Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause respiratory illness in humans. They get their name, “corona,” from the many crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and the common cold are examples of coronaviruses that cause illness in humans.
The new strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019. The virus has since spread to all continents (except Antarctica).
The number of people infected changes daily. Organizations that collect this information, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are gathering information and continuously learning more about this outbreak. As of this writing (04/1/2021), more than 129,000,000 people in the world have been infected. Over 2,800,000 people have died. Some 192 countries and territories on all continents (except Antarctica) have now reported cases of COVID-19. The U.S. has the highest number of cases, with more than 30,500,000 people infected and over 550,000 deaths. Brazil has more than 12,700,000 cases and 320,000 deaths; India has over 12,200,000 cases; France has over 4,700,000 cases; Russia and England have over 4,300,000 cases; Italy has more than 3,600,000, Turkey has over 3,300,000 cases, Spain has over 3,200,000 cases; Germany has more than 2,800,000 cases; Columbia has 2,400,000 cases; Poland and Argentina have over 2,300,000 and Mexico has over 2,200,000 cases. For the latest statistics, see the World Health Organization's situation reports and Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center map references at end of article.
COVID-19 is likely spread:
COVID-19 enters your body through your mouth, nose or eyes (directly from the airborne droplets or from transfer of the virus from your hands to your face). The virus travels to the back of your nasal passages and mucous membrane in the back of your throat. It attaches to cells there, begins to multiply and moves into lung tissue. From there, the virus can spread to other body tissues.
Governments, health agencies, researchers and healthcare providers are all working together to develop policies and procedures to limit the spread of this virus both globally and from individual to individual.
Researchers are still learning about COVID-19. What IS known is that people infected with COVID-19 can spread the virus to others before experiencing symptoms themselves (while people are still “asymptomatic”). Once you do have symptoms, the CDC says you are no longer contagious 10 days after your symptoms began.
Until everything about COVID-19 is fully understood, the best advice from healthcare providers to remain safe is to:
This so-called “incubation period,” the time between becoming infected and showing symptoms, can range from two to 14 days. The average time before experiencing symptoms is five days. Symptoms can range in severity from very mild to severe. In about 80% of patients, COVID-19 causes only mild symptoms.
Persons at greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 are:
Yes. Many researchers have been analyzing data across the country and in some large cities, looking at number of confirmed cases and deaths based on race and ethnicity and related factors. What they found is that African Americans and the Latino-Hispanic populations have disproportionate higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.
There are several reasons why researchers suspect these populations are more affected. They believe these ethnic groups tend to:
Researchers are still studying other factors that may make ethnic groups more susceptible to negative COVID-19 outcomes, including genetics and possible differences in lung tissue as well as socioeconomic status and the social environment and systems.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that "the immune response to COVID-19 is not yet understood." Because this is a new strain of coronavirus, scientists are still collecting information and research on the virus so it's still too early to know if you can get it a second time if you've had it once.
In a related theme, scientists are seeing a subset of patients who have COVID-19 and have symptoms that continue off and on for weeks and even months. These patients are called coronavirus long haulers. Scientists continue to follow these patients.
Coronaviruses are often found in bats, cats and camels. The viruses live in but do not infect the animals. Sometimes these viruses then spread to different animal species. The viruses may change (mutate) as they transfer to other species. Eventually, the virus can jump from animal species and begins to infect humans. In the case of COVID-19, the first people infected in Wuhan, China are thought to have contracted the virus at a food market that sold meat, fish and live animals – but they are still investigating. Although researchers don’t know exactly how people were infected, they already have evidence that the virus can be spread directly from person to person through close contact.
The CDC says you may have coronavirus if you have these symptoms or combination of symptoms:
Additional symptoms are possible.
Symptoms may appear between two and 14 days after exposure to the virus. Children have similar, but usually milder, symptoms than adults. Older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes are at higher risk of more serious complication from COVID-19.
Call 911 and get immediate medical attention if you have these warning signs:
This list does not include all possible symptoms. Contact your healthcare provider if you are concerned you may coronavirus, have other symptoms or have any severe symptoms.
COVID-19 is diagnosed with a laboratory test. Your healthcare provider may collect a sample of your saliva or swab your nose or throat to send for testing.
Call your healthcare provider if you:
Your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your symptoms. Your healthcare provider will tell you if you need to be tested for the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 and where to go to be tested.
