COVID-19: What you need to know about the coronavirus

Published: Mar. 19, 2020 at 10:35 AM EDT
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This page will give you some of the basic information regarding COVID-19, as well as useful links for learning more.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is a novel coronavirus?

A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold. On February 11, 2020 the World Health Organization officially named this coronavirus COVID-19, in which ‘Co’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ ‘D’ for disease and 19 for the year 2019. There is no vaccine for COVID-19 yet.

How does coronavirus spread?

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, by being in close contact with someone who is sick (within six feet) or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Some people without symptoms may also be able to spread the virus. It may be possible to contract COVID-19 by touching surfaces or items with the virus on it, and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading very easily and sustainably between people. According to the CDC, data show the virus is spreading more efficiently than influenza, but not as efficiently as the measles, which is highly contagious. In general, the CDC says the more closely a person interacts with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.

What are the symptoms?

Some people infected with COVID-19 experience no symptoms, while others have symptoms ranging from mild to severe, resulting in death in some cases. Symptoms include the following:

  • 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

These symptoms typically develop within 2-14 days after exposure. More severe symptoms, such as high fever, severe cough or difficulty breathing can often indicate pneumonia. Other emergency warning signs include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

These, and any other severe symptoms, should be taken seriously. If you are experiencing them, you should seek immediate medical attention.

How do I protect myself and others from the virus?

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You can also use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, especially with unwashed hands
  • Cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow or a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Immediately dispose of the tissue and wash your hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Practice social distancing by staying six feet away from others. Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Wear a face mask when around others, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Many areas and businesses have made it mandatory to wear face masks.
    • Masks should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
    • Continue to maintain six feet between you and others. The mask is not a substitute for social distancing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as tables, counters and desks, doorknobs and handles, light switches, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks. You can find cleaning and disinfecting guidelines here.
  • Monitor your health daily. Keep an eye out for symptoms that may be associated with COVID-19. Take your temperature if you develop symptoms.

What should I do if I think I’m sick or have been exposed?

  • Stay home except to get medical care. Call ahead of visiting a doctor’s office or hospital to explain your symptoms. Avoid using public transportation.
  • Self-isolate: Stay away from others in your home, including animals. You should stay in a specific room an use a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Wear a face mask over your nose and mouth if you are around others, including pets in the home.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes, and wash your hands often.
  • Do not share personal items, such as dishes and other food ware, towels or bedding. After using these items, wash them thoroughly.
  • Clean and disinfect “high-touch” surfaces daily.
  • Monitor your symptoms. Follow instructions from your healthcare provider and local health department. Seek medical attention if your symptoms worsen, but always call first.
  • Get rest and stay hydrated.
  • If you believe you have come into contact with someone who has the virus, you should self-quarantine. This helps reduce the possible spread of the virus.

The CDC says deciding when you can be around others after being sick with COVID-19 is different for different situations. Find out when you can safely end home isolation.

Who is at higher risk of serious illness with coronavirus?

What can I do to prepare?

  • Take everyday precautions, such as washing hands frequently, avoiding touching your face, cleaning and disinfecting, etc.
  • Wear a face mask
  • Avoid crowds and all non-essential travel.
  • Avoid touching “high-touch” surfaces in public places
  • Stock up on supplies, such as medications and other medical supplies, as well as household items and groceries, in case you have to stay at home for a period of time.
  • If the virus is spreading in your area, stay home as much as possible and consider having food delivered.
  • Have a plan for if you get sick

Testing for COVID-19:

According to the CDC, two types of tests are available for COVID-19: viral tests and antibody tests, which are used to test for current and past infections, respectively.

  • The CDC says “An antibody test might tell you if you had a past infection. An antibody test might not show if you have a current infection because it can take 1–3 weeks after infection for your body to make antibodies. Having antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 might provide protection from getting infected with the virus again. If it does, we do not know how much protection the antibodies might provide or how long this protection might last.”
  • Decisions about testing are made by state and local health departments or healthcare providers. You can visit your state or local health department’s website to look for the latest local information on testing.
  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and want to get tested, call your healthcare provider first.
  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and are not tested, it is important to stay home.

How many cases are there in the United States? In Virginia?

The number of cases in the U.S. changes daily. The CDC updates their numbers regularly Monday through Friday, based on data confirmed at 4 p.m. the day before. You can view those here.

The Virginia Department of Health also records the number of cases in Virginia, which you can view here. The page is updated daily before 10 a.m.

This map is best viewed on a desktop. Tap/click for a bigger view from Johns Hopkins University. Click here for a mobile-friendly version.

Useful Links: