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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 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 coronavirus can cause mild to severe illness. Over 130 million people around the world have contracted the virus, including people in every U.S. state. And more than 2.8 million 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.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle or body aches.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Sore throat.
  • Congestion or runny nose.
  • 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 coronavirus appears to spread easily from person to person. Coronaviruses are thought to spread primarily through close contact with an infected person through droplets produced when the person coughs, sneezes or talks. It may also be possible to pick it up from the air in poorly ventilated indoor spaces. Touching contaminated objects and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth may also transmit the virus.

Why should you take COVID-19 seriously?

The disease is new, and the treatment options are limited. There are three vaccines authorized for use, and other options are in development. But it will be a while before everyone can be vaccinated. In the meantime, the virus spreads fast and can be deadly. So slowing the spread by social distancing, self-quarantining, handwashing and cleaning 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 and practice social distancing. If you have to go out in public, cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face mask and stay at least 6 feet away from others.

Who's at risk for severe illness?

Those most at risk for severe illness include:

  • Older adults, with risk increasing by age.
  • People with certain underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, heart conditions, sickle cell disease, obesity or a weakened immune system.
  • Smokers.
  • Pregnant women.

See the full list of those at high risk on CDC's website.

What's being done to slow the spread?

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

  • Temporarily close universities, colleges and public schools—or move to virtual learning models.
  • Restrict gatherings of certain sizes or types.
  • Close public recreation areas—or restrict activities to day use.
  • Issue "stay home" orders.
  • Require that masks be worn in public places.
  • Temporarily close businesses, reduce their hours or shift to work-from-home models.

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

If you’re considering traveling, see CDC's latest travel updates before you leave home.

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 4/5/2021

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