Questions we all have about the coronavirus
The COVID-10 pandemic continues to be a rapidly changing situation, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides regular updates and guidance. In addition, the World Health Organization posts frequent situation reports, travel and public advice and other information, and your local and state health department websites can provide details about the latest developments close to home. You can also find information from the American Heart Association about COVID-19 and heart disease, health, well-being and other issues.
What exactly is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by a type of virus called a coronavirus. The disease first appeared in Wuhan, China, and within months it spread around the globe. COVID-19’s effects can range from infecting people but causing no symptoms to causing severe illness and death.
The full name of the disease is coronavirus disease 2019. “CO” stands for “corona,” “VI” is for “virus,” “D” is for disease, and “19” designates 2019, the year the disease arose. The specific virus that causes COVID-19 is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2.
What are COVID-19’s symptoms?
As the pandemic has continued, the CDC has compiled a list of symptoms reported in COVID-19 patients. These symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
If you are sick, call your health care professional about any symptoms that concern you. Some symptoms warrant emergency care. If you’re having trouble breathing or have a bluish tint to your lips, face or nailbeds; persistent chest pain or pressure; new confusion; or trouble waking up or staying awake, get help right away.
What are the easiest ways to avoid the coronavirus and keep it from spreading?
Wear a mask when you’re out in public, while continuing social distancing. (The CDC has tips on improving a mask’s fit and filtration.) Wash your hands frequently for 20 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitizer. Also, don’t touch your face, don’t touch surfaces in public and keep a distance of at least 6 feet from people who aren’t in your household. If you cough or sneeze, do it in a tissue and throw that tissue away. Read all about prevention on the CDC’s How to Protect Yourself page.
Why does handwashing work? (video)
Is there anything else I can do to protect myself?
Yes — don’t smoke or vape. Research so far has suggested that teenagers who vape have five to seven times the risk of getting COVID-19 compared with peers who don’t. Young adults who didn’t smoke had half the risk of severe coronavirus illness compared with their peer group as a whole, smokers and nonsmokers combined.
What’s the difference between the coronavirus and the flu?
The flu and COVID-19 have many symptoms in common. But there are important differences: For instance, someone with COVID-19 might be contagious for a longer period than with the flu, and COVID-19 is more contagious in some populations and age groups.
Is it true that Native American, Alaska Native, Hispanic, Black and Asian people are particularly hard-hit by COVID-19?
Mostly. According to the CDC, compared with non-Hispanic white people:
- Native American and Alaska Natives are 1.7 times as likely to get the virus, 3.7 times as likely to be hospitalized and have 2.4 times the risk of dying.
- Hispanic people have 1.3 times the risk of getting COVID-19, 3.1 times the risk of being hospitalized with the virus and 2.3 times the risk of dying from the disease.
- Black people have 1.1 times the risk of getting COVID-19, 2.9 times the risk of being hospitalized and 1.9 times the risk of dying.
- Asians have 0.7 times the risk of getting the disease, and the same level of risk as white people of being hospitalized for, or dying from, COVID-19.
Other circumstances have affected many people of color during the pandemic. They include discrimination, housing, education levels, access to health care and increased exposure to the virus as front-line or essential workers, the CDC says.
What factors raise my risk of becoming seriously ill?
Despite the coronavirus’s rapid spread, overall risk of severe illness remains low for most people in the U.S. But the risk is higher for some individuals. Older adults and people with these underlying medical conditions are at greater risk for developing more serious complications if they catch COVID-19:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Down syndrome
- A weakened immune system from solid organ transplant
- Obesity, defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher
- Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes
Other conditions, such as asthma, high blood pressure and Type 1 diabetes, might also increase your risk of severe disease but evidence so far is limited, the CDC says.
People at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness should take special precautions, including staying home whenever possible, and follow CDC guidance after they are fully vaccinated.
I’m not feeling well but I’m not sure I have COVID-19. What should I do?
First, contact your health care professional. If you don’t have one, call the closest urgent care center and find out if you can be seen there, how much it will cost and, if you have health insurance, what portion you will have to pay. Beyond that, even if you feel fine it’s best to behave as if you have the virus and could spread it. That’s a great way to protect yourself and others.
Where can I get tested for COVID-19?
The Department of Health and Human Services maintains a state-by-state list of community-based sites providing COVID testing. There are two categories of tests: A viral test reveals whether you have a current COVID-1 infection, while an antibody test might show whether you have previously been infected.
What should I do if I test positive for the virus?
First, consult right away with your health care team about whether you are at high risk for progressing to a severe case of COVID-19. (People at high risk include those over 65 years old or who have certain medical conditions.) If you meet that criteria, and you’ve had symptoms for 10 days or less, you might be a candidate for infusion of a type of therapy known as monoclonal antibodies, which can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death.
The Department of Health and Human Services has a web hub dedicated to explaining monoclonal antibodies’ use against COVID-19 and helping patients and health care professionals locate clinics that provide the treatment. HHS also has information about other COVID treatments and what to do if you test positive. The National Institutes of Health provides an up-to-date webpage discussing treatment guidelines for COVID-19.
