Get the Facts: Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19

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Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illness in animals and humans. Human coronaviruses commonly circulate in the United States and usually cause mild illnesses like the common cold. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a disease that was identified in Wuhan, China, and is now spreading throughout the world. Learn more about COVID-19 from NCDHHS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Coronaviruses like COVID-19 are most often spread through the air by coughing or sneezing, through close personal contact (including touching and shaking hands) or through touching your nose, mouth or eyes before washing your hands. Learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about how COVID-19 spreads and how to protect yourself and your community from getting and spreading respiratory illnesses

Follow these common-sense measures to protect yourself and others from spreading viruses, including COVID-19: 

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Do not reuse tissue after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched.


The CDC does not recommend that people who are healthy wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory viruses. Facemasks should be used by people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and other respiratory illness like flu to protect others from getting infected. Healthcare providers and others taking care of people with COVID-19 should wear appropriate personal protective equipment.


Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods.


Coronaviruses that commonly circulate in the U.S. cause symptoms similar to the flu and typically cause mild to moderate respiratory illness. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure. Most people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms that do not require hospitalization, although there have been reports of severe illness with a small percentage resulting in death. Respiratory symptoms alone are not an indicator for COVID-19. Common symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath

We know that people are contagious when they have symptoms. Whether the virus can be spread before someone has symptoms is currently being evaluated. More on how COVID-19 spreads is available from the CDC.

People are most at risk if they've had contact with a symptomic person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have traveled to an affected area. Affected areas are listed on the CDC website

No one group, ethnicity or population in the U.S. is at a higher risk for acquiring COVID-19 infection than others. Older people and those with underlying health conditions are at greater risk for more serious illness if they become infected.

Travel guidance and recommendations are changing frequently. For the latest recommendations for returning travelers or those planning a trip, visit NCDHHS' webpage on travel, the CDC's travel guidance and the U.S. Department of State website.

North Carolina is actively responding to COVID-19 to protect the public’s health. North Carolina’s public health officials work with federal, state and local partners to maintain a coordinated response to support returning travelers and protect the public’s health. Learn more about the state's preparation and response.

The CDC recommends households have a plan of action to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak.People should think about having daily necessities and medications to last about two weeks, in case they need to isolate. Massive stock piling of supplies is not necessary. 

Individuals and families should have a plan in case they need to miss work due to illness or need to care for a sick family member. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also released a list of cleaning products to prevent and reduce the spread of COVID-19.

More information on household planning is available from the CDC.

The NC State Laboratory of Public Health (NCSLPH) can now perform testing for the virus that causes COVID-19, which allows NCDHHS to promptly identify and respond to any potential cases. North Carolina is using the test kit developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

COVID-19 tests are available as needed and it is not necessary for everyone to be tested for COVID-19 at this time. Only those who meet specific criteria should ask their doctor or local health department about being testing for COVID-19 through the NCSLPH. If a person is suspected to have COVID-19, healthcare providers should notify their local health department to coordinate testing. Learn more about testing in North Carolina.

Some commercial labs are now conducting tests. CDC provides recommended criteria to guide decisions on testing, but clinicians will be able to order COVID-19 testing for individuals as they see fit. 

Currently there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself from respiratory diseases like COVID-19 is to take common-sense precautions. These include frequent hand washing, avoiding touching your face, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze and making sure you have gotten your annual flu shot. There is work underway to develop a vaccine.

Most people with illnesses due to coronavirus recover on their own. There are no specific treatments for COVID-19, but treatments to bring down fever or alleviate other symptoms may help. For people who become severely ill, hospitals can provide care. There is more to be learned about COVID-19 as the situation continues to evolve, and treatment options may change over time. Learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Local health departments will work in partnership with physicians and the NC Division of Public Health to determine whether a person with COVID-19 requires hospitalization or home isolation. The decision may be based on multiple factors including severity of illness, need for testing and suitability of home isolation.

Visit the NCDHHS website,, and check the Updates page. You should also visit the CDC website for the latest information at

If you have specific questions or concerns related to COVID-19 in North Carolina, call 866-462-3821 for more information. You can also submit questions online by selecting Chat at

At this time, North Carolina students do not need to be kept out of school due to concerns about COVID-19. The Division of Public Health is closely monitoring the situation and will work with school systems across the state to protect the health and well-being of students. Schools should follow recommended precautions to help protect students and children, faculty and staff from the spread of respiratory illnesses, which include COVID-19.