COVID-19 Basics

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that may cause illness in people. The name of this new respiratory disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19.

The virus is thought to spread from one person to another through respiratory droplets. These droplets are produced when someone with the illness coughs or sneezes. The droplets can be inhaled, land in the mouths or noses of people nearby and can persist for a short period of time on some surfaces. It generally takes prolonged and close (fewer than six feet away) contact to become infected.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention* (CDC), information so far suggests that most COVID-19 illness is mild. However, reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness. Older people and people with underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, seem to be at greater risk of serious illness.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • - Fever
  • - Cough
  • - Shortness of breath

These symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

While there is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 and no antiviral treatment recommended for it, people with COVID-19 may receive care to help relieve symptoms.

There are things you can do to prevent the spread of illness. According to the CDC, you should:

  • - 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. Studies show there is no added health benefit to using antibacterial soap compared to plain soap in a non-health care setting.
    • - If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
    • - Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • - 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, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • - Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

If you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as a cough or difficulty breathing, or if you have been in close contact with a person sick with COVID-19, contact your doctor before you attempt to see anyone in person. You can tell your health care provider your symptoms and he or she can give you instructions on how to get your medical needs addressed while minimizing the risk of exposure to yourself and others.

People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 can isolate at home during their illness. When under home isolation, you should:

  • - Stay at home, except for getting medical care.
  • - Do not go to work, school or public areas.
  • - Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing or taxis.
  • - Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home and avoid sharing personal household items.
  • - Monitor your symptoms and seek medical care if your illness gets worse.

Should you have life-threatening symptoms such as trouble breathing, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If possible, put on a face mask before seeking emergency medical care.

*The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an independent organization that provides health information you may find useful.