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What is Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses have always been around, causing mild illnesses like the common cold. Today's pandemic is caused by the new or “novel” coronavirus — called COVID-19 —  and it's a serious respiratory disease that can cause coughing, fever, and shortness of breath. Many people who get COVID-19 will only have mild symptoms (or no symptoms at all). Some people who get it will become very sick and need to go to the hospital. Some of those people with COVID-19 die. People who are pregnant or have certain medical conditions are more likely to get severely sick from COVID-19.

How do you get COVID-19? 

COVID-19 is highly contagious — it spreads very easily between people. You get COVID-19 from other people who have the virus. It spreads through spit and mucus — usually through tiny, often invisible, liquid droplets that come out of your nose and mouth when you cough, sneeze, talk, sing, shout, or breathe. A new form of the COVID-19 virus — called the Delta variant — causes more infections and spreads faster than early forms of COVID-19.

If you’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s unlikely that you will get sick — and if you do, your chances of getting so sick that you have to go to the hospital or die are extremely low (even with the Delta variant). But fully vaccinated people can still get and spread the Delta variant to others, even if they don’t feel sick. And people with weakened immune systems might not have as much protection, even if they’re fully vaccinated. So the CDC encourages everyone — vaccinated or not — to wear a mask indoors in public if you’re in an area where there are substantial or high numbers of COVID-19 cases. And you should follow state, local, workplace, and business rules and guidelines.

People can easily spread COVID-19 when they’re sick and showing symptoms, like fever and cough. But people with COVID-19 who don’t have symptoms (and therefore may not know they have the virus) can also spread it to other people. So just because someone feels fine doesn’t mean they don’t have COVID-19 or can’t get other people sick. COVID-19 is new, and scientists are still trying to learn more about why it makes some people sicker than others.

The main way the virus spreads is by being close to other people. If you’re within 6 feet of a person who has COVID-19, infected droplets from their breath can get inside your nose or mouth and make you sick. It’s important to stay at least 6 feet away from people when you leave the house, and wear tight-fitting face masks while you’re out — especially if you’re not vaccinated, or if you’re in an area where there are substantial or high numbers of COVID-19 cases. Masks help protect you and others around you from getting sick. Read more about how to use face masks

COVID-19 can also sometimes spread by airborne transmission in indoor spaces — this means that you may be able to get COVID-19 from small droplets and particles that can stay in the air for hours, even if the infected person is more than 6 feet away or has already left the room. Research is showing that airborne transmission happens inside when there’s not enough ventilation (like open windows, fans, or air filtration systems), sometimes when people are breathing heavily (like while singing or exercising). When there’s a lot of infected droplets in the air, the virus can spread to others. 

It’s very uncommon for COVID-19 to spread by touching things (like a doorknob, lightswitch, or table), but it’s still good to wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, and disinfect surfaces that you touch a lot (like your phone).

COVID-19 has been found in semen (cum), but it’s not clear whether the virus can spread from one person to another through semen. But COVID-19 does spread easily between people when they’re within about 6 feet of each other, or sharing other body fluids like saliva (spit). So it’s very easy to get COVID-19 if you have in-person sexual contact with someone who has it. Learn more about COVID-19 and sexual health.

Viruses don’t discriminate, and it’s dangerous and harmful to blame COVID-19 on people of a particular race, ethnicity, immigration status, or income level. Anybody can get COVID-19 if they come in contact with the virus. But some communities have been disproportionately harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic because of structural racism, discrimination, and other inequities that can cause underlying health conditions, create barriers to health care, and increase the chances of being exposed COVID-19. This has led to higher rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalization, and death in Black, Indigenous, Latino, and Asian and Pacific Islander communities than in white people. No matter your identity, it’s important to do what you can to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 — not only to protect yourself, but also others in your community.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Not everyone who gets COVID-19 has symptoms. For some, the symptoms are mild. But others can get very sick, may need to go to the hospital, and could die. COVID-19 symptoms may start showing up anywhere between 2-14 days after you’ve had contact with the virus.

Some symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • Fever or chills

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath or having a hard time breathing

  • Fatigue (feeling unusually tired or run down)

  • Loss of smell or taste that’s new for you

  • Sore throat

  • Muscle pain or body aches

  • Headache

  • Runny nose or congestion (feeling stuffed up)

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

The only way to know for sure if you have COVID-19 is to get tested.

When do I need to get tested for COVID-19?

Visit the CDC website to learn more about COVID-19 testing, and when you should get tested.

If you’re wondering if you should get tested for COVID-19, the best thing to do is call your doctor or other health care provider and ask. You can also get more information on testing in your area from your state or local health department

What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?

Most people with COVID-19 can recover safely at home. If you think you may have COVID-19, call a doctor to find out if you need medical treatment, even if you don’t have a doctor who you see regularly. You can also use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker to help you know if you need medical care, and to find other resources in your area.

If you think you have COVID-19, or if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, you may need to quarantine or isolate, depending on the situation. Read more about what to do on the CDC website

Your state and local government and health departments will have the most up-to-date information about COVID-19 in your area, and where to get treatment if you need it. Checking with them before you get treatment can help you make sure you go to the right place for care, and help prevent more people from getting sick.

Call 911 right away if you develop emergency warning signs like:

  • Trouble breathing or gasping for air

  • Severe chest pain or pressure

  • Confusion that’s not normal for you

  • Not being able to stay awake or respond 

  • Blue color in your lips or face

Tell the 911 operator if you’ve been in contact with someone who has COVID-19 or have been to an area where there are lots of people who have COVID-19. If you have any other symptoms that are severe, call your nurse or doctor.

If you have to stay home from work because you feel sick, your employer may offer paid sick leave. There are new laws in place that require some employers to offer paid sick leave for those affected by COVID-19. Learn more about employee paid leave rights under the new federal law

If you’re an immigrant, it’s important to know that getting testing, health care, or treatment for COVID-19 will not count against you when applying for a green card or visa. Even if you don't have health insurance, you can still get care at a hospital or health center. Learn more about your rights when accessing health care

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