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COVID-19 frequently asked questions

Last updated January 10, 2024

Available languages: Español

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On this page

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About COVID-19

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What is a coronavirus, and what is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. This virus was first identified in December 2019 and quickly spread around the world. Most people with COVID-19 have mild illness. But some people get very sick, and some die from the disease. While most people recover in a few weeks, some may not fully recover for a long time. Because COVID-19 spreads easily and can be dangerous, it caused a worldwide public health emergency.

SARS-CoV-2 is a type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a very common large family of viruses. They can cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) that was first identified in China in 2003 and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) that was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Coronaviruses are common in people and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, civet cats, and bats. Many coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted from animals to people. This type of transmission is called spillover.

In December 2019, scientists identified a new type of coronavirus that had not been previously seen in humans. They found this new virus during an investigation into an outbreak of respiratory disease in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization (WHO) named this virus Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). This name was chosen because the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003.  The disease caused by this virus is known as Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19.
 

Why is the disease called COVID-19?

The name of this disease is Coronavirus Disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19. In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease. Formerly, this disease was referred to as “2019 novel coronavirus” or “2019-nCoV.”
 

How does COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 typically spreads three ways.

1. Respiratory droplets: When a person is infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, they produce small droplets containing the virus when they sneeze, cough, or talk. These droplets are often not visible to the naked eye, but can be seen on slow motion cameras. A healthy person who is close to the infected person can then breathe in these droplets and catch the virus. This is similar to how flu and cold viruses spread.

2. Airborne transmission: Sometimes, very small respiratory droplets can stay in the air for several hours and travel longer distances. A healthy person can then breathe in these droplets and catch the virus. This happens more often in indoor settings that are not well ventilated.

3. Infected surfaces or objects: It may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. This type of spread is thought to be less common with COVID-19.
 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 can be mild, like the symptoms of a common cold or allergies. The symptoms also be serious, like shortness of breath or trouble breathing. In the most serious cases, COVID-19 can cause pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, organ failure, or death. These severe outcomes are more likely to happen in people older than 50 years, people with risk factors for severe disease, as well as people who aren’t up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines.

Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:

  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.
  • Fever.
  • Loss of taste and/or smell.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Muscle or body aches.
  • Headache.
  • Sore throat.
  • Congestion or runny nose.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

People who have any COVID-like symptoms should get tested as soon as possible and isolate.

Emergency warning signs

If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately by calling 911 or going to your local emergency facility:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest.
  • New confusion.
  • Inability to wake up or stay awake.
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone.

This list does not include all possible severe symptoms. Please call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.
 

Is it possible to get COVID-19 and not have any symptoms?

Yes. Some people who get COVID-19 don’t feel any symptoms. This is called an asymptomatic case. People who are asymptomatic can still transmit the virus to other people. If you think or know you have been exposed, but you don’t have symptoms, you should get tested at least five days after you think you were in contact with a person who had COVID-19.
 

How long does it take to start showing symptoms after being exposed to COVID-19?

It usually takes between two and 14 days to start feeling symptoms. This is called the “incubation period” of the virus.
 

How long do COVID-19 symptoms last?

It depends on how serious the illness is. Many people with mild symptoms feel better after a week. People who are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations are more likely to have mild symptoms and recover more quickly. People who get seriously sick may need six weeks or more to recover. Some people experience long-term health impacts after getting sick with COVID-19.
 

How can I avoid getting and spreading COVID-19?

The best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 is to stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines. All Coloradans aged 6 months and older can get vaccinated.

Other ways to prevent the spread of illness include:

  • Staying home when you are sick.
  • Staying informed with reliable resources, like CDPHE, CDC, FDA, and WHO.
  • Avoiding crowded indoor or poorly ventilated areas, especially if you are at high risk of getting severely ill with COVID-19.
  • Improving the ventilation in your home and workplace.
  • Washing your hands frequently.
  • Getting tested when you know or think you were exposed, or before gathering with others.

Some people may choose to wear a mask for added protection, and we should respect everyone’s choice. Because wearing a mask reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission, CDC suggests wearing a high-quality mask when there are higher COVID-19 levels in your area. People who are at higher risk of severe illness may also choose to wear a mask to lower their risk of getting sick.
 

Is there medicine for COVID-19?

Yes. If you have tested positive for COVID-19, you may be able to get medicine to help you recover. These medications can help keep you from getting seriously sick and keep you out of the hospital. Some of these medications require an injection or IV, and others can be given as pills taken by mouth.

All of these medications must be started very soon after you develop COVID-19. It is important that you get tested as soon as possible to get these medications. Some providers offer both testing and medicine at the same location.

There are also some medications recommended by the National Institutes of Health for severely ill people who are hospitalized.
 

Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?