According to current CDC recommendations, you should self-isolate until you've met all three of the following criteria:
While at home, ideally self-isolate within separate room of your home if possible to limit interaction with other family members. If you can’t stay 100% isolated in a separate room, stay six feet away from others and wear a cloth mask, wash your hands often/family members wash hands often, and frequently disinfect commonly touched surfaces and shared areas.
You don't need to be retested to be around others outside your home. However, since everyone and every case is unique, follow your healthcare provider's recommendations for testing.
If you have a weakened immune system or have had a severe case of COVID-19, the CDC's criteria do not apply to you. You may need to stay home for up to 20 days after your symptoms first appeared. Talk with your healthcare provider about your situation.
According to the CDC, if you’ve been in close contact with a person who has COVID-19, your safest strategy is to stay home for 14 days after you’ve last seen this person.
Recently, the CDC updated its guidance. Alternatives to the 14-day quarantine are:
Yes. This is possible. There are several reasons for “false negative” test results -- meaning you really DO have COVID-19 although the test result says you don’t.
Reasons for a false negative COVID-19 test result include:
If you think you might have COVID-19 even if your test is negative, it’s best to follow the current CDC recommendation. Stay home for 10 days if you think you are sick. Stay six feet away from others (“social distancing”) and wear a cloth mask. Contact your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen. Contact your healthcare provider when your symptoms improve – don’t decide on your own if it’s safe for you to be around others.
Currently, only one drug has received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Remdesivir (Veklury®) is approved to treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19 infection.
One authoritative organization – The National Institutes of Health COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel – recommends the following treatments based on the severity of COVID-19.
If you’re not in the hospital or don’t need supplemental oxygen:
If you’re in the hospital:
The National Institutes of Health COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel recommends AGAINST the following treatments:
The FDA granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for the investigational monoclonal antibody bamlanivimab for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 infection in adults and children aged 12 and older who weigh 88 pounds (40 kg) who are not in the hospital. Patients must be at high risk of worsening to severe status and/or need hospitalization. The drug is administered through your vein (IV).
EUA status has also been granted for the combination of two monoclonal antibody drugs -- casirivimab and imdevimab -- in adults and children aged 12 and older who weigh 88 pounds (40kg). The combination is recommended for use in patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of worsening to severe status.
The FDA has also granted EUA for convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19. This is blood donated from people who have a confirmed case of COVID-19 and have recovered.
The Food and Drug Administration has granted Emergency Use Authorization for three coronavirus vaccines. The companies manufacturing the vaccines are Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna/NIH and Johnson & Johnson. Initial doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were distributed in the United States (and worldwide) beginning in December 2020. In April of 2021, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration recommended a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Six women in the U.S. developed blood clots after receiving this company's vaccine. The agencies want to investigate any possible link between the vaccine and clots and determine if indications of who should receive this vaccine need to be changed.
The Pfizer vaccine is administered as two doses, 21 days apart and is authorized for use in those age 16 and older. The Moderna vaccine is administered as two doses, 28 days apart and is authorized for use in those age 18 and older. Both vaccines have shown similar efficacy levels of near 95%.
(Currently on pause from use.) Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is a single dose vaccine authorized for use in individuals 18 years of age and older. Results of a 44,000-person global clinical trial showed the vaccine to be 67% effective against moderate-to-severe COVID-19 at 14 days after being vaccinated and 66% effective at 28 days after vaccination. Against severe COVID-19, the vaccine was found to be 77% effective at 14 days after vaccination and 85% at 28 days after vaccination.
More than 50 vaccines continued to being studied to prevent COVID-19. They are now in late-stage (phase three) development and enrolling participants in the United States. Information on some of these vaccines includes:
For more information on the nearly 4,000 clinical trials of medications and vaccines under development anywhere in the world, visit clinicaltrials.gov.
If you have mild COVID-19 symptoms, you will likely need to manage your health at home. Follow these tips:
If you have a mild case of COVID-19, you should start to feel better in a few days to a week. If you think your symptoms are getting worse, call your healthcare provider.
Right now, the best defense to prevent getting COVID-19 is to follow some of the same steps you would take to prevent getting other viruses, such as the common cold or the flu.
The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face coverings in public, especially in places where it’s hard to maintain at least six feet of distance between yourself and another person. Face masks protect both you and the people around you. Cloth face masks are being recommended because we now know individuals with COVID-19 could have mild or no symptoms, while still spreading the virus to others.
The cloth face coverings recommended by the CDC are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators, which should be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/11/2020.