Coronavirus Overview

Self Care Decisions / Coronavirus Overview


The COVID-19 coronavirus causes a respiratory illness. Symptoms can be mild to very serious and life-threatening. The most common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of Breath

Less common symptoms are body aches, chills, diarrhea, headache, runny nose and sore throat.

People can have symptoms 2 to 14 days after being exposed.

How Is Coronavirus (COVID-19) Spread?

  • COVID-19 is spread from person to person.
  • The virus spreads by respiratory droplets that are produced when an infected person sneezes or coughs. The infected droplets can then be inhaled by a nearby person or land on the surface of their eyes. 
  • Spread can occur when there is close contact (within about 6 feet).
  • Most infected people also have respiratory secretions on their hands. These secretions get transferred to healthy people on doorknobs, faucet handles, etc. The virus then gets transferred to healthy people when they touch their face or run their eyes.

What Does Exposure to Coronavirus Mean?

You are at risk of getting COVID-19 if the following has occurred:

  • Close contact with a person with confirmed or possible COVID-19 and contact occurred when they were ill.
    • Close contact means a person lives with or has been nearby (within 6 feet) of a person
      with known or suspected coronavirus.
    • Examples of close contact are kissing, hugging, and sharing food or drinks. Other examples are having
      close conversations, sharing same car, and sitting next to an infected person on an airplane.
    • Healthcare workers may have close contact when examining and caring for people who are sick with this
  • Living in or traveling from a city, country or other geographic area where there is documented community spread of COVID-19. This carries a lower risk compared to Close Contact if one observes Social Distancing.
  • Community spread is occurring in most of the US, especially in cities.
  • Household members and others who live with a confirmed or possible case.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Facts

  • Incubation Period: average 5 days (range 2 to 14 days) after coming in contact with, or the secretions of, a person who has COVID-19.
  • Expected Course of the Infection: 80% have a mild illness, much like normal flu or a bad cold. The symptoms usually last 2 weeks.
  • No Symptom Patients: an unknown percentage of infected patients have no symptoms.
  • Complications: 20% have a more severe illness with trouble breathing from viral pneumonia. Many of these need to be admitted to the hospital. People with complications generally recover in 3 to 6 weeks.
  • Death rate: currently estimated at 0.5 to 2% (CDC) of all infected patients. Children generally have a mild illness. Deaths in children or teens are very rare. Older adults, especially those with chronic lung disease or weak immune systems, have the highest death rates.
  • No Vaccine: There currently is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Many labs are working on developing a vaccine, but that will take at least a year.
  • Treatment: Currently, there is no effective anti-viral medication for coronavirus. Treatment is supportive. Oxygen and IV fluids are used for hospitalized patients.

How to Prevent Getting Coronavirus

There is no vaccine to prevent coronavirus. Here are things you can do protect yourself from coronavirus and other viral infections like the flu:

  • Avoid any contact with people known to have COVID-19 infection. Avoid talking to or sitting close to them.
  • Try to stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who is coughing.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water (very important). Always do before you eat.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if water is not available. Remember: soap and water work better.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth unless your hands are clean. Germs on the hands can get into your body this way.
  • Don’t share glasses, plates or eating utensils.
  • No longer shake hands. Greet others with a smile and a nod.
  • Avoid crowds. Being outdoors is generally safe.
  • Avoid ERs and urgent care clinics if you don’t need to go there. These are places where you are likely to be exposed to infections.
  • Masks: The CDC does not recommend wearing a face mask, unless you are sick.

Travel and Affected Areas

Where Can I Find More Information?

Here are two internet resources that provide the latest up-to-date information on coronavirus:

Author: Barton Schmitt, MD, FAAP
Copyright: Copyright 2020. Updated 3/31/2020.
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.