Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Updated: March 2020
What is a coronavirus? What is COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses such as the common cold as well as more severe illnesses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and now the illness called COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease-19. Coronaviruses commonly circulate in animals and sometimes also infect humans.
The name of the current coronavirus, sometimes called the ‘novel coronavirus’, is the SARS-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). The SARS-CoV-2 virus is the cause of COVID-19 and it has spread around the world, causing a pandemic. A pandemic is defined as “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.”
How does COVID-19 spread?
The virus is thought to spread primarily from person-to-person via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, which when inhaled enter the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or possibly inhaled into the lungs. Transmission occurs primarily between people who are in close contact with one another – prolonged contact (at least ten minutes) within about 6 feet (2 meters).
It is possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. While people with COVID-19 are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic, a person can transmit the virus even when they have mild illness or no symptoms.
On average, each person with COVID-19 passes the infection to about 2 to 4 new people who then develop the infection, but this number varies. Those 2 to 4 newly infected people can then pass the infection to another 2 to 4 and before long hundreds and then thousands can become infected. In order to stop this chain of transmission, hand washing, social distancing (and treatment once it become available) are all ways to reduce the 2 to 4 new infections to much smaller numbers and eventually achieve epidemic control.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
COVID-19 symptoms and cold/flu symptoms are very similar.
Symptoms related to COVID-19 include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and difficulty breathing. Some people, however, have only very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia and other complications, especially in older individuals, and in those with underlying health conditions.
Current evidence suggests a typical incubation period (the time from exposure to the virus to the development of symptoms) as 2 to 14 days.
Who is at risk for COVID-19?
Everyone, of all ages, can become infected with COVID-19. Almost 40 percent of people hospitalized for COVID-19 are under 55. Children can become infected but generally have much milder illness.
Those at higher risk for more serious complications from COVID-19 include older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions (especially heart disease, diabetes and lung disease) or who are immune-compromised.
I’m ill and I think I might have COVID-19. What should I do?
Please exercise the usual precautions associated with seasonal illnesses like colds and flu. Contact your health care provider for guidance.
- Stay home to rest and drink plenty of fluids; do not go outside
- Use acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen (e.g., Advil) for fever and fatigue if these symptoms are making you uncomfortable
- Limit contact with other household members
- Do not share items like drinking glasses, towels, eating utensils
- Wipe down high touch surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and bathroom surfaces) often with a standard household disinfectant
If you are experiencing medium to severe symptoms, please consult your health care provider or visit a health care facility immediately.
How can I protect myself and my community from COVID-19?
There are several public health precautions that you can take to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community:
- Stay home if you are sick: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow.
- Wash your hands frequently: When washing your hands, soap and warm water is all you need. Wash your hands thoroughly, including the thumbs, back of hands, wrists, and fingernails, for at least 20 seconds, especially if you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If you don’t have soap and water, hand sanitizer is the next best thing.
- Avoid touching your face: Although inhaling infectious respiratory droplets is thought to be the most important way the virus is spread, it might be possible to contract COVID-19 by touching your face as this may allow the virus to find its way into your eyes, nose or mouth and then start an infection.
- Keep surfaces clean: Wipe down any surfaces that are frequently used with a strong disinfectant—spray, wait at least four minutes, and then wipe. Surfaces include tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. COVID-19 remains infectious on surfaces—everything from cardboard to stainless steel to carpeting—from a few hours to a few days.
- Practice social distancing:
- Stay six feet (two meters) away from another person
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Do not gather in groups
- Avoid public spaces
- Lower your risk at meetings and events, including holding video- or teleconference meetings
- Shelter in place (i.e. seek shelter within your home or a space you occupy permanently) as much as you can
Why is ‘social distancing’ important and what should I do?
Evidence shows that the coronavirus is spread primarily between people who are in close contact with one another, particularly prolonged contact (at least ten minutes) within about 6 feet (2 meters).
Public health experts all over the world recommend ‘social’ distancing as a method to limit your risk of exposure to the virus. Social distancing also limits your ability to transmit the virus to others. Even if you feel healthy, you could still be infected and maintaining your distance from others will protect their health.
Social distancing involves avoiding group events and settings, even of small groups, and maintaining a distance of six feet (two meters) or more from other individuals to limit the spread of the virus.
Do I need to wear a facemask?
If you are sick, wear a facemask if you must be around other people or when visiting a healthcare provider. If you cannot wear a facemask (for example, if it makes it hard for you to breathe) then those around you should wear a facemask. If you are sick and are not wearing a facemask, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow. You should wash your hands (and inner arm!) or use hand sanitizer right after you sneeze, even if you used a tissue or your elbow.
If you are not sick, you do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone and they cannot wear a mask. Facemasks may be in short supply and should be used by those who are ill or caregivers.
Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?
There is currently no vaccine yet to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The best way to prevent illness is follow public health precautions to avoid exposure to the virus.
Scientists around the world are working on vaccines to combat COVID-19 and the good news is that the first vaccine trial started on March 16, 2020. It will take at least 18 months before a vaccine might be ready.