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Frequently Asked Questions

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What is COVID-19?
Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19 (formerly referred to as the 2019 novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV) is a new respiratory virus that was first identified in Wuhan, China in December of 2019.

How does COVID-19 spread? 
COVID-19 is caused by a respiratory virus.  It can spread from an infected person to another person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes on someone who is within 6 feet. It is like how influenza or other respiratory germs spread. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.  Current evidence suggests that COVID-19 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials, but once dried on the surface it is not likely to cause infection.  Routine cleaning and sanitizing are sufficient to remove any remaining risk for transmission from wet or dry surfaces.
What are the symptoms and possible complications?
People with COVID-19 have reported mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Additional symptoms such as chills, and loss sense of taste and smell have also been reported. In severe cases, it can cause pneumonia.

How can I help protect myself?
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure to the virus. BPHC always recommends standard precautions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Using alcohol-based hand rubs and gels.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Staying home when you are sick.
  • Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue or cough into your sleeve.
  • Washing or sanitizing your hands before touching your face.
  • Not sharing drinks, food, or eating utensils.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Does wearing a mask prevent the spread of COVID-19?   
A facemask or face covering should be worn by anyone above the age of 2 when they are outside their home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is especially important for people with suspected or confirmed respiratory symptoms of COVID-19 or other respiratory viruses to wear a face covering because it will help protect others from getting infected. A facemask should also be worn by health care workers and people who are taking care of someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.   

Should I go to my doctor and get tested for COVID-19?

If you have symptoms you think are due this virus you should call your health care provider. Your health care provider will assess your symptoms and will determine if you should be tested.  It is important that everyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 seek care to confirm diagnosis.  This will allow you to receive appropriate advice on caring for yourself and preventing spread to your family, friends, and other close contacts.  This is especially important for individuals at high risk for complications from COVID-19 such as:

  • Older adults
  • People with underlying health conditions
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Pregnant women

People in close contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19 are at higher risk of getting infected themselves, and infecting others. Close contacts are defined as someone who was within 6 feet of a case, for at least 10-15 minutes, while the infected person had symptoms or within the 48 hours before symptoms started. The local board of health will notify you if you are considered a close contact with an infected person. You should be tested as soon as possible after notification.

If you are a health care worker in contact with patients or other health care workers, or if you are a first responder (EMS, fire, police), you need to be tested regardless of the high-risk criteria if you become symptomatic.


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Boston Public Health Commission
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