Facts about the coronavirus and COVID-19

As the situation around COVID-19 evolves, we’ll update this page to keep you informed and supported during this time. Thank you for all you’re doing to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We’re all in this together.


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Important resources

For additional information about the coronavirus and COVID-19, visit these websites:


COVID-19 basics

COVID-19 causes a mild illness in many people. But some people may be at higher risk for having severe symptoms from COVID-19. A recent study found that 88% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients had more than one chronic condition,* and other factors can also increase your risk. You may be at high risk if you:

If you’re pregnant, it may be safest to consider yourself at higher risk because information on how COVID-19 affects pregnant women is limited. To learn more about how the virus could affect you or your care, visit kp.org/maternity-covid.  

If you have an ongoing health condition, here are some ways you can help keep yourself safe.

  • Stay home as much as you can.
  • Have supplies on hand, like food, household items, medical supplies, and over-the-counter and prescription medications
  • Routinely clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, and phones.
  • Limit visitors.
  • When you leave home, keep 6 feet of space between yourself and others.
  • Wear a cloth face cover when you’re near other people.
  • Wear gloves or carry tissues or paper towels with you to protect your hands when you need to touch things like door handles, shopping carts, and handrails.
  • Don’t touch your face, and wash your hands often.
  • Have a plan in case you get sick

If you develop symptoms of COVID-19 — such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath — call your doctor.

*Safiya Richardson et al., “Presenting Characteristics, Comorbidities, and Outcomes Among 5700 Patients Hospitalized With COVID-19 in the New York City Area,” Journal of the American Medical Association, April 22, 2020.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus in people. That’s why it’s called a novel virus. Because it’s new, people have little or no immune protection from it. This allows it to spread quickly and widely.

There are many types of coronaviruses. The most common type causes the common cold. But unlike the common cold — which almost everyone gets over without problems — COVID-19 can cause serious illness and death. Some coronaviruses affect humans, and some affect animals. Sometimes, a coronavirus that affects an animal changes a little and is then able to infect humans. That’s how COVID-19 is believed to have started.

If you are well and meet the donor guidelines, you can donate blood. This is true even if you live in an area with a shelter-in-place order, according to the American Red Cross.

Blood donations help save lives. The need is especially urgent because many blood drives have been canceled over fears about COVID-19.

Donation sites are taking extra steps to keep you safe. For example, they’re doing extra disinfecting of equipment and spacing chairs at least 6 feet apart. They also are checking temperatures and the overall health of donors and the staff members who draw the blood.

The Red Cross advises you to postpone blood donations if you’re sick or in isolation or if you have traveled to certain areas where COVID-19 is widespread. If you have questions, call your local blood donation center or visit the Red Cross website.

A pandemic is an epidemic that spreads to many areas around the world. The World Health Organization has called COVID-19 a pandemic because the disease has traveled worldwide.

An epidemic is an outbreak of infectious disease (or sometimes another health problem) that is happening much more than usual in an area. When COVID-19 first appeared in China, it was called an epidemic because of the rapid rise in the number of infections there.

There are 2 main reasons for concern. The first is that some people ARE at high risk of serious illness and death. The second is that if a lot of people get sick at the same time, health care providers may not be able to take care of everyone.

It’s true that many people with infections won’t get too sick. Most people get over the illness without problems. But some people — especially those who are older or have other health problems — can get very ill and will need intensive care in a hospital. If we can prevent the spread of infection, we can reduce the number of serious infections and help protect those who are at highest risk.

If COVID-19 spreads very quickly and widely, many people may be sick at one time. If this happens, the medical community may not have the resources to care for people in the way they need. Taking action now to prevent the spread of the virus can help make sure this doesn’t happen. Learn what Kaiser Permanente is doing about COVID-19.

There are 2 main reasons for concern. The first is that some people ARE at high risk of serious illness and death. The second is that if a lot of people get sick at the same time, health care providers may not be able to take care of everyone.

It’s true that many people with infections won’t get too sick. Most people get over the illness without problems. But some people — especially those who are older or have other health problems — can get very ill and will need intensive care in a hospital. If we can prevent the spread of infection, we can reduce the number of serious infections and help protect those who are at highest risk.

