Frequently Asked Questions

    • How does the virus spread?

      This virus was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. The first infections were linked to a live animal market, but the virus is now spreading from person-to-person. It’s important to note that person-to-person spread can happen on a continuum. Some viruses are highly contagious (like measles), while other viruses are less so.

      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.

      Learn what is known about the spread of newly emerged coronaviruses.

    • Can someone who has had COVID-19 spread the illness to others?

      The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading from person-to-person. Someone who is actively sick with COVID-19 can spread the illness to others. That is why CDC recommends that these patients be isolated either in the hospital or at home (depending on how sick they are) until they are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others.

      How long someone is actively sick can vary so the decision on when to release someone from isolation is made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with doctors, infection prevention and control experts, and public health officials and involves considering specifics of each situation including disease severity, illness signs and symptoms, and results of laboratory testing for that patient.

      Current CDC guidance for when it is OK to release someone from isolation is made on a case by case basis and includes meeting all of the following requirements:

      • The patient is free from fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.
      • The patient is no longer showing symptoms, including cough.
      • The patient has tested negative on at least two consecutive respiratory specimens collected at least 24 hours apart.

      Someone who has been released from isolation is not considered to pose a risk of infection to others.

    • Can someone who has been quarantined for COVID-19 spread the illness to others?

      Quarantine means separating a person or group of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease but have not developed illness (symptoms) from others who have not been exposed, in order to prevent the possible spread of that disease. Quarantine is usually established for the incubation period of the communicable disease, which is the span of time during which people have developed illness after exposure. For COVID-19, the period of quarantine is 14 days from the last date of exposure, because 14 days is the longest incubation period seen for similar coronaviruses. Someone who has been released from COVID-19 quarantine is not considered a risk for spreading the virus to others because they have not developed illness during the incubation period.

    • Can the virus that causes COVID-19 be spread through food, including refrigerated or frozen food?

      Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. Before preparing or eating food it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety. Throughout the day wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or going to the bathroom.

      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, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

      In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures.

      Learn what is known about the spread of COVID-19.

    • How can I help protect myself?

      Visit the COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment page to learn about how to protect yourself from respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19.

    • What should I do if I had close contact with someone who has COVID-19?

      There is information for people who have had close contact with a person confirmed to have, or being evaluated for, COVID-19 available online.

    • Who is at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19?

      Early information out of China, where COVID-19 first started, shows that some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness including older adults, and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease.

    • What should people at higher risk of serious illness with COVID-19 do?

      If you are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, you should: stock up on supplies; take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others; when you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick; limit close contact and wash your hands often; and avoid crowds, cruise travel, and non-essential travel. If there is an outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible. Watch for symptoms and emergency signs. Watch for symptoms and emergency signs. If you get sick, stay home and call your doctor. More information on how to prepare, what to do if you get sick, and how communities and caregivers can support those at higher risk is available on People at Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19.

    • Does CDC recommend the use of facemask to prevent COVID-19?

      CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. You should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it. A facemask should be used by people who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms. This is to protect others from the risk of getting infected. The use of facemasks also is crucial for health workers and other people who are taking care of someone infected with COVID-19 in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).

    • Am I at risk for COVID-19 from a package or products shipping from China?

      There is still a lot that is unknown about the newly emerged COVID-19 and how it spreads. Two other coronaviruses have emerged previously to cause severe illness in people (MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV). The virus that causes COVID-19 is more genetically related to SARS-CoV than MERS-CoV, but both are betacoronaviruses with their origins in bats. While we don’t know for sure that this virus will behave the same way as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, we can use the information gained from both of these earlier coronaviruses to guide us. In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures. Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods. Information will be provided on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) website as it becomes available.

    • What does it mean to self-quarantine?

      According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, a person should stay home for 14 days from the time they left an area with widespread, ongoing community spread (Level 3 Travel Health Notice countries) and practice social distancing.

      Take these steps to monitor your health and practice social distancing:

      • Take your temperature with a thermometer two times a day and monitor for fever. Also watch for cough or trouble breathing.
      • Stay home and avoid contact with others. Do not go to work or school for this 14-day period. Discuss your work situation with your employer before returning to work.
      • Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares during the time you are practicing social distancing.
      • Avoid crowded places (such as shopping centers and movie theaters) and limit your activities in public.
      • Keep your distance from others (about 6 feet).
    • What happens if you are self-quarantining and you start to feel sick?

      If you get sick with a fever (100.4°F/38°C or higher), cough, or have trouble breathing:

      • Seek medical care. Call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room.
      • Tell your doctor about your recent travel and your symptoms.
      • Avoid contact with others.

      If you need medical care for other reasons, such as dialysis, call ahead to your doctor and tell them about your recent travel to an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19.

    • We keep hearing about social distancing. What does that mean?

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, defines social distancing as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance of approximately six feet from others when possible.” Given how easily the virus can spread, health officials have said that social distancing is crucial when it comes to staying healthy and avoiding spreading the virus to others.

    • How do we do this?

      Healthy people should stay six feet away from others whenever possible, especially if those around them seem to have symptoms of the virus, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath.

    • What are the symptoms and complications that COVID-19 can cause?

      Current symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Read about COVID-19 Symptoms.

    • Should I be tested for COVID-19?

      If you develop symptoms such as fever, cough, and/or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19, stay home and call your healthcare provider. Older patients and individuals who have severe underlying medical conditions or are immunocompromised should contact their healthcare provider early, even if their illness is mild. If you have severe symptoms, such as persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, or bluish lips of face, contact your healthcare provider or emergency room and seek care immediately. Your doctor will determine if you have signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and whether you should be tested.

    • Can a person test negative and later test positive for COVID-19?

      Using the CDC-developed diagnostic test, a negative result means that the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in the person’s sample. In the early stages of infection, it is possible the virus will not be detected.

      For COVID-19, a negative test result for a sample collected while a person has symptoms likely means that the COVID-19 virus is not causing their current illness.

Have more questions? Visit the Frequently Asked Questions page on the CDC website.

CDC Frequently Asked Questions