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Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19): Frequently Asked Questions

Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

The 2019-2020 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has proven to be a serious, devastating pandemic. The rapidly changing status of the severity of the virus combined with a hysterical public reaction has resulted in misinformation, rumors, and falsehoods. These deceptions just make the situation worse than it already is. However, if you’re properly informed about COVID-19, you can help spread accurate and reliable information about the virus and educate others. Below is a list of frequently asked questions about COVID-19.


Q: Where did COVID-19 come from?

A: The virus originated in Wuhan, China, likely at a “wet market”–a market where people can buy and sell live or dead animals. An infected animal probably carried the disease and spread it to humans, causing a chain reaction.


Q: How do I know if I’m at risk for COVID-19?

A: Elderly people, immunocompromised people, and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, and uncontrolled diabetes are at higher risk for COVID-19.

Q: What is a coronavirus?

A: Coronaviruses are a subcategory of viruses identified by their shared characteristic of causing fever and respiratory problems. Although there are hundreds known to exist, only seven to date have noticeable effects on humans, and COVID-19 is only the third to have verifiably jumped from an animal carrier to a human.

Q: Is COVID-19 contagious?

A: Yes, it is spread through airborne particles emitted by the mouth and nose when a sick person coughs or sneezes. It is unknown if the disease can be transferred by less direct means, such as contact with shared surfaces. 

Q: What are symptoms of the virus?

A: Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.


Q: I think I have COVID-19. What should I do?

A: Don’t panic, but call your doctor as soon as possible. Stay away from any other people, including family members, at all costs. Do not interact with others. DO NOT go to a hospital without instructions. The hospital closest to you may not be equipped to deal with COVID-19.

Q: Should I avoid Asian people? 

A: Asian people are not more at risk for developing COVID-19 than any other ethnic group.


Q: How can I protect myself from COVID-19?

A: The first step is the simplest–citizens should follow instructions of their local health authorities, respecting the precautions put in place for their safety. This includes quarantines, reporting contact with infected individuals, and not promoting public dismay. 


On a more personal level, a measure of personal hygiene and sanitization can go a long way. Practice thorough handwashing and use of hand sanitizer, and carefully clean all shared-contact surfaces–door knobs, keyboards, silverware, etc. 


Lastly, remain calm–panicking has the potential to make even the most basic responses impossible. Keeping a level head could be the greatest contribution any citizen can make to beating COVID-19. 


You can also refer to the CDC’s COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment page.


Q: Why do I need to self-quarantine?

A: Quarantines of varying degrees of stringency have been the rule of thumb for nearly every government attempting to cope with COVID-19. Because the disease has an incubation period of roughly 14 days and relatively mild symptoms, the paramount concern for many is that an infected individual will unwittingly spread the disease to even more people. As with many recently discovered diseases, the only surefire way to prevent its spread is to limit the supply of new hosts; the lack of verifiable information makes any other concrete countermeasures impossible.

Q: I’m at higher risk for COVID-19. What should I do?

A: Firstly, don’t panic. Stock up on supplies, limit interaction with others, wash your hands with soap often, stay at home as much as possible. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, call your doctor immediately. Do not call an emergency line unless you have difficulty breathing, chest pain, delirium, or bluish lips/face.

Q: Should I wear a face mask?

A: Wearing a face mask is unnecessary unless you are sick with COVID-19, in which case it may help you to not spread the virus to others. Healthy people will not gain an added benefit from wearing a face mask. 


Q: I ordered a package from China. Will it have COVID-19?

A: According to the CDC, “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.”


Q: Is my dog or cat at risk for COVID-19?

A: People are saying, “COVID-19 came from an animal, so why shouldn’t my animals be able to get it?” Pets can and do get some types of coronaviruses. However, there is no evidence that pets can contract or spread this novel coronavirus, COVID-19. A virus such as this would need to mutate somehow to be spread between animal species. It doesn’t hurt to take precautions, for you and your pet, such as washing your hands before and after handling a pet or its food or water.


Keep in mind that due to COVID-19 being a new disease, we are still learning about how it spreads. The information above may change at any time. We recommend that you keep up-to-date with information from trusted sources such as the WHO or the CDC.

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