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Common Questions

What is 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

There are many types of human coronaviruses including some that commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses. COVID-19 is a new disease, caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus not previously seen in humans. COVID-19 was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, that has spread around the world, including the United States. The latest situation summary updates are available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page 2019 Novel Coronavirus .

What is the source of the virus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats and bats. Early on, many of the patients at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in China had some link to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. Later, a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread. Person-to-person spread was subsequently reported outside China, including the United States.

What does it mean that COVID-19 is a Global Pandemic?

A pandemic is a global outbreak of disease. Pandemics happen when a new virus emerges to infect people and can spread between people. Because there is little to no pre-existing immunity against the new virus, it spreads worldwide. The virus that causes COVID-19 is infecting people and spreading easily from person-to-person. Cases have been detected in most countries worldwide, including the United States, which has recorded cases in all 50 states.

What are the symptoms of COVID-2019?

People who are infected with COVID-19 have developed mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath, and potentially respiratory distress 2-14 days after exposure. Call your health care provider for medical advice if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing.

How does COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 has been shown to spread between people. Someone who is actively sick with COVID-19 can spread the illness to others, so CDC recommends these patients be isolated either in the hospital or at home (depending on the severity of their illness) until they are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others. Human coronaviruses typically spread through the air by coughing and sneezing. 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 for at least 72 hours
  • 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
  • It has been at least 7 days since the onset of the patient’s illness

This recommendation is to help prevent most, but may not prevent all, instances of secondary spread. According to CDC, the risk of transmission after recovery is likely very substantially less than that during illness.

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

How is COVID-19 diagnosed?

Diagnosis occurs through laboratory testing of respiratory specimens. Some coronavirus strains cause the common cold and patients tested by their health care provider may test positive for these types.

Can someone spread the virus without being sick?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, people who are not showing symptoms of COVID-19 may still be able to spread the virus. Maintaining good personal hygiene, practicing social distancing, and wearing a face covering can help prevent both the risk of infection and of spreading the disease.

What is social distancing?

Social distancing is deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Staying at least 6 feet away from other people reduces the chances of catching COVID-19. Other examples of social distancing with the goal of avoiding crowds and crowded spaces include working from home instead of the office, closing schools and switching to online classes, connecting with loved ones virtually instead of in person, suspending worship services, and canceling or postponing in-person meetings and events.

What is the state recommending for social distancing?

Social distancing of six feet or more is critical to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For the more information on mitigation measures by region, please visit the IDPH website.

Can I go outdoors?

Yes, go outdoors for fresh air and exercise. As of May 1, 2020, all Illinoisans are required to wear a face covering when they are outside and in places where social distancing is not easily maintained. Social distancing does not mean staying indoors, it means avoiding close contact with people. Remember to wash your hands any time you enter from outdoors and before and after you eat.

Can I go to the supermarket?

Yes. Buy as much as you need to lessen the number of trips and try and shop when the store is least likely to be crowded. Some grocery stores have designated special hours for the elderly (over age 60), pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems to lessen their exposure to large crowds and possible exposure to COVID-19.

How can I help protect myself?

Follow these tips to help prevent COVID-19:

  • Wear a face covering when you go out in public.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick with respiratory symptoms.

  • Stay home when you are sick.

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

  • If you have not already done so, discuss influenza vaccination with your health care provider to help protect you against seasonal influenza.

Should I wear a facemask?

As of May 1, 2020, any individual who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face covering (a mask or other face-covering) is required to cover their nose and mouth with a face covering when they are in a public place and unable to maintain a six-foot social distance. Face coverings are required in public indoor spaces such as stores.

Who is at higher risk?

Older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions may be at higher risk for more serious complications from COVID-19. Based upon available information to date, the CDC has said those most at risk include:

  • People 65 years and older

  • People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility

  • People who are pregnant

  • People of any age with the following underlying medical conditions, particularly those that are not well controlled:

    • Chronic lung disease or asthma

    • Congestive heart failure or coronary artery disease

    • Diabetes

    • Neurologic conditions that weaken the ability to cough

    • Weakened immune system

    • Chemotherapy radiation for cancer (currently or in recent past)

    • Sickle cell anemia

    • Chronic kidney diseases requiring dialysis

    • Cirrhosis of the liver

    • Lack of spleen or a spleen that doesn’t function correctly

    • Extreme obesity, with a body mass index (BMI) great than or equal to 40

Should I clean "high touch" surfaces?

Yes. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks. If surfaces are dirty, clean them using detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection. To disinfect, most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work.

Is there a vaccine?

Yes. A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is a critical component of the U.S. strategy to reduce COVID-19-related illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. The State of Illinois is ensuring that vaccines are delivered and available in accordance with the CDC guidelines and recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Learn more about Illinois’ Vaccine Distribution Plan.

What should health care providers, laboratories and health departments do?

Health care providers and laboratories should report suspect COVID-19 cases immediately (within three hours) to their local health department, who should report cases to IDPH within the same time frame. For recommendations and guidance, see the IDPH Coronavirus Page  or the CDC’s web page 2019 Novel Coronavirus.