During a pandemic

A pandemic may last for several years, depending on how long it takes to develop a vaccine and stop the spread of the disease. Staying prepared throughout the pandemic is essential.

In this section:

Other sections: Getting ready before a pandemic  |  When a pandemic is developing

Stay informed

As a pandemic progresses, we learn more and more about the illness. This means that advice to keep yourself and others safe may change and evolve. It’s important to keep listening to updates from public health agencies and continue to follow their guidance.

Keep up to date on symptoms of the illness, as well as how to get tested if you think you are sick. Catching symptoms early can help ensure you get the medical attention you need, and also helps ensure you won’t spread the illness to others.

Maintain your physical health

As mentioned earlier, one of the best defenses against a disease is a healthy immune system and good physical health. Continue to maintain a healthy diet, proper rest (7-8 hours) and physical activity.

Know when to wear face masks

The spread of some diseases can be slowed when people wear face masks. Wearing a mask can help stop droplets and airborne particles from spreading from your nose and mouth.

If directed by public health authorities, wear a face covering when you are out in public or where it’s difficult to stay a safe distance away from people outside your bubble. During a global pandemic there can be challenges in ensuring that healthcare workers have all the equipment they need to safely provide patient care. For this reason, members of the general public may be asked to use non-medical masks, such as cloth masks.

Coping with stress and anxiety

A pandemic may make us feel confused, sad and anxious. Self-isolation may separate us from activities to help manage our feelings. If you are feeling stressed or anxious, you are not alone. Here are some things you can do to manage.

Take care: Eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep lowers stress and helps us cope.

Stay connected: Stay connected with family, friends and coworkers, following the guidance of public health. Even if you can’t connect with people in-person, online video calls (such as Zoom and Facebook Messenger Rooms) or phone calls are a great way to stay in touch and feel less isolated.
Help others: Find safe ways to help your community, like volunteering to check in on the elderly by phone. Assisting others can help you regain a sense of purpose and community as you confront the challenges together.

Learn more on how to safely help others

Reach out: Talking helps, whether it’s with family, friends, a doctor or counsellor. Crisis lines are available to listen and help any time. You can contact:

  • BC Mental Health Support Line, available 24 hours a day at 310-6789 (no area code).
  • KUU-US Indigenous Crisis Line at 1-800-588-8717.

Psychological care

Fear and anxiety are natural reactions to stressful events and can stir up past traumas. To help yourself and your loved ones:

  • Accept offers of help. Seek counselling or spiritual guidance.
  • Focus on positive memories and the skills you’ve used to get through other hard times.
  • Be aware of how children are reacting. Reassure them and encourage them to express themselves.
  • Give yourself and your loved ones permission to grieve.
  • Practice cultural or spiritual customs that bring you comfort.

With support, most people recover within a few weeks. However, some will need more time and help to heal. Watch for warning signs of extended anxiety and contact a medical professional or trusted community leader if they last more than two to four weeks:

  • Trouble with eating and sleeping.
  • Feeling depressed or hopeless; showing low energy or crying often.
  • Being anxious and fearful.
  • Trouble focusing on daily activities. 
  • Recurring thoughts or nightmares.

Supporting children and youth

As a pandemic continues, it’s not unusual for children and youth to worry about themselves and their families. Being stuck at home and unable to visit friends and extended family can also prompt feelings of confusion, sadness or anxiety.

Trusted adults, like caregivers and teachers, can play a central role in helping young people understand the situation by sharing information in a way that is honest and accurate. Adults can also reassure young people by teaching them how to keep themselves and others safe and healthy.

How to support children and youth

Clean and disinfect regularly

Regular cleaning and disinfecting can help prevent the spread of illness. Frequently touched surfaces such as toilets, sink tap handles, doorknobs, light switches, and tables should be cleaned at least daily. Other less frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned regularly when visibly dirty. Make sure to clean surfaces with soap or detergent before disinfecting. Cleaning and disinfecting is a simple, effective, two-step process:

Step 1: Clean away dirt, crumbs, etc.

Use soapy water to wipe away dirt, soils and other debris. Plain dish soap or any kind of household cleaning product will remove dirt, oils and other debris from surfaces.

Step 2: Disinfect

With store-bought disinfectants:

If possible, use store-bought disinfectants deemed effective by public health authorities and follow the directions on the label.

With bleach:

If store-bought disinfectants are not available, you can mix household bleach with room temperature water (do not use hot water) in specific ratios to disinfect areas in your home. Follow the advice of public health authorities on how to use bleach for this purpose.

For cleaning and disinfecting advice specific to COVID-19 visit the BC Centre for Disease Control website.

Tips for using disinfectants and bleach safely:

  • Open a window and wear gloves when disinfecting. 
  • Take care to rinse the equipment that you use to make your bleach solution and keep bleach tightly-sealed and stored away from children and pets.  
  • More concentrated solutions are not better and may cause irritation to the eyes and throat.
  • Do not mix bleach with vinegar or other acids like lemon juice, ammonia-containing products (such as Windex), or rubbing alcohol. This can create toxic gases. 
  • When using bleach on surfaces, allow the surface to air dry completely before using again. 
  • Dispose of any leftover bleach mixtures so people won't mistake them for something else or mix them with other products by mistake. If you pour your extra bleach solutions down the drain, run a lot of water down the drain at the same time.

What to do if...

Stay up to date on infection prevention and control policies and procedures at your workplace. 


You have a family member in a long-term care or assisted living facility

Keep in mind that visitors may not be allowed at certain times during a pandemic. Find ways to stay connected with your loved ones such as phone calls or video chats.

Following public health guidance during a pandemic, such as physical distancing and regular handwashing, can be challenging when you don’t have a place to live. In addition, some services you depend on may have to close or reduce services. During a pandemic, the government may offer new programs and supports to people who are unsheltered.

If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, there is immediate crisis support for victims of family or sexual violence. VictimLink BC’s 24/7 telephone service offers help in multiple languages. Call 1-800-563-0808 or by email VictimLinkBC@bc211.ca. You’ll be referred to the closest service agency. Your immediate safety is more important than maintaining public health measures such as physical distancing or self-isolation.

Avoid sharing supplies, such as cigarettes, joints, pipes, injecting equipment, containers for alcohol, utensils and other supplies. If you have to share, wipe pipes with alcohol wipes or use new mouthpieces. Wash your hands or use wipes before preparing, handling or using your drugs. Prepare your drugs yourself. Clean surfaces with soap and water, alcohol wipes, bleach or hydrogen peroxide before preparing drugs if possible. Carry naloxone and have an overdose plan. Buddy up when you are using, but stay a safe distance apart. Using with a buddy is safer than using alone.

Your health condition may put you at higher risk of severe symptoms during a pandemic. Follow public health guidance closely in order to keep yourself as safe as possible. If you are going to have to limit your time outside of the home, ask friends and family members to do things like deliver groceries. Work with your healthcare providers to ensure  you have a plan to continue with regular appointments and medications.

People living with disabilities may be especially impacted by a pandemic if the services and social structures they depend on are disrupted. If you are a person with a disability, seek out information on programs that  can support you during the pandemic. If you live alone, make sure you find a trusted pandemic buddy who can assist you with your day to day needs such as grocery deliveries.