Your Questions, Answered
Published February 2021
Understanding of the virus that causes COVID-19 continues to evolve. It was first detected in China and quickly spread across the globe to every continent, triggering a pandemic designation by the World Health Organization in early 2020. The virus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2.
What We Know and What We Don’t
Because this virus is new to scientists, understanding of it continues to evolve.
“COVID-19 has a range of clinical manifestations, from mild to life-threatening,” says Infectious Disease Specialist Gary A. Noskin, MD, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
It’s important to stay informed and take preventive measures.
1. Symptoms can look similar to the flu.
Influenza is a viral respiratory infection, and symptoms of COVID-19 can appear similar. COVID-19 symptoms can include:
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
Loss of taste or smell are symptoms unique to COVID-19. Symptoms generally appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. More recently, there is recognition that many patients with COVID-19 may not have any symptoms.
The only way to truly determine if you have COVID-19 through testing.
2. It’s primarily transmitted through droplets.
COVID-19 spreads mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (approximately 6 feet) for at least 15 minutes. Due to airborne spread, it is essential to wear a mask.
3. Certain individuals may be at greater risk for serious illness.
Illness has generally been mild for children and young adults. However, certain populations are more at risk for serious illness. The most vulnerable populations include people ages 65 and older, and individuals with certain underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes.
4. You can protect yourself and your family.
In addition to staying informed, Dr. Noskin encourages everyone to exercise precaution by following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To help protect yourself and others from the spread of infection:
- Wear a mask.
- Wash your hands.
- Avoid touching your mouth, face or eyes.
- Stay home and avoid nonessential activities.
- Maintain physical distance.
- Get your COVID-19 vaccine when it’s your turn. Vaccination is key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. The government is following a phased approach to vaccinating the public against COVID-19. Your county health department may have vaccination sign-up information and guidance on its website regarding community-based vaccination clinics. Learn about the Northwestern Medicine patient vaccination plan on the COVID-19 Resource Center.
5. You should know what to do if you’re sick.
If you are feeling sick, monitor your symptoms carefully. Call your physician for guidance if you have symptoms of COVID-19. Learn about testing and isolation precautions to protect others in your home.
If you are having trouble breathing and need emergency care, have someone take you to the emergency department or call 911.
COVID-19 can look different in every person. Consult the CDC for the most current recommendations.
COVID-19 vaccines are supplied by state and local agencies. Not all vaccine types are offered at all Northwestern Medicine locations. Learn more about the current vaccination plan at Northwestern Medicine.