Information about COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Information about COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
Dr. Patrick Carroll, MD
Medically reviewed by Patrick Carroll, MD Written by Our Editorial Team Last updated 3/6/2020

Since it was first detected in Wuhan, China in December, COVID-19 (commonly referred to as simply “coronavirus”) has spread to other countries, including the United States. 

Cases of the virus have been reported across the country, with some areas declaring a state of emergency. As such, it’s important for you to be informed about how the virus spreads and what you can do to protect yourself and others.

Below, we’ve provided information about what COVID-19 is, the common symptoms of the virus and what you can do to keep yourself and others safe. We’ve also explained what you need to do if you feel sick and believe you may be infected with COVID-19. 

Note: If you think you have been exposed to the virus and have respiratory symptoms, please call your healthcare provider as a first step, before coming into the doctor’s office or your local emergency department.

Your healthcare provider can give you instructions for seeking care, which you can do without exposing others. We’ve also provided more information on what to do below. 

Quick Facts on COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

COVID-19, or coronavirus disease 2019, is the name given to a new virus strain that emerged in late 2019. The virus has spread rapidly around the world, with cases reported in every continent except Antarctica. 

According to the CDC and other health authorities, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is currently low for people in the United States. 

The virus can potentially affect people of any age, sex or ethnicity. By taking simple precautions, being aware of symptoms and, if necessary, seeking medical help, you can protect yourself and help to stop the virus from spreading further. 

How COVID-19 Spreads

COVID-19 is believed to spread in similar ways to the common cold. Currently, experts believe that the virus can spread in two ways:

  • Through close contact with an infected person, such as standing within approximately six feet of each other.

  • Through coughing or sneezing, which can pass respiratory droplets from an infected person to others via the mouth and/or nose. 

Currently, experts believe that COVID-19 is most likely to spread from people that display the symptoms of the virus. However, the virus may also be able to spread from people who do not show any clear symptoms. 

As well as spreading from infected people, it may be possible for COVID-19 to spread through objects or surfaces that contain the virus. However, this is not believed to be the most common way that the virus spreads. 

Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. These symptoms may begin to occur two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. 

Many of these symptoms can occur with other, more common illnesses, such as seasonal flu or the common cold. Having one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have COVID-19. 

However, if you display any of these symptoms listed above and are worried that you may have the virus, you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible by following the instructions provided further down this page. 

How to Protect Yourself

The most effective ways to protect yourself from COVID-19 are the same as those you’d use to keep yourself safe from the flu or the common cold:

  • If you feel sick or worry that you’re infected, stay at home. We’ve provided more information about this in the section below.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. When you’re at home or in an area with a restroom, wash your hands frequently with soap. On the go, carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer and use it when you eat, go to the bathroom or need to wash your hands. Whichever way you choose to sanitize your hands, make sure you clean them for at least 20 seconds each time. The CDC recommends humming “Happy Birthday” from start to finish twice while you wash, which usually takes about 20 seconds.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue. After you cough or sneeze, throw away each used tissue in the garbage. Don’t let the tissue sit on a table, countertop or other surface, as this could contaminate the surface.
  • Use cleaning spray to disinfect objects and surfaces. Wipe down any frequently touched surfaces in your home or other environment, such as keyboards, tabletops, counters, door handles, phones, tables and other items. For phones, tablets and other electronic items, make sure to clean them safely using products that aren’t likely to cause any damage
  • Try not to touch your eyes, mouth, nose or face. This helps to prevent transferring any particles that carry the COVID-19 virus from your hands to areas from which the virus could enter your body. 
  • Avoid traveling to high-risk countries. The CDC provides a list of affected countries online. To reduce your risk, avoid traveling to or transferring through countries that have level 2 or 3 CDC health notices. 

If You Feel Sick and/or Suspect You’re Infected

If you have one or several of the symptoms listed above and believe you may have COVID-19, or simply feel concerned that you may be infected, it’s important to seek help while minimizing your risk of exposing others to the virus.

Even if you don’t have symptoms, you should seek help if you have:

  • Traveled to a country or area with an ongoing spread of the virus
  • Been in close contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19

Follow the advice below to seek help while preventing the disease from spreading to others in your home or community: 

  • Call your healthcare provider. As a first step, contact your healthcare provider before coming into the doctor’s office or your local hospital. Your healthcare provider can help you to seek expert advice and medical assistance without exposing others.  
  • Stay at home. If you think you may have been exposed to the virus, stay at home and do not leave except to seek medical care (after contacting your healthcare provider). You should not visit any public areas or go to work, school or any other places outside your home. Avoid using ride-sharing, taxis, public transportation or any other services that could potentially expose others to the virus.
  • Monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms. If you do not have symptoms but believe you could be infected due to recent travel or contact with an infected person, monitor yourself closely for symptoms after contacting your healthcare provider.
  • If sick, separate yourself from others in your home. If you live with other people or have pets, separate yourself as much as possible and avoid direct contact with others when at home.
  • Currently, there have not been any reports of pets or other animals being infected with COVID-19. However, the CDC has recommended limiting direct contact with pets and other animals while you are sick. If you have a pet, wear a facemask when in the same area and thoroughly wash your hands before and after any interaction. Avoid directly petting, snuggling or being licked by your pets to limit any risk of transmission.
  • Wear a facemask. If you have COVID-19 symptoms or suspect that you may be sick, wear a facemask when around others. If you need to leave your home to see a doctor, make sure you wear a facemask in any situation in which you are near other people.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Wash your hands often using either soap and water or a 60+% alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Wash for at least 20 seconds to make sure you kill any bacteria and virus particles. Make sure to wash your hands as soon as possible after sneezing, using the bathroom, coughing, blowing your nose, wiping your face, or preparing or eating food. Ensure you wash all surfaces of your hands to kill any viruses and/or bacteria. 
  • Clean “high-touch” surfaces. Surfaces that you touch frequently, such as keyboards, phones, tablets, tabletops, counters, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures and toilets should be cleaned on a daily basis using a household cleaning product.
  • Don’t share personal items. If you share your home with others, avoid sharing items such as utensils, plates, glasses, cups, towels, clothing and/or bedding. Make sure to clean these items thoroughly after use. 
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Closely follow the instructions and advice given to you by your healthcare provider, as well as your state and local health departments. 

Reliable Sources of Information About COVID-19

For further information and advice about the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, we recommend the official Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, which explains more about the virus, its symptoms, how it spreads and what you can do to stay safe.

You can also find detailed information about the current worldwide status of the virus from the World Health Organization

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.