Otherwise, stay home except for medical visits, the CDC advises, and keep your distance from others as much as possible. Avoid public transportation. If you must be around others (including pets), wear a mask covering your nose and mouth. Wash your hands frequently and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched. The CDC also offers specific guidance on caring for kids if you’re a parent or sole caregiver who contracts COVID-19.
I’ve had COVID-19 and heard a blood donation can help others. How can I do this?
People who’ve had COVID-19 can potentially help others by donating plasma or blood to help treat others. The treatment, called convalescent plasma, may contain antibodies against COVID-19 and could help patients in the hospital recover. To donate, you must be eligible to donate blood, have laboratory verification that you’ve had COVID-19 and be symptom-free for at least two weeks.
What should I do if someone in my household has COVID-19?
Besides helping the person meet basic food and medical needs, monitor everyone’s health closely and learn when symptoms are bad enough to warrant emergency care. If possible, the sick person should use a separate bedroom and bathroom and eat separately from other household members.
How should I clean and disinfect my home?
There are a variety of things you can do. Focus cleaning on high-touch surfaces first: countertops, doorknobs, faucets, cabinets, the refrigerator. The CDC breaks down the details, including with guidance on air filtration, laundry and trash. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency has compiled a list of products that meet the agency’s criteria for use against the virus that causes COVID-19.
What is “community spread”?
That’s when the virus has spread but the source of the infection isn’t known. Crowded situations, close or physical contact, enclosed spaces and longer periods of exposure to the virus all increase the odds of it spreading.
Can the virus be spread through food?
There’s currently no evidence it can be. Coronaviruses are generally spread person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Before preparing or eating food, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer.
Can the virus spread through drinking water?
It hasn’t been detected in treated drinking water. Most water treatment methods should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.
I’m hearing hospitals might be strained right now. Should I still call 911 if I think I might be having a heart attack or a stroke?
Yes. Always call 911 at the first signs or symptoms. Doing this quickly can save your life. It’s still the right thing to do, even in this unprecedented time.
Due to a drastic drop in emergency room visits early in the pandemic, the American Heart Association launched Don’t Die of Doubt, a public service campaign to ensure people suffering heart attack or stroke symptoms get the life-saving help they need. Check out why hospitals are still a safe place to be — even in the pandemic.
My stress is through the roof. What are some tips to help me cope?
It’s normal to be stressed in these uncertain times. Take a deep breath. Repeat. We’re all in this together. And check out our Be Well Together page as well as some emergency stress-stoppers and other tips to get you through the stress. Also, the CDC has compiled advice and resources to help you stay mentally healthy.
Should I wear a mask when I’m out in public?
Yes. Recent studies indicate that even people who aren’t showing symptoms of COVID-19 could spread the virus through close speaking, coughing or sneezing. So wearing a mask is a way to protect yourself and everyone else.
It’s important to remember that face coverings work in addition to other social distancing measures, not instead of them. Check out this guidance from the CDC on how to make the most of your mask.
Will any medications, supplements, superfoods or remedies protect me from the coronavirus?
Be skeptical of any such claims. Right now your best bet is to get vaccinated as soon as you can — with any of the three available vaccines — and to continue social distancing, wearing a mask in public, frequent hand-washing and the other precautions recommended by the CDC. Also check out the World Health Organization’s Myth Busters page.
If you test positive for COVID-19, have had symptoms for no more than 10 days and are considered a high-risk patient, a type of treatment called monoclonal antibodies may help you avoid severe illness and hospitalization.
Are children immune to COVID-19?
No. As of late March 2021, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, more than 3.4 million U.S. children had tested positive for the disease. Children accounted for 13.4% of cases, based on public health data from across the U.S. that included age breakdowns.
Rates of COVID-19 may be lower among children than adults in part due to public health measures to combat the virus, including school closures. Also, a lack of widespread testing — and its use primarily on adults and people with severe illness — make it hard to understand the true rate of infection in kids, the CDC says.
Children are less likely to become severely ill or be hospitalized with COVID-19. But those who are hospitalized are about as likely as adults to be admitted to intensive care. Various medical conditions, including congenital heart defects, lung disease, sickle cell disease and diabetes, might make children more vulnerable to becoming very ill from the virus.
Also, a rare but potentially deadly condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children has been linked to COVID-19 infection or exposure. The CDC lists MIS-C symptoms including those that require emergency care, such as trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or severe abdominal pain, confusion, and blue tint to skin or nail beds.
How can I protect my child from the virus?
Besides following public health advice on physical distancing, wearing masks (except for children under 2 years old) and handwashing, CDC advice includes laundering plush toys, avoiding in-person play dates and limiting your family’s contact with others outside the home. It’s also important to support children’s health in other ways, such as keeping them active and socially connected. Children under 16 are currently not eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, except through clinical trials.
What are COVID-19 "long haulers"?
Long haulers are people, including young people, who’ve had COVID-19 — often mild cases — but can have ongoing and serious symptoms that last months afterward. Long-term effects such as fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint and chest pain are common. More serious complications can affect the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys and skin. The best way to prevent long-haul COVID is to prevent COVID-19.
HEALTH CARE DISCLAIMER: This site and its services do not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or call for emergency medical help immediately.