What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus or COVID-19

Coronavirus and what you can do to protect yourself

Last reviewed and updated: March 28, 2020

As the coronavirus spreads, we've put together this resource center to keep you informed. Stay connected: 

Should I be concerned?

For the general American public, who are unlikely to have been exposed to this virus at this time, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is low, according to the CDC. As cases increase, however, this could change, which is why you should stay watchful and take precautionary measures.

Tens of thousands of cases are being reported in the U.S., and those numbers are expected to grow. Most of the cases in the United States are now from community spread — which means person-to-person transmission within the United States. In areas where there is wide community spread, risks are higher.

What are its symptoms?

COVID-19 has three main symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms vary in individuals, and unfortunately, they have ranged from mild (with no reported symptoms) to severe, including death. Symptoms tend to start five days after infection, on average, according to a new study

Learn more.

How does it spread?

The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably, according to the CDC. Right now, much of what is known about how the coronavirus spreads is based on similar viruses. The virus is thought to be spread from person to person through:

  • Droplets that are emitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
  • These droplets can enter the mouth or noses of people nearby and then be inhaled into their lungs. 

It’s possible the virus also spreads on surfaces, when people come in contact with virus on a surface and then touch their mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. A new letter in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests the virus can live for hours on many different surfaces and in the airHere's how to effectively clean and disinfect surfaces.

According to the CDC, people are thought to be most contagious when they are the sickest. But some spread might be possible before people show symptoms. Spread in asymptomatic patients is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Learn more.

How is it treated?

There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19 yet. If you become infected, you should still seek medical treatment to help relieve symptoms, according to the CDC. Medical care also can help prevent/control secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia.

What can I do to protect myself?

Unfortunately, to date there is no vaccine to prevent the coronavirus or COVID-19. Your best bet to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed. Start by practicing social distancing. This can help limit your exposure and help limit community spread. The government suggests that you avoid crowds of 10 or more. Here is guidance from the White House

Here are some additional tips from the CDC:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Stay home if you're sick.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with tissue and then throw the tissue away.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (learn more about hand hygiene). Do this before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. 

The CDC recommends that you stay at home as much as possible. “When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often; avoid crowds,” the CDC recommends. Learn more.

Older adults and people who have severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease seem to be at higher risk for more serious COVID-19 illness. Early data suggest older people are twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness, the CDC says.

If I become sick, what should I do?

If you become sick, stay home, just as you would with any respiratory illness like the flu or a cold, and call your doctor immediately — and call before going, as your doctor’s rules about visits may have changed to control the spread of the virus. After talking to you, your doctor can determine if you should be tested for coronavirus. Testing has ramped throughout the country, particularly in the hardest hit areas. Some cities have even organized drive-thru test centers. If you need to be tested, your doctor and/or local health department can guide you where to go. 

BLOG: You Think You’ve Got Coronavirus. Here's What You Should Do Next

If you have symptoms like nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, cough, painful swallowing or other symptoms generally associated with respiratory illnesses, it’s a good chance this is the flu or cold. The main symptoms for COVID-19 are dry cough, fever and shortness of breath.

BLOG: How the Coronavirus Is Different from the Flu, Colds And Allergies

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