should get tested for COVID-19 if:

  • Public Health determines you're a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case and need to be tested
  • you have COVID-19 symptoms and are referred for testing by Public Health, a COVID-19 Self-assessment or 811
  • you were at a potential exposure site and Public Health advises that you need to be tested immediately
  • you don't have symptoms, require a negative test result for essential travel and meet all eligibility requirements for testing with PRAXES
  • you’re a rotational worker (see legal requirements for testing)
  • you’re a post-secondary student on day 6, 7 or 8 of your self-isolation and don’t have symptoms
  • you don’t have symptoms and meet all criteria for asymptomatic testing

Learn more: additional testing information and ways to get tested.

Asymptomatic testing criteria

You can get tested when you don’t have symptoms (asymptomatic testing) if you:

  • haven’t travelled outside Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador within the past 14 days
  • haven’t visited a potential exposure location
  • haven’t been in contact with someone who has tested positive

Rotational workers testing requirements

Rotational workers who work in a province or territory outside Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador or outside Canada are legally required to get tested for COVID-19 during their modified self-isolation. They need to get tested 2 times (once on day 1 or 2 and again on day 6, 7 or 8 of their modified self-isolation).

Book a COVID-19 test

You need to complete a COVID-19 Self-assessment to book a test, even if you don’t have symptoms. You can call 811 for assessment if you’re unable to complete the COVID-19 Self-assessment online (or to speak with a nurse).

Testing for essential travel

If you don't have symptoms (asymptomatic) and need a test for essential travel, you need to request a COVID-19 test with PRAXES.

If you're referred for testing


Everyone needs to self-isolate right away when they're referred for COVID-19 testing, including children. People they live with don't need to self-isolate unless they become unwell, have been told by Public Health that they need to self-isolate or are required to self-isolate for other reasons. They need to monitor their symptoms closely and self-isolate if they start to feel sick.

Gargle test preparation

If your child is scheduled for a swish and gargle test, they need to prepare before going to the testing appointment.

After testing

After testing, you’re legally required to self-isolate if you:

  • are waiting for your COVID-19 test results
  • have tested positive for COVID-19
  • have been identified as a close contact of someone who has COVID-19, even if you have tested negative for COVID-19

Learn more: when you need to self-isolate after getting tested for COVID-19.

How to self-isolate

Self-isolating means staying at home and avoiding contact with other people to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. You need to stay in the same location while you’re self-isolating (you can’t change locations).

Check the self-isolation requirements to find out when you need to self-isolate, even if you don't have symptoms.

Self-isolating guidelines

To self-isolate, you need to follow these guidelines:

  • stay home – don't go to work, school or other public places (you can use your deck, balcony or yard, but you need to avoid contact with other people)
  • avoid elevators or stairwells if you live in an apartment building (stay inside your unit)
  • take and record your temperature daily and avoid fever reducing medications (like acetaminophen and ibuprofen)
  • have groceries and other supplies delivered
  • avoid anyone with chronic conditions or a compromised immune system and older adults
  • don't have visitors to your home
  • avoid taking public transportation (like a taxi, bus or shuttle) if possible; if you do need to take public transportation, wear a mask and keep a physical distance of 2 metres (6 feet) from others, as much as you can
  • don’t take public transportation if you have COVID-19 symptoms
  • complete a COVID-19 Self-assessment if you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms; you can call 811 for assessment if you’re unable to complete the COVID-19 Self-assessment online (or to speak with a nurse)
  • follow hand washing guidelines, cough and sneeze guidelines and cleaning and disinfecting guidelines

Self-isolating and your household

If you travel outside Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador for non-essential travel, you need to self-isolate in a completely separate space with no household contact (like a self-contained apartment or basement). This means no shared living spaces, including the bathroom. If you a don't have a completely separate space, everyone in the household also needs to self-isolate.

If you travel outside Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador for essential travel, everyone in the household doesn’t need to self-isolate if you meet the criteria for essential travel and follow additional guidelines while you’re self-isolating.

