A new virus called the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was identified as the cause of a disease outbreak that began in China in 2019. The disease is called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Public health groups, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO, are monitoring the pandemic and posting updates on their websites. These groups have also issued recommendations for preventing the spread of the virus.
Data has shown that the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) mainly spreads from person to person among those in close contact (within about 6 feet, or 2 meters). The virus spreads by respiratory droplets released when someone infected with the virus coughs, sneezes, breathes, sings or talks. These droplets can be inhaled or land in the mouth, nose or eyes of a person nearby.
Sometimes the COVID-19 virus can spread when a person is exposed to small droplets that stay in the air for several minutes or hours — called airborne transmission. It's not yet known how common it is for the virus to spread this way.
It can also spread if a person touches a surface with the virus on it and then touches his or her mouth, nose or eyes, but this isn't a main way it spreads.
COVID-19 symptoms can be very mild to severe. Some people have no symptoms. The most common symptoms are fever, cough and tiredness.
Other symptoms may include shortness of breath, muscle aches, chills, sore throat, headache, chest pain, and loss of taste or smell. This list is not all inclusive. Other less common symptoms have also been reported. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given emergency use authorization for two COVID-19 vaccines, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. A vaccine might prevent you from getting COVID-19 or prevent you from becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 if you get the COVID-19 virus.
The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the COVID-19 virus. The CDC and WHO recommend following these precautions:
If you have a chronic medical condition and may have a higher risk of serious illness, check with your doctor about other ways to protect yourself.
The CDC and WHO recommend that people wear cloth face coverings in public when social distancing is difficult. This advice is based on evidence that people with COVID-19 can transmit the COVID-19 virus before they realize they have it.
Using masks in public may help reduce the spread from people who don't have symptoms. Non-medical cloth masks are recommended for the public. Surgical masks may be used if available. In some locations, surgical masks and N-95 respirators are in short supply and should be reserved for health care providers.
If you're planning to travel, first check for travel advisories and use appropriate precautions when in public. You also may want to talk with your doctor if you have health conditions that make you more susceptible to respiratory infections and complications.
If you develop symptoms or you've been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, contact your doctor for medical advice. If you need to go to the doctor or hospital, call ahead so health care providers can take steps to ensure that others aren't exposed.
Take the following precautions to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus: