COVID-19 Update: Information and resources can be found here.

About the Virus & Testing

Disease Overview

What is a novel coronavirus?

A novel coronavirus is a type of coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The novel coronavirus that caused the 2019 outbreak is different than the coronavirus that is commonly circulated among humans that cause mild illness, such as the common cold. A diagnosis with coronavirus NL63, OC43, 229E, or HKU1 is not the same as the COVID-19.

Two other coronaviruses have previously emerged that cause severe illness in people (MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV). The virus that causes COVID-19 is more genetically related to SARS-CoV than MERS-Co, but both are betacoronaviruses with their origins in bats.

What is COVID-19?

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. In this view, the protein particles E, S, and M, also located on the outer surface of the particle, have all been labeled as well. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
This illustration, created at the CDC, reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. In this view, the protein particles E, S, and M, also located on the outer surface of the particle, have all been labeled as well.

COVID-19 is a new disease, or novel coronavirus, that has not previously been seen in humans.

SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19, the disease.

The name of the new disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms typically appear within 2 to 14 days after infection, and include:

  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Nausea
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Sore throat

According to the CDC, if you develop any of the following symptoms – trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, bluish lips or face – seek medical attention immediately.

What is the source of COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people and others only infect animals. On occasion, coronaviruses found in animal hosts can spread to other animals or humans. Subsequently, there can be human-to-human transmission. This is likely the mechanism of the virus responsible for COVID-19. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) are other examples of coronaviruses that originated from animals and spread to humans.

How does COVID-19 spread?

The first infections were linked to a live animal market in China, but the virus is now spreading from human-to-human by respiratory droplets from sneezing and coughing. Someone who is actively sick with COVID-19 can spread the illness to others. The CDC recommends that these patients be isolated in either a hospital or home environment (depending on illness severity) until they are better and are no longer at risk of infecting others.

The virus can be found on surfaces contaminated with respiratory droplets. This can cause the disease in humans if someone touches a contaminated surface and then proceeds to touch their mouth, nose, or eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Animation: How Social Distancing Reduces the Spread

transmission graphic
Illustrated by Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles

What is the difference between influenza and COVID-19?

Diagram showing the differenc between spread of flu and COVID-19

Both seasonal influenza and COVID-19 have similar symptoms including fever, cough, body aches, and fatigue. Both viruses can cause a range of diseases from mild to severe, and at times fatal, especially in individuals with underlying health conditions. Seasonal influenza can be treated with antivirals, such as Tamiflu, in conjunction with additional supportive care. There is currently no treatment for COVID-19 but there are clinical trials underway.  

There are several differences between seasonal influenza and COVID-19. Seasonal influenza is categorized as either influenza A or influenza B, both of which encompass several strains of virus that can cause illness. COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There is an influenza vaccination available and effective to prevent some of the most dangerous strains or to reduce the severity of influenza. There is currently no vaccination for COVID-19.

Prevention & Risk Factors

Who is considered high risk?

Older adults and people with preexisting conditions are most at risk for severe illness.

How can I protect myself from getting sick? 

Wash your hands. It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs. Clean hands can stop germs from spreading from one person to another and throughout an entire community – from your home and workplace to child care facilities and hospitals. Follow these five steps every time:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Other precautions include:

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Avoid close contact with sick people
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Stay at home when you are sick

Is there a vaccine to prevent COVID-19?

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

Should I wear a facemask?

Before entering our University Hospital or clinics, all visitors ages 2 and older are asked to wear a clean mask or a cloth covering that meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines:

  • Fits snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Is secured with ties or ear loops
  • Includes multiple layers of fabric
  • Allows for breathing without restriction
  • Can be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape
  • Patients and visitors are asked to put on their masks before entering buildings to help protect themselves and others.

What should I do if I had close contact with someone who has COVID-19?

If you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19, please call your doctor or local health department.

Testing & Treatment for COVID-19

How is COVID-19 tested?

Currently, testing can be performed through the CDC, state and/or local health departments, and other commercial labs such as LabCorp or Quest. Multiple academic medical centers and commercial labs have developed their own test kits for COVID-19.

Should I be tested for COVID-19?

If you develop symptoms, you should call a health care professional, who will guide the next steps for evaluation and possible testing for COVID-19.

Who should be tested for COVID-19?

The CDC has developed testing guidelines for a Person Under Investigation (PUI) and set priority levels. These include:

High Priority

  • Hospitalized patients with symptoms of potential COVID-19 infection, including: fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, new loss of taste or smell, vomiting or diarrhea, and/or sore throat
  • Health care workers, first responders, and workers in congregate living settings with symptoms
  • Residents in long-term care facilities or other congregate living settings with symptoms


  • People with symptoms of COVID-19 infection
  • People without symptoms who have known exposure to others with a confirmed infection of COVID-19
  • People without symptoms who are prioritized by health departments or clinicians for any number of reasons, including public health monitoring

What is the treatment for COVID-19?

There is an antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19. For severe cases, treatment should include care to support vital organ functions.

Can people who recover from COVID-19 be infected again?

The immune response to COVID-19 is not yet understood. Patients with MERS-CoV infection are unlikely to be re-infected after they recover, but it is not yet known whether similar immune protection will be observed for patients with COVID-19