Essential travel includes travel into Nova Scotia or returning to Nova Scotia from outside Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador that’s necessary for:

  • work that requires the worker to be present at the workplace (can't be done virtually) and the worker doesn't meet the criteria to be classified as a domestic rotational worker
  • legal custody arrangements that require dropping off or picking up children who are required to travel for visitation
  • essential, specialized healthcare treatment that's not available in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador
  • participating in essential legal proceedings outside Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador when virtual attendance isn't possible
  • students studying outside of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador whose primary or family residence is in Nova Scotia

Everyone in the household doesn’t need to self-isolate if you follow additional guidelines while you’re self-isolating after essential travel, including:

  • have your own separate room in the home (like a bedroom, basement or attic)
  • wash your hands before leaving the separate room
  • wear a non-medical mask when outside your separate room
  • avoid contact with people you live with
  • use a separate bathroom or use the following cleaning protocol for a shared bathroom - clean high touch surfaces (like doorknobs, taps, toilet handle and sink) after each use
  • have food and beverages prepared by others and delivered in a non-contact manner
  • don't share dishes, drinking glasses and cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding and other items with others in the home
  • keep your personal items (like toothbrush, cups, cell phones, tablets and laptops) separate from others in the home
  • don't share food or drinks with others in the home

Federal support for self-isolating

The Government of Canada has additional resources about how to self isolate and how to care for someone with COVID-19.


Vaccines are products that help protect you from viruses that cause illnesses like COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine will be free for everyone in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia's COVID-19 immunization plan includes a 3-phase approach. As more vaccine is received, more groups will become eligible to get the vaccine.

Each vaccine has different rules on how you can move and store the vaccine. Nova Scotia's COVID-19 immunization plan looks at:

  • how and when the vaccine supply is delivered
  • how, when and where the vaccine can be moved around the province
  • what kind of specialized equipment is needed to move and store the vaccine
  • who will get the vaccine and when based on guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization

Two vaccines,  Pfizer BioNtech and Moderna, are approved for use in Nova Scotia. The province may receive other brands of COVID-19 vaccine as they’re approved for use by Health Canada.

Nova Scotia expects to receive 150,000 vaccines from 16 December 2020 to 31 March 2021.

Learn more: who should and shouldn’t get the vaccine.

Getting the vaccine

The first round of vaccine arrived in Nova Scotia on 15 December 2020. This limited round was used in Nova Scotia Health Authority Central Zone due to increased COVID-19 activity and the storage requirements of the vaccine. The vaccine was used to immunize staff working in:

  • COVID-19 units in hospitals
  • emergency departments
  • critical care units
  • birth units and early labour unit at the IWK Health Centre
  • regional care units

Nova Scotia will receive small weekly allotments of vaccine throughout the first few months of 2021. Larger amounts of vaccine will be received as it becomes available. Vaccine will be distributed to sites with cold storage and clinics across the province.

The vaccine will be available to people in priority groups throughout 3 phases. Priority groups are based on guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

Phase 1

The first phase of Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 immunization plan runs from January to April 2021. During this phase, the focus is to immunize priority groups and develop, test and evaluate different ways to deliver the vaccine before larger amounts of vaccine arrive for the second phase.

Priority groups that are eligible to get the vaccine in phase 1 include:

  • front-line healthcare workers who are closely involved in the COVID-19 response (more likely to be exposed to COVID-19)
  • residents, staff and designated caregivers of long-term care facilities
  • residents and staff of residential care facilities, adult residential centres and regional rehabilitation centres
  • seniors living in the community who are 80 or older
  • seniors living in the community who are 75 to 79
  • healthcare workers (like doctors, paramedics and homecare workers) who are in direct contact with patients

Starting in January 2021, COVID-19 vaccination clinics for healthcare workers will be organized by occupational health and safety in several parts of the province as the vaccine supply begins to increase. During phase 1, Public Health will also test community and provider-based clinics in preparation for later phases.

Phase 2

The second phase of Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 immunization plan is expected to start in May 2021 and includes remaining healthcare workers and essential workers (Public Health is working on the criteria for essential workers who will be included). As more vaccine becomes available more groups will be added based on priority.

Phase 3

The third phase of Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 immunization plan is expected to start in summer 2021 and includes the broader community, including anyone who was eligible and didn’t get the vaccine in phase 1 or 2.

In addition to getting the vaccine, you need to follow public health directives, including gathering limits, social distancing guidelines, hand washing guidelines and wearing a mask when in public places. You should also stay home if you feel unwell and complete a COVID-19 Self-assessment.

Federal resources