If COVID-19 spreads very quickly and widely, many people may be sick at one time. If this happens, the medical community may not have the resources to care for people in the way they need. Taking action now to prevent the spread of the virus can help make sure this doesn’t happen. Learn what Kaiser Permanente is doing about COVID-19.


How to protect yourself

Physical distancing means putting space between you and other people. The recommended distance is 6 feet, or about 2 meters. This means staying away from any place where people may gather, such as parks or other public gathering places. Physical distancing is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It’s important for everyone, not just those who are at high risk of infection, like seniors. You might have the virus but not have symptoms yet. You could then give the infection to someone you come into contact with.

Experts say it may be possible to get the virus by touching something that has the virus on it. This includes surfaces like tables and countertops and objects such as doorknobs, faucets, toilets, remote controls, and handles on the fridge and microwave.

To clean and disinfect surfaces and objects:

  • Wear disposable gloves. Throw them away after you clean and disinfect. Wash your hands after you take off the gloves.

  • Use a detergent or soap and water to clean any dirt from surfaces and objects.

  • To kill the virus, use a household disinfectant cleaner, a household bleach solution, or alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol. Make sure the product is right for the type of surface you’re cleaning. Follow the directions on the product and handle the bleach in a well-ventilated area. You can make your own bleach solution by mixing 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach with a gallon of water or 4 teaspoons of bleach with a quart of water.

There’s no evidence yet that any supplement can prevent infection with COVID-19. Vitamins C and D are the supplements that have been studied the most for other respiratory infections. Those studies so far have shown mixed results for vitamins C and D preventing respiratory infections or reducing how severe they are. Some studies showed some benefit, while others didn’t.

Experts do agree that the best way to boost your immune system is by having a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, stay active, limit alcohol (if you drink), and find ways to reduce stress.

Yes. Activity is good for your body, mind, and mood. Many parks and hiking trails are closed right now, so check with your city before visiting them. But experts say you can walk, hike, or do other activity outside as long as you can stay 6 feet away from other people and wear a face mask. You can also wave at neighbors, shout a hello, or stop for a quick chat, if you’re 6 feet or more away from them.

It’s best to go out only if you have to. For example, you might need to go to a supermarket or to work. Ask yourself if the trip is necessary. Do you have to go out to eat, or can you choose takeout, or even better, cook at home?

If you do go out, wear a mask and avoid groups of people. Practice physical distancing. This means if you have to be around someone, don’t get too close. It’s safest to stay at least 6 feet away from others, but if you can’t be 6 feet apart, stay as far apart as possible.

Avoid people who may be ill. Try to avoid touching things that a lot of other people have touched (like door handles and elevator buttons). Wash your hands often with soap and water. Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you can’t wash, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

If you know that you’ve been exposed to someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19, isolate yourself for 14 days. This means don’t go to work, to school, or to any social events. Only go out if you need medical care. Stay in a separate room at home if at all possible. This will help protect people in your household. If you develop symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, or shortness of breath), contact Kaiser Permanente. A clinician will let you know if you need care or testing.

COVID-19 is a new disease, so information on how the virus affects pregnant women is limited. Based on the most current information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women don’t appear to be more likely to get infected with COVID-19 than other people. Current reports also show that pregnant women who get the virus don’t have more severe symptoms than the general public. At this time, we don’t know if the virus can be transmitted during pregnancy or childbirth.

For more information on how COVID-19 could affect you or your care if you’re pregnant, visit kp.org/covid-19-and-pregnancy. You’ll find a detailed breakdown of what we know about COVID-19’s effect on pregnancy and newborn care, as well as changes to your pregnancy care.

You can wash an ill person’s items along with other people’s clothing. Just take care when handling the person’s dirty laundry.

  • Use a separate basket to hold the person’s dirty laundry. Line it with a disposable or washable liner to keep the basket clean.
  • Wear disposable gloves. If you don’t have disposable gloves, wash your hands after handling the laundry of a person infected with the virus.
  • Don’t shake out the laundry before you wash it. This can prevent releasing the virus into the air.
  • Wash the clothes in the warmest temperature that is allowed for the type of fabric.
  • Make sure the clothes are completely dry.

You can clean and disinfect your phone. But be careful not to spray liquid on it. Moisture could get in the phone and damage it.

