The Basics of COVID-19

How do people become infected with COVID-19?

Human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through close contact. Close contact is defined as any individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 2 days before illness onset  

  • Respiratory droplets released into the air by coughing and sneezing;
  • Close personal contact, such as caring for an infected person;
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands; and
  • Rarely, fecal contamination.

How can I avoid infection with COVID-19?

There is currently no vaccine and no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to take precautions to avoid exposure to this virus, which are similar to the precautions you take to avoid the flu. CDC always recommends these everyday actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

  • If you go out in public, wear a mask or face covering.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (60% alcohol).
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • 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.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People are likely contagious about 2 days before symptoms start and the contagious period will last for 10 days.
  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:
  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

Monitor your symptoms closely. If your symptoms worsen, call your health care provider immediately.

What should I do if I do not feel well?

If you are experiencing symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath, please contact your health care provider. Your doctor will evaluate your condition and can help make the decision whether you should get tested for COVID-19. Please visit the CDC Self-Checker page for information on testing guidelines and criteria.

Until you receive your test result, act as if you do have COVID-19 and begin to follow isolation guidelines immediately. If you are positive, you are contagious and could spread COVID-19 to those around you while waiting for test results.

What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Isolation is for people who have tested positive for COVID-19. If you have tested positive, it is important that you distant yourself from others to avoid spreading the illness. People who are in isolation should stay home until it’s safe for them to be around others. In the home, anyone sick or infected should separate themselves from others by staying in a specific “sick room” or area and using a separate bathroom (if available). For more information on isolation, click here.

Quarantine is used to keep someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others. Quarantine helps prevent spread of disease that can occur before a person knows they are sick or if they are infected with the virus without feeling symptoms. People in quarantine should stay home, separate themselves from others, monitor their health, and follow directions from their state or local health department. For more information on quarantine, click here.

How should I care for someone with COVID-19?

If you or someone in your household has been diagnosed with COIVD-19 there are few things to remember.

  • First, not every person requires hospitalization. COVID-19 has a wide range of symptoms and many people can manage their symptoms at home.
  • Second, separate the sick person from other people in your home and have them wear a facemask when interacting with other people in your home. Avoid sharing personal items like dishes, towels, or sheets. If possible, have a separate bathroom for the sick person.
  • Third, there are no specific treatments for the COVID-19 virus. The virus is treated by managing the symptoms.  Ask your health care provider about treatment options.   Depending on your symptoms, an over the counter medication like acetaminophen or Ibuprofen may be the best option to manage your symptoms.
  • Fourth, keep track of symptoms. If the person’s health is getting worse contact your health care provider.  Look for emergency warning signs such as trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face.
  • Help the person who is sick follow their doctor’s instructions for care and medicine.
    • For most people, symptoms last a few days, and people usually feel better after a week.
  • See if over-the-counter medicines for fever help the person feel better.
  • Make sure the person who is sick drinks a lot of fluids and rests.
  • Help them with grocery shopping, filling prescriptions, and getting other items they may need. Consider having the items delivered through a delivery service, if possible.
  • Take care of their pet(s), and limit contact between the person who is sick and their pet(s) when possible.

For more information on caring for someone with COVID-19:


Best Practices