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COVID-19: What you need to know

A watercolor painting of a globe.

News about the coronavirus pandemic is changing fast. It's important for everyone to stay informed. Here's what you need to know:

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 (short for "coronavirus disease 2019") is the disease caused by the new coronavirus. It began spreading around the world in late 2019 and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020. A pandemic is a global outbreak of a disease.

There are many coronaviruses. Most cause mild illness like a common cold. This new coronavirus can cause mild to severe illness. Nearly 5 million people around the world have contracted the virus, including people in every U.S. state. And more than 300,000 people around the world have died from this new disease.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The following symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Chills.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Sore throat.
  • New loss of taste or smell.

Emergency warning signs that mean it's time to get medical help include:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest.
  • New confusion.
  • Inability to wake or stay awake.
  • Bluish lips or face.

How does COVID-19 spread?

The new coronavirus appears to spread easily from person to person. Coronaviruses are thought to spread through close contact with an infected person through droplets the person coughs or sneezes into the air. Droplets can also land on items like a table or doorknob. Touching contaminated objects and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth can transmit the virus.

Recent reports indicate that the virus can survive in the air for hours and on some surfaces for days.

Why should you take COVID-19 seriously?

The disease is new, and the treatment options are limited. There is currently no vaccine against COVID-19. And it is spreading rapidly. Because of the high number of people getting the disease at once, there's a potential for it to overwhelm our healthcare system. So slowing the spread by social distancing, self-quarantining, handwashing and disinfecting shared spaces is important. You can learn more about these steps in our Coronavirus health topic center.

Am I at risk for getting COVID-19?

Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in every state. While risk of exposure varies by location, if there is community spread in your area, you are at an elevated risk. You should take steps to avoid contact with those who are sick, practice social distancing and stay home as much as possible. If you do have to go out in public, cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face mask.

Who's at risk for severe illness?

Those at risk for more severe illness include:

  • Older adults, with risk increasing by age.
  • People who have serious chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.
  • People with severe obesity.

What's being done to slow the spread?

CDC recommends that everyone avoid all nonessential travel. See CDC's latest travel updates before you leave home.

Many states and cities are also taking independent steps to slow the spread of COVID-19. For example:

  • State or public health emergency declarations have been issued in each state and territory.
  • Most states have closed universities, colleges and public schools.
  • Most states and many cities have banned mass gatherings or instituted "shelter in place" orders.
  • Many businesses have temporarily closed or shifted to work-from-home models.

Check with your local or state health departments to find out what restrictions are in place where you live.

Where can you get accurate information about COVID-19?

Check out CDC's coronavirus website often to keep track of the latest information about COVID-19.

You can also visit our Coronavirus health topic center to learn more.

Reviewed 5/20/2020

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