  • Unplug the phone from charging or any devices or cables.
  • Spray a non-abrasive disinfectant or 70% isopropyl alcohol on a soft, lint-free cloth. (Don’t use paper towels or anything else that is abrasive.)
  • Gently clean the phone (and phone case if you use one) with the cloth.
  • Don’t use bleach to clean the phone.

You can do a few other things to help keep your phone clean — and help keep you safe:

  • Text or email photos to others instead of handing people your phone.
  • Avoid putting your phone on surfaces that you haven’t disinfected.
  • Use a headset when possible. That way the phone isn’t touching your face.

You can chat or say hello if you can do it from 6 feet or more away from someone. It’s important to keep your distance to help stop the spread of the virus. You may think you’re healthy, but you could carry the virus and spread it even if you feel fine. And so could your friends. So no parties, handshakes, hugs, or high fives.

You can do things like chat with a neighbor over the fence. You can always call friends and family or see each other on a video call.

Soap does the not-so-dirty work of destroying the virus by breaking it apart. This coronavirus, like many other viruses, has an outer, fatty layer. It’s believed to help protect the virus from the defenses of the host that it’s invading.

A soap molecule has a head that likes water and a tail that doesn’t. When you wash your hands with soap and water, the tail tries to get away from the water by getting into the fatty layer of the virus. It breaks through the fat layer, and the virus falls apart, or “dies.” (It actually becomes inactive, since viruses aren’t really alive.) Scrubbing your hands while washing also helps wash away the virus.

Washing your hands with soap and water is best. Any soap will work. But if soap and water aren’t available, hand sanitizers that have at least 60% alcohol also will disable the virus. You need to use enough sanitizer to cover all areas of your hands.

To help protect yourself and others when you leave home for groceries or other essential items, you can make a simple face mask using towels, scarves, or T-shirts. If you have a sewing machine, you can make masks using our step-by-step instructions or instructional video.


How it spreads

So far, there’s no evidence that COVID-19 is spread by ticks or mosquitoes. COVID-19 is spread mainly person to person. It can be spread by close contact or by droplets when a person who is infected sneezes or coughs.

Some people who have COVID-19 don’t have any symptoms. That’s called being asymptomatic. There have been reports that these people may be able to pass the virus to others. That’s another reason why it’s important to keep following physical distancing guidelines and stay at least 6 feet away from others.

People with COVID-19 seem to be most contagious when they have symptoms like a fever and a cough.

Everyone can help protect themselves and their community. The U.S. government has issued guidelines to help slow the spread of the virus:

  • Work from home, if possible, and keep kids home from school.
  • When you do have to go outside, wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
  • Avoid any events with more than 10 people.
  • Don’t go out to restaurants, bars, or food courts. Instead, if you want food from a restaurant, seek out places that offer drive-through, pick up, or delivery.
  • Don’t go out to friends’ or family members’ houses or invite them to yours.
  • Don’t visit older people in retirement communities or nursing homes.
  • Don’t travel unless you have to.
  • Keep your hands and your home clean. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Disinfect items in your home that you touch a lot.

The virus is new, so it’s not known how warmer weather will affect it. Some illnesses (like the flu and colds) are more common in colder weather than warmer weather. But it’s not known if that will be true of this virus.

The virus mainly spreads person to person through close contact. Close contact means that you are closer than 6 feet from someone who has COVID-19. The CDC says the contact is for “a prolonged period of time.” It also means that you have come in contact with droplets of the virus when someone who has the infection coughs or sneezes.

There’s no evidence that the virus can be spread through water or food. The virus is believed to be spread from person to person. This happens through close contact (being within 6 feet) and droplets when a person who has the virus coughs or sneezes. Experts also think it may be possible to get the virus by touching something that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

City water treatment disinfects water. While food doesn’t spread the virus, it’s important to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before you prepare food. It’s also important to disinfect surfaces like kitchen counters, tables, and objects that you touch.

If you have COVID-19, experts recommend that you stay away from your pets — just like you would stay away from people when you’re sick. If you have to care for your pets yourself, wash your hands before and after.

The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America recommend against any nonessential travel because of the risk of people getting or spreading the virus. The hope is that by staying away from crowded airports, hotels, and restaurants, all of us can slow the spread of the virus.

The U.S. State Department recommends against any international travel at this time. The State Department and the CDC also advise against travel by cruise ship.