Yes. The FDA has approved and authorized multiple COVID-19 vaccines. COVID-19 vaccines are available to all Coloradans aged 6 months and older. For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, read our vaccine FAQ.


Who is at risk for COVID-19?

Everyone is at risk of getting COVID-19. People at the greatest risk of infection are people who:

  • Have not been vaccinated or who have not received all vaccine doses recommended for them.
  • Have been to areas where widespread community transmission is occurring.
  • Spent time in a poorly ventilated area with someone who has COVID-19.
  • Spent time in large groups or crowded areas.
  • Had direct or close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
     
What does “isolation” mean?

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19, you should stay away from other people for a certain amount of time while you are infectious. This is called “isolation.” Staying away from other people while you are contagious prevents the virus from spreading. Learn more about how to isolate.


Does COVID-19 stay in the air?

It can. Current evidence shows that some people catch COVID-19 after being exposed to small droplets and particles that stay in the air for minutes to hours after an infected person has left a space. This is more likely to happen in a poorly ventilated indoor space.


What is close contact?

Close contact means you have been in direct contact (like hugging, feeding, or being coughed on) with someone who is sick. You can also be exposed as a close contact if you are within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes over a 24-hour period. That doesn’t have to be 15 minutes in a row. If you were close to an infected person for five minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon on the same day, you’ve had close contact with someone with COVID-19.  When many people in your community have COVID-19, it is possible to have close contact and be exposed without knowing it because you are more likely to have contact with people who are infected.

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Businesses and employment

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Can I get paid time off from work if I am sick or if I need to get vaccinated?

Yes. Under Colorado’s Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, you have the right to take paid time off if you get sick or you need to care for a family member with COVID-19.

You can also take paid time off while you go to your vaccine appointment or take a family member to get vaccinated. If you have side effects from the vaccine that keep you from working, you can take paid time off while you recover as well.


I am at higher risk. How can I stay safe at work?

Ask your employer about their COVID-19 plans and policies. If you are an employee with a disability who is at high risk, you can ask your employer to make reasonable accommodations under the ADA.

If you can, you should get a COVID-19 vaccine and stay up to date with recommended doses for the best possible protection from getting sick.

Wearing a well-fitting, high-quality mask, washing hands frequently, and having good ventilation at work can also help protect you from COVID-19.

Can my employer discriminate against me for being in a higher-risk group?

No, it’s illegal to discriminate against anyone based on age, disability, or pregnancy. Anyone believing they have been discriminated against or not accommodated should contact the Colorado Civil Rights Division or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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Data

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How many cases of COVID-19 have there been in Colorado? ... in the United States? ... in the world? How many people have died?

Find the latest data for Colorado on our COVID-19 data dashboard.

Find COVID-19 data for the United States on CDC’s website.

Find COVID-19 data for other countries on the World Health Organization’s website.


How up to date is Colorado’s data?

It varies depending on the data source and when the data is reported to the state.

Vital records data is updated periodically after the CDC codes the data. We report out vital records data to account for deaths from COVID-19.

Epidemiological data, like the number of COVID-associated hospitalizations and the percentage of emergency department visits for COVID-19, is updated every Wednesday at 4 p.m.

Please note that the data is only as up to date as what has been reported to the state. You may notice lags in data or changes in numbers as labs, hospitals, facilities, and local agencies report their data to the state.


How is it determined which county a case belongs in?

Cases and deaths are attributed to the county of residence of each individual according to guidelines published by CDC.


What’s the difference between confirmed, probable, and suspect cases?

Cases of COVID-19 can be classified as suspect, probable, or confirmed. Our data and CDC’s data include confirmed and probable cases. Colorado aligns with current case definitions published by CDC.  However, regardless of whether a person is a confirmed, probable, or suspect case, they should follow isolation guidance and their close contacts should follow the guidance for people who have been exposed.
 

What does the race/ethnicity data show?

Tracking and collecting racial and ethnic data is vital for our health care system to achieve equity and eliminate disparities.

Race and ethnicity data presented on the COVID-19 data page represents more than 95% of all reported COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths. Records with an unknown race or ethnicity are excluded from these calculations.

The state is working with hospitals and medical providers that interact directly with patients to encourage them to collect and report this data.

As an important note, race and ethnicity data may be incomplete if it is not collected or reported by health care providers.
 

What do the recovery and hospital data show?

Individual hospitals and health systems report data about hospitalized patients with COVID-19 directly to CDPHE. This allows us to track the number of people hospitalized with COVID and how severe their illness is.

The Colorado Hospital Association also shares hospitalization data with CDPHE through a data-sharing agreement.

What do the death data mean?

