COVID-19 is a new respiratory disease, caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans. Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed COVID-19 cases. Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses; some cause illness in people and some occur in animals, including camels, civet cats and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then may spread between people. Human coronaviruses cause routine seasonal respiratory virus infections. Other coronaviruses, like SARS and MERS, can cause serious illnesses.
Symptoms of the COVID-19 infection may appear 2-14 days after exposure and include:
- Cough and shortness of breath, and
- In severe cases, pneumonia (fluid in the lungs).
Source and spread
Chinese health officials have reported tens of thousands of cases of COVID-19 in China, with the virus reportedly spreading from person to person in parts of that country. COVID-19 illnesses, most of them associated with travel from Wuhan, also are being reported in a growing number of international locations, including the United States.
On March 4, the CDC issued an updated Travel Health Alert for all United States residents, instructing travelers returning from countries with a Level 3 alert to self-quarantine (“stay home”) and monitor their health for 14 days after returning to the US. This guidance also instructs travelers from countries with a Level 2 alert to monitor their health and limit interactions with others for 14 days after returning to the US.
The virus spreads largely by respiratory droplets. These spread by coughing, sneezing, or through respiratory secretions.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading from person-to-person. Someone who is actively sick with COVID-19 can spread the illness to others. That is why CDC recommends that these patients be isolated either in the hospital or at home (depending on how sick they are) until they are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others.
How long someone is actively sick can vary so the decision on when to release someone from isolation is made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with doctors, infection prevention and control experts, and public health officials and involves considering specifics of each situation including disease severity, illness signs and symptoms, and results of laboratory testing for that patient.
Current CDC guidance for when it is OK to release someone from isolation is made on a case by case basis and includes meeting all of the following requirements:
- The patient is free from fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.
- The patient is no longer showing symptoms, including cough.
- The patient has tested negative on at least two consecutive respiratory specimens collected at least 24 hours apart.
Someone who has been released from isolation is not considered to pose a risk of infection to others.
Is there a vaccine?
There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.
Is there a treatment?
There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. Studies are currently ongoing to determine the efficacy of different antiviral treatments. People with COVID-19 can seek medical care to help relieve symptoms.
Should I be tested?
If you are a close contact of someone with COVID-19 or you are a resident in a community where there is ongoing spread of COVID-19 and develop symptoms of COVID-19, call your healthcare provider and tell them about your symptoms and your exposure. They will decide whether you need to be tested, but keep in mind that there is no treatment for COVID-19 and people who are mildly ill may be able to isolate and care for themselves at home.
For detailed information, visit the CDC’s webpage: Testing for COVID-19
You can also call 2-1-1, a 24-hour state-supported telephone hotline.
What should I do if someone in my household is quarantined?
- Establish a room (and a bathroom if possible) which only the quarantined person can use.
- The quarantined person should not leave home at all, except for urgent medical care. If urgent care is needed, they should wear a surgical mask at all times while outside of the home. Do not take buses, subways or ride shares like Uber or Lyft. Use a personal vehicle or call an ambulance to get to the provider’s location. And call ahead to your provider so they can be ready.
- All household members should practice strict personal hygiene. That means washing your hands frequently with soap and warm water. When you cough or sneeze, use a tissue every time. Then wash your hands.
- Do not share plates, glasses, cups, or utensils. Wash all these items in a dishwasher or with dishwashing liquid and warm water.
- Wipe down frequently used surfaces with a household disinfecting cleaner – especially if they’ve come in contact with bodily fluids like spit, mucus, urine, feces, or vomit.
- Do not allow visitors in your home.
All household members should monitor their own health and call their healthcare provider if they develop symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath).
In addition, the CDC has provided a list of recommendations for how to best care for someone at home which can be found on the CDC website.
Is it safe to attend events and gatherings?
The Department of Public Health has posted recommendations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which are available here: COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment.
Higher risk individuals (including older adults, anyone with underlying health conditions or weakened immune system, and pregnant women) should avoid gatherings. Organizations should postpone or cancel non-essential events and gatherings. If events cannot be cancelled, make adjustments to keep people safe and healthy.
Is it safe to travel/fly in the United States?
Currently, there are no travel restrictions for traveling within the United States. However, the situation is rapidly changing. For national travel information, please visit www.travel.state.gov.
Is it safe to travel internationally?
All nonessential international travel is discouraged at this time. Please refer to the CDC website for ongoing data on worldwide transmission in different countries: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers.
Should I wear a mask when I go out in public?
At this time we are not recommending that people wear masks when they are in public unless they are coughing. Masks can be useful in some settings, such as a clinic waiting room, to prevent someone who has a respiratory illness from spreading it to others. There is no hard evidence that wearing a mask protects the wearer outside of the healthcare setting.
What if I am pregnant?
What if I am having anxiety and stress?
The CDC has resources for Manage Anxiety & Stress, including information about reducing stress in yourself and others.
The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster, including disease outbreaks like COVID-19. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories.