5 minutes

Alternative names: SARS-CoV-2, The Vids, The Rona, Miss Rona, Boomer Remover, Senior Deleter, Wuhan Wheezer, Bat Stew Flu, China Virus

Type of infection: Viral

Incubation period: 2 to 14 days

Mortality rate: 10-13%


In the context of COVID-19 transmission, people can act as vectors in spreading the disease caused by the new coronavirus. You may have heard the term being used in discussions regarding school and daycare closures. Children are more likely to experience milder infections, but they can act as vectors to spread the virus unknowingly.

COVID-19 is mainly spread person-to-person between people who are in close contact (less than 6 feet of separation), through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The spread of infection can be mitigated through social distancing, handwashing, and avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people. However, these practices are more difficult to enforce in schools settings, and younger children who are still learning about personal hygiene can easily spread the virus in school and daycare settings.


COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) is a disease caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2 and was discovered in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. It is very contagious and has quickly spread around the world.

COVID-19 most often causes respiratory symptoms that can feel much like a cold, a flu, or pneumonia. COVID-19 may attack more than your lungs and respiratory system. Other parts of your body may also be affected by the disease.

  • Most people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms, but some people become severely ill.
  • Some people including those with minor or no symptoms may suffer from post-COVID conditions — or “long COVID”.
  • Older adults and people who have certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people have died from COVID-19 in the United States.
  • Vaccines against COVID-19 are safe and effective. Vaccines teach our immune system to fight the virus that causes COVID-19.

COVID-19 is caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. It is part of the coronavirus family, which include common viruses that cause a variety of diseases from head or chest colds to more severe (but more rare) diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Like many other respiratory viruses, coronaviruses spread quickly through droplets that you project out of your mouth or nose when you breathe, cough, sneeze, or speak.

The word corona means crown and refers to the appearance that coronaviruses get from the spike proteins sticking out of them. These spike proteins are important to the biology of this virus. The spike protein is the part of the virus that attaches to a human cell to infect it, allowing it to replicate inside of the cell and spread to other cells. Some antibodies can protect you from SARS-CoV-2 by targeting these spike proteins. Because of the importance of this specific part of the virus, scientists who sequence the virus for research constantly monitor mutations causing changes to the spike protein through a process called genomic surveillance.

As genetic changes to the virus happen over time, the SARS-CoV-2 virus begins to form genetic lineages. Just as a family has a family tree, the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be similarly mapped out. Sometimes branches of that tree have different attributes that change how fast the virus spreads, or the severity of illness it causes, or the effectiveness of treatments against it. Scientists call the viruses with these changes “variants”. They are still SARS-CoV-2, but may act differently.


Fever or chills


Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing


Muscle or body aches


New loss of taste or smell

Sore throat

Congestion or runny nose

Nausea or vomiting


Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:

Trouble breathing

Persistent pain or pressure in the chest

New confusion

Inability to wake or stay awake

Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone


If you test positive and are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19, treatments are availableexternal icon that can reduce your chances of being hospitalized or dying from the disease. Medications to treat COVID-19 must be prescribed by a healthcare provider and started as soon as possible after diagnosis to be effective. Contact a healthcare provider right away to determine if you are eligible for treatment, even if your symptoms are mild right now.

Don’t delay: Treatment must be started within days of when you first develop symptoms to be effective.

People who are more likely to get very sick include older adults (ages 50 years or more, with risk increasing with older age), people who are unvaccinated, and people with certain medical conditions, such as a weakened immune system. Being vaccinated makes you much less likely to get very sick. Still, some vaccinated people, especially those ages 65 years or older or who have other risk factors for severe disease, may benefit from treatment if they get COVID-19. A healthcare provider will help decide which treatment, if any, is right for you.

person receiving treatment pamphlet from healthcare provider

The FDA has authorized certain antiviral medications and monoclonal antibodies to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in people who are more likely to get very sick.

  • Antiviral treatments target specific parts of the virus to stop it from multiplying in the body, helping to prevent severe illness and death.
  • Monoclonal antibodies help the immune system recognize and respond more effectively to the virus.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) provides COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines for healthcare providers to help them work with their patients and determine the best treatment options for them. Several options are available for treating COVID-19 at home or in an outpatient setting. They include:

Nirmatrelvir with Ritonavi (Paxlovid)

Adults; children ages 12 years and older

Start as soon as possible; must begin within 5 days of when symptoms start

Taken at home by mouth (orally)

Remdesivir (Veklury)

Adults and children

Start as soon as possible; must begin within 7 days of when symptoms start

Intravenous (IV) infusions at a healthcare facility for 3 consecutive days

Monoclonal antibody

Adults; children ages 12 years and older

Start as soon as possible; must begin within 7 days of when symptoms start

Single IV injection

Molnupiravir (Lagevrio)


Start as soon as possible; must begin within 5 days of when symptoms start

Taken at home by mouth (orally)

Some treatments might have side effects or interact with other medications you are taking. Ask a healthcare provider if medications to treat COVID-19 are right for you. If you don’t have a healthcare provider, visit a Test to Treat location or contact your local community health center or health department.

If you are hospitalized, your healthcare provider might use other types of treatments, depending on how sick you are. These could include medications to treat the virus, reduce an overactive immune response, or treat COVID-19 complications.


COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States effectively protect people from getting seriously ill, being hospitalized, and even dying—especially people who are boosted. As with vaccines for other diseases, you are protected best when you stay up to date. CDC recommends that everyone who is eligible stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines.

Find a COVID-19 vaccine or booster: Search, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233 to find locations near you.

The FDA has issued an EUA for tixagevimab plus cilgavimab (Evusheld), a medicine used in adults and children ages 12 years and older. Evusheld consists of 2 monoclonal antibodies provided together to help prevent infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. A healthcare provider gives Evusheld as 2 separate consecutive intramuscular (IM) injections at a doctor’s office or healthcare facility. If you are moderately or severely immunocompromised or severely allergic to COVID-19 vaccines, you may be eligible for Evusheld. Talk to a healthcare provider to determine if this option is right for you.

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