Deaths due to COVID-19 are deaths where COVID-19 is an underlying cause of death, or named as a significant contributing condition on the death certificate. This data rests on the judgment and assessment of the person completing the death certificate (usually the provider if the patient is in the hospital or a county coroner). The information is then sent to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) at CDC, which then verifies and codes the death.

To monitor current trends in deaths due to COVID-19, Colorado uses CDC provisional data which represents deaths that have occurred in Colorado, for residents and non-residents, for which COVID-19 was determined to be the underlying cause of death. These data are updated weekly, and are displayed by the month a person died.

Read more about CDC-reported provisional death counts.

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Diagnosed with/exposed to COVID-19

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I have been diagnosed with or am showing symptoms of COVID-19 — what should I do?

If you test positive for COVID-19, have symptoms but haven’t been able to get tested, or are waiting for the results of your test, stay away from others and follow the instructions on how to isolate.

If you have a positive test result for COVID-19, public health may contact you to collect information about your exposures and give you more information about preventing transmission to others.

You may be able to get medicine to help you recover. Learn more about medicine for COVID-19.

Coloradans who are sick and test negative for COVID-19 should continue to stay home while they are sick. They may consult with their health care provider about whether they should get tested again with a more sensitive test.

If you need medical advice, call a health care provider or nurse line. If you are having a medical emergency, call 9-1-1. Tell the dispatcher about your symptoms.

I think I have been exposed to COVID-19, but I’m not showing symptoms — what should I do?

If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19, but you don’t have symptoms, follow the instructions on how to take precautions around others for 10 full days. You should get tested five full days after the date you think you were exposed, even if you don’t develop symptoms. If you are only going to take one test, a PCR test is preferable; a negative result from an antigen (at-home) test may need to be confirmed by a PCR test or additional antigen tests. If you get tested too early, there may not be enough viral material for the test to detect, and you still may become contagious to others later. To get a PCR test, contact your health care provider or find a local pharmacy that has PCR tests.

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Pets

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Can I give my household pets COVID-19? Can they give it to me or other animals?

While it is believed to be rare, there have been some animals that have gotten COVID-19 from their owners or caregivers. The risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is low.

To learn more, visit CDC’s webpage What You Should Know about COVID-19 and Pets.

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Pregnancy and breast/chestfeeding

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Am I at higher risk of COVID-19 if I’m pregnant or was recently pregnant?

If you are pregnant or were recently pregnant, you are at higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19. Severe illness may include needing to be hospitalized, intensive care (ICU), a ventilator, or special equipment to help you breathe. Those who are pregnant and get sick with COVID-19 may be at increased risk for other pregnancy complications, including preterm birth (earlier than 37 weeks) and stillbirth. 

The best way to protect yourself and your baby from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. There is now more evidence than ever about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy.

If I’m pregnant and get COVID-19, will my baby get COVID-19 too?

Based on current research, it appears unlikely that those who are pregnant pass COVID-19 onto their baby before or during birth. COVID-19 has not been detected in amniotic fluid, human milk, or other birth samples. However, after birth, a newborn can get COVID-19 from the birth parent or other people.

If I’m pregnant and have COVID-19, can I get medicine?

Those who are pregnant and have COVID-19 may be able to get medicine to help them recover. Talk with a health care provider about COVID-19 medicine. It’s important that you ask about treatment as soon as possible. Medicine for COVID-19 needs to be taken within a few days of when you started feeling sick to work well. Learn more about getting medicine for COVID-19.

If I have COVID-19 when I give birth, will my baby be able to stay with me?

Yes. You can follow your hospital or birth center’s usual policy on staying in the same room together with your baby, even if you have COVID-19. 
There are many benefits to having your baby stay in the same room as you after delivery, even if you have COVID-19. Rooming together may help you bond with your baby and help you start breast/chestfeeding if desired. Current reports suggest that the risk of a baby getting COVID-19 does not change based on whether the baby stays with you or in a separate room. Staying in a separate room may be recommended if you are very sick and unable to care for your baby.

Visit the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) website for more information.

Is it safe to feed my baby human milk if I have or think I may have COVID-19?

Yes. Human milk is the best source of nutrition and protects babies from getting sick. Studies suggest human milk does not transmit COVID-19. Breast/chestfeeding helps strengthen your baby’s immune system because human milk contains antibodies and other important components. Research has found COVID-19 antibodies in human milk after a COVID-19 infection and COVID-19 vaccination in the lactating person. If you have COVID-19 or think you may have COVID-19, you may chest/breastfeed directly or express your milk for a healthy caregiver to feed to your baby. See CDC’s webpage on COVID-19 and breastfeeding for more information. 

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Testing

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Who should get tested for COVID-19 in Colorado?

Anyone who wants a test can and should get one. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, which can feel like a cold, you should get tested as soon as possible, even if you’re vaccinated or aren’t sure if you’ve been exposed. Follow instructions on how to isolate until you feel better.

