Addressing your questions about the coronavirus and COVID-19

Coronavirus essentials

How is this virus different from other coronaviruses?

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.

What’s the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic?

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.

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.

Most people recover from COVID-19, so why is everyone so worried?

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 to prevent the spread of the virus can help make sure this doesn’t happen.

Taking care of yourself

How can I boost my immune system to fight COVID-19?

Experts 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.

How to clean surfaces to avoid the spread of COVID-19 (whether you or someone in your household has been diagnosed with it)

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.

How does soap work against COVID-19?

Soap destroys the virus by breaking it apart. This coronavirus, like many other viruses, has a fatty outer layer. This layer helps 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.

Can I safely go for a walk outside?

Yes. Activity is good for your body, mind, and mood. Many parks and hiking trails have been temporarily closed, so check with your city or county before visiting them. 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.

How should I protect myself when I’m out?

It’s best to go out only if you have to. For example, you might need to go to a supermarket or to work. If you do go out, wear a face 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). Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If you can’t wash, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

What should I do if I come into close contact with a person who has COVID-19?

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 the store, or to any social events. Only go out if you need medical care. If possible, stay in a separate room at home. This will help protect people in your household. If you develop symptoms of COVID-19 (including cough, shortness of breath or 2 of these symptoms — fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell), contact us. A provider will let you know if you need care or testing.

Can I socialize if everyone is healthy?

You can chat or say hello to someone if you can keep 6 feet or more between you. 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. So could your friends. You can always call friends and family or see each other on a video call.

Understanding how the coronavirus spreads

How is the coronavirus spread?

The coronavirus mainly spreads person to person through close contact. Close contact means that you are closer than 6 feet from someone who has COVID-19. To get the virus you have to come in contact with droplets of the virus when someone who has the infection coughs or sneezes.

Can someone without symptoms spread the coronavirus?

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 one reason why it’s important to 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.

Will COVID-19 go away when the weather gets warmer?

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.

Can I get COVID-19 from water or food?

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.

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.

Can I get COVID-19 from ticks or mosquitoes?

So far, there’s no evidence that COVID-19 is spread by ticks or mosquitoes.

For more info on coronavirus visit

Want more local health news, wellness tips, recipes, and more? Subscribe to the Kaiser Permanente Washington newsletter.