COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Last updated: August 20, 2020

COVID-19 is a new illness. This information is based on what we know so far and will continue to be updated as we learn more about this illness and the virus that causes it.

According to current information from the CDC, symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

COVID-19 spreads mainly between people who are in close contact with one another. It spreads easily between people, and the risk is higher the closer and longer people interact.

Touching a surface or object that has the SARS-CoV-2 virus on it and then touching your face, mouth or eyes is a possible means of infection, but is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Learn more about how the virus is thought to spread.

Wearing a face mask when you cannot maintain 6 feet of physical distancing is one important way to avoid infecting others or becoming infected yourself.

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 20 seconds.

You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, and avoid close contact with people who are sick or who are known to have been exposed to COVID-19.

Illinois residents are required to wear a face covering or mask when in a public place and 6 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. Guidance from the State of Illinois can be found here.

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

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 symptoms of COVID-19, please contact your physician's office for direction about testing and treatment. If you do not have a primary care physician, you may call the Northwestern Medicine COVID-19 Hotline at 312.47.COVID (312.472.6843).

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.

Northwestern Medicine requires a physician order for COVID-19 testing. A list of the current testing locations and details can be found here. These locations and hours are subject to change. Please discuss your preferred testing location with your physician.

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.