If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19, you should take precautions to prevent potential disease transmission. Get tested at least five full days after your last exposure, even if you don’t develop symptoms.
 

Where can I get tested?

Many Coloradans can get tested through their usual health care provider or at a local pharmacy. Find where to get a COVID-19 test in Colorado.


Will I have to pay to be tested for COVID-19?

Some insurance plans cover COVID-19 testing. No-cost and low-cost tests are available for people without insurance at locations participating in the federal Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) program.


Where do I find out my test results for COVID-19?

The health care provider or pharmacy where you took the test will communicate your results to you.


How long will it take to get my COVID-19 test results?

If you took a PCR test, you may get your result in one to three days depending on the type of test and the facility where you got tested. Some facilities may take longer than three days to return your test result during times of high demand.

Rapid at-home tests give results within 15 to 30 minutes.


Will my test results tell me if I am infected with a variant of COVID-19?

No. Your test results will only tell you if your test detected the virus that causes COVID-19, not the specific variant you have. However, the COVID-19 data dashboard shows which variants are most prevalent throughout the state.
 

Do I need to report my COVID-19 test results to state or local public health?

No. If you get tested at a provider's office or pharmacy, the lab that processed your test or the health care provider who ordered it will report your test results to public health.

Can a person test negative and later test positive for COVID-19?

Yes. A negative test result means that the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in the person’s sample. This can happen when a person is tested too early in their incubation period and there isn’t enough viral material for the test to detect. False negative PCR results are unlikely, but can occur if a sample was collected improperly or not handled or stored at proper temperatures. If your PCR test is negative and you got tested while you had symptoms, it is likely that you do not have COVID-19. Your symptoms may be due to a different illness.

Rapid antigen tests (also known as at-home rapid tests) can offer faster results, but they are less sensitive than PCR tests. If you have symptoms and you test negative using a rapid test, you may need to take a PCR test to confirm the results; alternatively you can confirm your result with two additional antigen tests taken 48 hours apart. People who test positive using a rapid test are very likely to have COVID-19 and must isolate, even if an earlier rapid test was negative.


What are the different types of COVID-19 tests?

There are two main types of COVID-19 tests:

1. Molecular diagnostic test, also called a PCR test (Polymerase Chain Reaction) or NAAT (nucleic acid amplification test). The main features of PCR tests are:

  • The virus is diagnosed by its genetic fingerprint (the RNA of the virus).
  • These tests are the most accurate ones available. They were created to be highly specific to the COVID-19 virus, thereby detecting early infection and minimizing false positive or negative results.
  • These tests require skilled staff and sophisticated lab equipment.
  • They take more time to get results.
  • They require swabbing your nose, mouth, or throat, or collecting a saliva sample.

2. Antigen diagnostic test, also known as a rapid test: The main features of these tests are:

  • Antigen tests detect proteins unique to the virus that are shed in patient tissues, like the nostrils or saliva.
  • They are less sensitive than PCR tests, so they may have false negative results. False positive results are very rare.
  • They produce quick results.
  • They don’t require lab equipment.
  • They involve swabbing your nose or throat.
  • They can be performed in a lab, at a point of care, or at home (via self testing).
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Travel

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What precautions should I take while traveling?

As with other activities, vaccination provides the best protection against COVID-19 during travel. Getting up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines before travel lowers your risk. For those who are not up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations, airline travel may be riskier because of time spent around others in airport lines and terminals.

For any trip, consider what you will do if you become ill or exposed while away, and always check restrictions in the area to which you are traveling.

Do not travel:

  • If you are sick.
  • If you have tested positive for COVID-19. If you tested positive and you are symptomatic, do not travel until 10 full days after your symptoms started. If you are asymptomatic, do not travel until 10 full days after you tested positive.
  • If you are waiting for the results of a COVID-19 test.

If you were exposed to COVID-19, wear a high-quality mask any time you are around others inside your home or indoors in public for 10 full days after your exposure. Do not go places where you are unable to wear a mask.

CDC’s travel website has more information.

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COVID-19 medicine

If you test positive for COVID-19, you may be able to get medicine to help you recover. Medicine may help keep you from getting seriously sick from COVID-19.

There are COVID-19 medicine providers across Colorado. In addition, Coloradans can use the federal Test to Treat program to seek antiviral medicine. In this program, people can get tested for COVID-19 or present a positive test result, get a prescription for medicine from a health care provider (if appropriate), and have their prescription filled on-site

Learn more about getting medicine for COVID-19.

 

Vaccines

COVID-19 vaccines are widely available. All Coloradans aged 6 months and older can get a COVID-19 vaccine. Learn more about COVID-19 vaccines.
 

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