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 are cough, fever and trouble breathing.
  • Other common symptoms are chills, shivering (shaking), sore throat, muscle pain, headache and loss of smell or taste.
  • The CDC also includes the following less-common symptoms: runny nose, fatigue (tiredness), nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

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. 
  • 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 tested positive for COVID-19 and contact occurred when they were ill.
  • 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.

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.
  • No Symptoms but Infected: more than 20% of infected patients have no symptoms.
  • Mild Infections: 80% of those with symptoms have a mild illness, much like normal flu or a bad cold. The symptoms usually last 2 weeks.
  • Severe Infections: 20% of those with symptoms develop 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.
  • Deaths: children generally have a mild illness and recover quickly. Pediatric deaths are very rare. Older adults, especially those with chronic lung disease, heart disease, diabetes or weak immune systems, have the highest death rates. The overall death rate is around 1%.
  • Vaccine: there currently is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Research is on the fast track in many labs. New vaccines usually take at least a year to develop.
  • Treatment: new treatments for severe COVID-19 are becoming available. They are only used on hospitalized patients. Most are given by vein (IV). 
  • If you are unsure it is safe for you to leave isolation, check the CDC website or call your doctor.

COVID-19 Testing – Who Needs It?

  • Your doctor is the best resource for up-to-date information on the availability of testing in your community and who needs it. Since testing is not urgent, if you have questions, call during office hours.
  • There are 2 types of tests:
    • Diagnostic Tests: these are performed on nasal secretions and tell us if you have a COVID-19 infection now.
    • Antibody Tests: these are performed on blood and tell us if you have antibodies from a previous infection. They are not done until at least 3 weeks have passed from the start of your infection
  • Tests for COVID-19 are mainly done on people who are sick (have symptoms of COVID-19). Tests are usually not done on people who have no symptoms.
  • Testing is usually performed on patients who have serious symptoms or are admitted to the hospital. It is usually not done on patients with mild symptoms who don/t need to be seen.
  • Testing is also needed on adults who have essential jobs and need to know if they can return to the work force.

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C)

  • MIS-C is a very rare and severe complication associated with COVID-19.
  • Symptoms: the most common symptoms are fever, a red rash, abdominal pain and vomiting. Half of the patients develop trouble breathing. Some children become confused or overly sleepy. All patients with this syndrome should be seen by a doctor. Most need to be admitted to the hospital. Some cases are similar to Kawasaki’s Disease (KD).
  • Incidence: a very, very rare complication of COVID-19. In general, COVID-19 continues to be a mild disease in most children.
  • Onset of symptoms: Usually about 4 weeks after COVID-19 infection and apparent recovery.
  • Age: 6 months to 21 years. Peak age 8 years.
  • Treatment: MIS-C is treatable with medications, including IV immune serum globulin (ISG). At this time, it cannot be prevented nor predicted.
  • If your child gets this rare complication, see a doctor right away.

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:

  • 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.
  • If you or your child need to be seen for an urgent medical problem, do not hesitate to go in. ERs and urgent care sites are safe places. They are well equipped to protect you against the virus. For non-urgent conditions, talk to your doctor’s office first.

Social Distancing and COVID-19 Prevention

  • Avoid any contact with people known to have COVID-19 infection. Avoid talking to or sitting close to them.
  • Social Distancing: try to stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from anyone who is sick, especially if they are coughing. Also called physical distancing. Avoid crowds, because you can’t tell who might be sick.
  • If COVID-19 is widespread in your community, try to stay 6 feet (2 meters) away from everyone outside your family unit.
  • Stay at Home Orders: follow any stay at home (stay in place) orders in your community. Leave your home only for essential needs such as buying food or seeking medical care.
  • After Stay at Home Orders are Lifted: continue social distancing. Also wear a mask when entering any public building. These precautions will be needed for many months. Your state public health department will decide when they are no longer needed.

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 7/27/2020.
Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.