COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Last updated: April 30

The health of our patients, employees and community is of utmost importance.

  • Northwestern Medicine caregivers have access to the latest guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Illinois Department of Public Health on testing, diagnosing and care processes.
  • Employees have been trained in the use of personal protective equipment.
  • As the virus spreads through our communities, our physicians, nurses and other clinicians have the knowledge and tools necessary to manage an influx of patients.

According to current information from the CDC, symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, and/or loss of smell or taste. This information is based on what has been seen in similar previous viruses, and it may change as more is known about COVID-19.

COVID-19 spreads mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (approximately 6 feet). The virus can be transmitted in droplets that become airborne through a cough or sneeze. You can also be exposed after touching a surface that has the virus on it, and then touching your face, eyes or mouth.

Learn about high traffic surfaces that could be a source of germs.

Good hand hygiene is crucial to avoid the spread of germs. Help protect yourself and your family against illness by washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 15 to 20 seconds.

You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, and avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Beginning on May 1, Illinois residents are required to wear a face covering or mask when in a public place and six feet of physical distancing cannot be maintained. The requirement applies to anyone over the age of 2 who is able to medically tolerate wearing a face mask.

Northwestern Medicine requires everyone to wear a face mask while in our facilities. A mask will be provided to you if needed.

Both influenza (or the flu) and COVID-19 are respiratory illnesses caused by a viral infection. Both can cause fever, cough and body aches. Although they have similar symptoms, they are caused by different viruses.

If you have fever, chills, sore throat, cough or shortness of breath, please contact your physician's office for direction about testing and treatment.

If you are undergoing cancer treatment or have heart disease, diabetes or lung disease, you are at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19. It is very important you take steps to protect yourself from the disease, including staying home as much as possible, ensuring you have medications and medical supplies on hand, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick or who may have been exposed to COVID-19. You should contact your physician's office with any questions you have.

To confirm a diagnosis of COVID-19, your provider may use a swab in your nose or throat to collect a sample of your respiratory secretions. A lab will then determine if the sample contains the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, it is important to note that not everyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 will be tested. Your care provider will determine if testing is required. Even if you do not get tested, if you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should follow all precautions as though you have the infection.

No specific antiviral treatment is currently recommended for individuals with COVID-19. Current treatment is focused on relieving symptoms.

If you are mildly ill, you should stay at home in isolation unless you need to seek medical attention. If you share a home with others, use a separate bathroom if possible and avoid interacting with them. Clean all surfaces regularly, such as doorknobs, counters and bathroom fixtures.

Continue to monitor your symptoms. If symptoms worsen, contact your physician’s office immediately.