Symptoms and treatment

The medical community is starting clinical trials to see if this treatment will help to fight COVID-19. Immunoglobulin (also called gamma globulin or immune globulin) is made from the blood of people who have recovered from an infection. In the case of COVID-19, it contains antibodies that fight COVID-19. When a person gets an infection, the body responds by making antibodies. These antibodies attack the infection and help the body fight it.

The hope is that if immunoglobulin is given to someone who is very ill from the virus, the antibodies will help that person fight and overcome the infection.

Experts don’t yet know if this will work and be safe for people with a serious COVID-19 infection. It seems to help in some other serious infections.

Experts don’t know why some people, even those who are healthy, get very sick. Overall, COVID-19 seems to cause fewer problems in people who are young and healthy. Those who are older or have other health problems, like diabetes, heart disease, or obesity, have a higher risk of getting very sick. But the virus can affect anyone, even those who are young and healthy. And it can cause serious problems (even death) at any age. Data from the CDC released March 26, 2020, has shown that 20% of people who have needed care in a hospital for COVID-19 have been between ages 20 and 44.

Those who are older or have other health problems, like diabetes, heart disease, or obesity, have a higher risk of getting very sick.

No. Antibiotics treat infections that are caused by bacteria. COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus. Viruses are different than bacteria. Antibiotics don’t help and can even cause other problems.

The length of time someone is sick with COVID-19 varies. It depends on how sick a person is. When people are mildly ill, they usually get better in 1 or 2 weeks.

People who are more severely ill have worse symptoms, like severe shortness of breath and pneumonia. They need care in a hospital. They usually get better in 3 to 6 weeks. Some people who get very sick may need even more time to recover.

Some people with COVID-19 have very mild or no symptoms. They may get over the infection without even knowing they had it. This is why it is very important to maintain physical distancing to prevent getting infected with COVID-19.

This is why it is very important to maintain physical distancing to prevent getting infected with COVID-19.

A ventilator is a machine that breathes for a person when they can’t breathe well enough on their own. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus. This means it can affect the breathing systems of the body, especially the lungs. Most people with COVID-19 don’t get seriously ill. But when someone is very ill, the infection affects the lungs so severely that breathing is hard or impossible.

A ventilator has a tube that goes through the mouth into the lungs. The machine brings oxygen into the lungs and removes carbon dioxide. A ventilator is important because it does the work of the lungs and gives them time to heal. After they heal, the tube can be removed.

This information was provided by Healthwise, Incorporated.

There is no medicine right now to fight the virus. Antibiotics don’t work against a virus. If you have mild symptoms, you can care for yourself at home while you’re in isolation. Your doctor may have you take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for a fever. Treatment in the hospital for more serious cases includes support, such as a ventilator (to help with breathing) and medicines.

This information was provided by Healthwise, Incorporated.

 

Testing for COVID-19

Testing and diagnosis at Kaiser Permanente are available at no cost to members.

Continue to treat any symptoms at home and self-isolate until you are fever-free for 24 hours. If your condition worsens, call our appointment and advice line.

Antibodies are proteins that help fight off infections. An antibody blood (serology) test looks for antibodies in a person’s blood. Kaiser Permanente is participating in research to help us learn more about COVID-19 antibodies.

We’re not recommending antibody testing outside of research studies at this time, given their variability in accuracy, their risk of false positives and false negatives, and the limited information they can provide.

Current risks to antibody testing include:

  • A positive antibody test may not indicate prior exposure to COVID-19, and it doesn’t mean a person is protected from COVID-19 in the future. 
  • A negative antibody test can occur after an infection if the person hasn’t had an antibody response, particularly if the test is done too soon after infection.

Given this uncertainty, people who test positive for antibodies or have recovered from the virus should still take steps to protect themselves and others, like physical distancing, hand-washing, and wearing a mask in public. Decisions about returning to work shouldn’t be based on the antibody test result.

As testing becomes more reliable, it could help us:

  • Know if someone has been infected in the past
  • Determine where the virus has spread

  

Recovering or caring for someone at home

Here’s what you can do to help protect yourself and your family — whether you’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 yourself, or caring for someone else who’s recovering at home.




Help coping with COVID-19

Right now, it’s especially important to care for the whole you — mind, body, and spirit. We have many digital tools and articles to help your physical and mental health.