About COVID-19

Here are the most frequently asked questions and answers regarding COVID-19, including what it is, its symptoms, how it is transmitted, and other information.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses known to cause respiratory illness in humans. Recently, there was an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) strain of the coronavirus (originally called “2019-nCoV” and recently officially designated as SARS-CoV-2). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is not the same as the disease caused by coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold.

On Feb. 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced an official name for the disease that is causing the new coronavirus outbreak, COVID-19.

Yes. COVID-19 has caused illness, including illness resulting in death, and has sustained person-to-person spread, which are factors that meet two of the criteria of a pandemic. The third criterion has also been met, which is worldwide spread of the new coronavirus.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued the following statement: In the past two weeks, the number of cases of COVID-19 outside China has increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled. There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives. In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths, and the number of affected countries climb even higher. WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock, and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

Symptoms may include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Complications can be mild and few, and in some cases can progress to severe illness and even death.

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

It may be 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 eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
    • The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a healthcare facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
    • For information about handwashing, see CDC’s handwashing website.

These are everyday habits that can help prevent the spread of several viruses. CDC does have specific guidance for travelers.

Anyone who feels they may have been exposed to COVID-19 should call their healthcare provider immediately. 

There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 should receive supportive medicines to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, a physician will prescribe additional medical treatment as needed.

The complete clinical picture with regard to COVID-19 is not fully known. Reported illnesses have ranged from very mild, including cases with no reported symptoms, to severe, including illness resulting in death. While information so far suggests that most COVID-19 illness is mild, a report from China suggests serious illness occurs in 16% of cases. Elderly people and people of all ages with severe underlying health conditions — like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, for example — seem to be at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness.