General FAQ

COVID-19 Basics
  • General Questions

    Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that can cause illness in people and animals. The common cold is an example of a coronavirus.

    A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified.

    SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19. “SARS” stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome, “CoV” stands for coronavirus. This virus is similar to the SARS virus that emerged in China in 2002, hence the number “2.”

    COVID-19 (“Coronavirus Disease 2019”) is an infectious respiratory disease caused by a new (novel) coronavirus that initially emerged in Wuhan Provence, China in December 2019.

    Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed COVID-19 cases. The following symptoms of COVID-19 may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus:

      • Fever or chills
      • Cough
      • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
      • Fatigue
      • Muscle or body aches
      • Headache
      • New loss of taste or smell
      • Sore throat
      • Congestion or runny nose
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Diarrhea

    The symptoms of COVID-19 can vary a bit from person to person. Some people with COVID-19 infection have no symptoms (also known as asymptomatic). Children generally experience similar signs and symptoms of illness as adults.  For additional information, see Children and COVID-19.

    Virginians can use COVIDCheck, an online risk-assessment tool to check their symptoms and connect with appropriate health care resources, including COVID-19 testing. Visit VDH’s web page for more information on what to do if you feel sick.

    For more information on symptoms of COVID-19, visit the CDC’s webpage: Symptoms of Coronavirus.

    Symptoms typically appear 2-14 days after exposure.

    COVID-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets (meaning moisture that comes from coughing, sneezing, singing, or talking). These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Spread is more likely when people are in close contact with one another. Close contact includes: being within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period; provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19; direct physical contact with someone who has COVID-19 (touched, hugged, or kissed them); shared eating or drinking utensils with someone that has COVID-19; sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on you from someone who has COVID-19. 

    The virus may also spread by airborne transmission in certain circumstances. The infection may be transmitted by exposure to the virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours. These viruses may be able to infect people who are further than 6 feet away from the person who is infected or after that person has left the space, and occur within enclosed spaces that have inadequate ventilation. On some occasions, the infected person may be breathing heavily, such as singing or exercising.

    Although most spread involves sick people passing infectious droplets, some people don't ever have symptoms (asymptomatic people). The virus that causes COVID-19 can spread from infected people who do not have any symptoms. Because this type of spread is possible, it is very important for everyone to follow recommendations for physical distancing, hand washing and masks, even if they do not feel sick.

    For more information about how COVID-19 spreads, click here.

    COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. These droplets (larger particles) and aerosols (smaller particles) are released when someone with COVID-19 sneezes, coughs, or talks. Current data supports the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) via airborne transmission under special circumstances. Short-range inhalation of aerosols is a possibility for COVID-19, as with many respiratory pathogens. The virus, in small droplets and particles can spread from an infected person to others who are more than 6 feet away and even after the person has left the space. Airborne transmission is a possibility, particularly in crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces, and when the infected person is breathing heavily, such as when singing or exercising. Certain medical procedures performed in healthcare facilities can also generate fine aerosols.

    For more information about how COVID-19 spreads, click here.

    The primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact from person-to-person. Respiratory secretions or droplets expelled by infected individuals can contaminate surfaces and objects. Transmission may occur when a person touches surfaces contaminated with virus from an infected person and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes. Frequent hand washing and cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces (such as door knobs) can help prevent viral transmission.

    The virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in semen and in feces of people who are infected with the virus. Transmission through respiratory droplets is more likely when people are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).

    The virus that causes COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.

    There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) should inactivate the virus in the water. The virus that causes COVID-19 is transmitted primarily through close contact with other people. It is important that people take steps to protect themselves from exposure to COVID-19, especially while there is on-going community transmission of the virus.

    There is no evidence that either ticks or mosquitoes can transmit the virus that causes COVID-19.

    Everyone is at risk if they are exposed to COVID-19. However, older adults and people with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness.

    It is especially important for people at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and those who live with them, to protect themselves from getting COVID-19.

    When assessing a person’s risk of exposure to COVID-19, close contact means being within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period or having exposure to the person’s respiratory secretions (for example, coughed or sneezed on; shared a drinking glass or utensils; kissing) while they were contagious. For example, briefly walking by someone with COVID-19 in a store is not considered close contact.

    A person with COVID-19 is considered to be contagious starting from 2 days before they became sick (or 2 days before they tested positive if they never had symptoms) until they meet the criteria to discontinue isolation.

    Contact tracing is a method often used by public health to prevent the spread of disease. For COVID-19, contact tracing means ensuring that everyone who has been in close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 is aware that they might have been exposed. The health department will check-in on the health status of people potentially exposed to the virus and provide them with information about how to prevent the spread of disease, including the importance of quarantine (which means staying at home and maintaining distance from others) and what to do if symptoms develop.

    More information about contact tracing can be found here.

    Masks do not impact VDH contact tracing efforts. We recognize that masks provide some protection, when used along with other daily protective activities such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. However, we do not compare cloth face coverings as source control to surgical or other masks such as N95’s, that are designed as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), to protect the wearer from splashes or sprays from blood or other body fluids or breathing or coughing. If you have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, even while wearing a mask, you may still be contacted by VDH.

    For those with access to the internet, the best sources of up-to-date information are the Virginia Department of Health website and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. You can also call 877-ASK-VDH3 for additional information.

    UV light or lamps should not be used to disinfect your skin. UV radiation can irritate or harm your skin and eyes. If you need to clean up, wash your hands with soap and water, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol or take a shower and put on clean clothes. 

    Additional information about common COVID-19 myths can be found here.

    There is no evidence that staying at home more during the COVID-19 outbreak can weaken the immune system (the part of your body that fights off germs).Our immune system is built up over many years and won’t suddenly stop working after a few months.Staying at home and being isolated from others can impact our health in other ways. Stress, depression, bad sleep patterns, lack of exercise, and eating unhealthy foods can all hurt the immune system.Work on healthy habits such as getting enough rest, managing stress, staying connected to friends and family, and eating a healthy diet. More information on food and COVID-19 can be found on CDC’s website. Exercising is also important. Getting out into the fresh air can be good for both our bodies and our minds.