General Coronavirus Questions

Answers to frequently asked questions about coronavirus, symptoms, prevention, and how COVID-19 spreads.

As this situation continues to rapidly evolve, fears tend to rise to the highest level, which may influence how people perceive and treat others. We are committed to an environment free of discrimination and to ensuring that all members of our community conduct themselves with integrity and respect, as per our Core Values.

Please remember to treat others kindly and respectfully and do not make assumptions about COVID-19 exposure or other discriminatory comments based on perceived race, color or ethnic origins. It is important to be informed of accurate information and not rely on rumors or speculation that leads to misinformation. You are encouraged to review the FAQs listed here, as well as the Helpful Resources, to obtain the most accurate information.

In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes COVID-19, which was discovered in late 2019.

These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don't feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. About 2% of people with the disease have died. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.

Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

If you are concerned about specific symptoms or exposure to COVID-19, call your health provider in advance. Please do not show up at a clinic, urgent care or other health facility without calling first. Your provider will need to take special measures to protect other people in the clinic.

As of March 2, 2020, the CDC risk assessment was low for most of the population. 

As of March 2, 2010, the Centers for Disease Control offered this information about transmission: 

Person-to-person spread

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Spread from contact with infected surfaces or objects

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes; this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Can someone spread the virus without being sick?

  • People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest).
  • Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. 

The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (“community spread”) in some affected geographic areas. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.

However, individuals may be asked by a healthcare provider to wear a mask if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses to protect others from infection. Even in those cases, masks are only effective when used in conjunction with frequent hand washing.

Healthcare workers wear N95 respirators, which are specially fitted for the individual’s face and must be worn properly in order to provide protection; there is no recommendation for the general public to wear N95 respirators. Surgical masks are more accessible and easier to wear, but they do not provide complete protection against germs and airborne particles.

Commonly touched surfaces, such as faucets, handrails and door knobs, should be cleaned regularly.

Those who feel sick are recommended to stay home until they are free of fever, signs of a fever and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants).

Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick and seek medical attention depending on the severity of their symptoms.

Do not show up unexpectedly because they may need to prepare the site for your visit. 

However, it’s understandable that you may feel stressed and anxious about the situation. It’s a good idea to get the facts to help you accurately determine your risks so that you can take reasonable precautions. Your healthcare provider, your national public health authority and your employer are all potential sources of accurate information on COVID-19 and whether it is in your area. It is important to be informed of the situation where you live and take appropriate measures to protect yourself.

If you are in an area where there is an outbreak of COVID-19, you need to take the risk of infection seriously. Follow the advice issued by national and local health authorities. Although for most people COVID-19 causes only mild illness, it can make some people very ill. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. Older people, and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes) appear to be more vulnerable. (See Protection measures for persons who are in or have recently visited (past 14 days) areas where COVID-19 is spreading).

Most of these can be treated with rest and over-the-counter medications to manage symptoms. Absent a positive test, there is no way to know if an acquaintance is suffering from COVID-19 or another illness. The University is not in a position to require employees or students who are ill to provide documentation of a negative COVID-19 test.

It is understandable that you may feel stressed or anxious about the situation. The World Health Organization advises that if you are not in an area where COVID-19 is spreading, or if you have not traveled from one of those areas or been in close contact with someone who has within the past 14 days, your chances of getting COVID-19 are currently low. It is a good idea to get the facts to help you accurately determine your risks so that you can take reasonable precautions. The CDC has many resources on this topic.