COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured

How does COVID-19 spread?

graphic of person coughing

When I chat with friends and family, there’s a lot of talk of COVID-19 and a lot of confusion and questions around how the virus spreads.

Dr. Samira Mubareka, infectious diseases physician and microbiologist, says research into COVID-19 shows that the virus is spread through close contact with an infected person.

“This close contact can occur in two ways: droplet and contact,” she said.

Droplet means respiratory droplets produced by an infected person’s sneeze or cough. These can travel up to 6 feet (1.8 metres). A person becomes infected when droplets from a cough or sneeze directly enter the body through the eyes, mouth or nose. 

“These droplets are large, and they tend to fall to the ground by gravitational pull,” Dr. Mubareka explained. “But droplets from a sneeze or cough can travel nearly 2 metres, so keeping a distance from someone who is coughing or sneezing is important.”

Contact means touching a person or object directly, such as door handles, that have droplets on them from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. Unwashed hands contaminated with COVID-19 can introduce the virus to your body when you touch your eyes, mouth or nose.   

As a member of the public, how can I protect myself? 

To protect yourself from COVID-19: 

  • Wash your hands often with either soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Both of these are effective in killing COVID-19.
  • Avoid touching your face – your eyes, nose and mouth are the ports of entry for the virus.
  • Keep a 2-metre separation from others.
  • Wear a non-medical mask when you are in contact with others outside of your household or close contacts.

Should I wear a mask in public? 

When it’s hard or not possible to keep a distance of 2 metres from others, wearing a non-medical mask can help prevent one’s mouth and nose droplets from reaching other people or shared surfaces.

It’s important to wear your mask properly. Follow the steps here to make sure you wear it correctly.


Remember: clean your hands well and often, don’t touch your face (particularly your eyes, nose and mouth), keep your distance from people, and wear a mask when distance isn’t possible.


This post was updated July 14, 2020 to reflect updated mask recommendations.

About the author

Alexis Dobranowski

Alexis Dobranowski is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.