COVID-19 Basics

What are coronaviruses?

The cause of the current pandemic is a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was first identified during an outbreak in Wuhan, China. There are many types of human coronaviruses including some that can cause upper-respiratory tract illnesses. Other coronaviruses include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

How does the coronavirus spread?

The coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, is thought to spread from person-to-person when in close contact (within about 6 feet). Person-to-person spread occurs mainly through respiratory droplets or small particles produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks or breathes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. COVID-19 can be spread by people who are not showing symptoms (also called asymptomatic) or who will eventually develop symptoms (also called pre-symptomatic). COVID-19 spreads less commonly through contact with contaminated surfaces.

What are the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection?

People with confirmed COVID-19 infection may not have symptoms, while others report a wide range of symptoms. These range from mild flu-like symptoms to being severely sick and needing care in a hospital. Symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. About 80 percent of people who become sick do not need care in a hospital.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common symptoms of a COVID-19 infection may include:

  • Chest tightness or chest pain
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Cough or shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sore throat

According to the CDC, people who are at a higher risk of developing more serious complications from COVID-19 include those who:

  • Are 65 years old and older
  • Are unable to develop a normal immune response. This includes older adults or people who have conditions or are undergoing treatments that weaken their immune system, such cancer or HIV/AIDS.
  • Have certain underlying medical conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure or lung disease

Does the CDC recommend the use of face masks or face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Yes. To reduce the spread of COVID-19, the CDC recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when other physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

A cloth face covering can help keep the wearer from spreading the virus to others, including those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and workers who frequently come into close contact with other people.

How can I prevent the spread of COVID-19?

To protect yourself and others from COVID-19, the CDC recommends taking these steps:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash. Be sure to then wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The best way to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses is to avoid being exposed to the virus. To slow the spread of COVID-19:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes or nose with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home and do not travel when you are sick.

How many cases of coronavirus are in the area?

The best resources for up-to-date information on COVID-19 cases are the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Centers for Disease Control COVID-19 FAQs

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