Coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19 Chicago Department of Public Health Frequently Asked Questions

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Symptoms may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure. At this time, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications approved to treat it. The best way to prevent infection is to take everyday preventive actions, like avoiding close contact with people who are sick and washing your hands often.

The latest situation summary updates are available on CDC’s web page Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

  • How does the virus spread?
    • The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest).
    • 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, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
  • How is it treated?
    • There is no specific medicine to treat COVID-19 infection at this time, though studies are underway. People sick with COVID-19 should receive supportive care from a health care professional. Supportive care means care to help relieve symptoms; for example, medicine to bring down fevers, or oxygen if a patient’s oxygen level is low.
  • How is COVID-19 diagnosed?
    • Diagnosis occurs through laboratory testing of respiratory specimens and serum (blood). Some coronavirus strains cause the common cold and patients tested by their health care provider may test positive for these types.
  • For the majority of people, the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be low. There is not widespread circulation in most communities in the United States.
  • People in places where ongoing community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated risk of exposure, with increase in risk dependent on the location.
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 also are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Travelers returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure, with increase in risk dependent on location.

Most cases of COVID-19 result in mild illness. To date, children also seem less likely to become ill. But people who are older or those who have other health conditions are more likely to have serious illness. Those at higher risk include:

  • People over 60 years of age. The risk increases significantly thereafter and escalates with age, with persons over age 80 in the highest risk category.
  • People, regardless of age, with underlying health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or chronic lung diseases like COPD, as well as those with severely weakened immune systems.

The best way for all Chicagoans to reduce their risk of getting sick with COVID-19 and many other respiratory illnesses is by practicing these simple common sense preventative actions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, especially if you are at higher risk for serious illness.
  • Practice enhanced hygiene:
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
    • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
    • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, countertops and phones.
    • Try alternatives to shaking hands, like an elbow bump or wave.
  • Take special precautions when attending large gatherings where several people are within arms-length of you and practice enhanced hygiene. People at higher risk should avoid large gatherings.
  • Talk to your employer about telecommuting options, telephone conferences and staggering work start and end times.
  • Practice enhanced hygiene if you use public transportation. For those at higher risk, if you use public transportation and the train or bus is too full, wait for the next one. If possible, walk or bike.
  • Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy foods, and manage your stress to keep your immunity strong.
  • If you have recently returned from a country, state or region with ongoing spread of COVID-19, monitor your health and follow the instructions of public health officials.

CDPH does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Face masks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).

If you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing but have not been around anyone who you know has COVID-19, follow the steps below to help prevent your infection from spreading to people in your home and community.

  • Could I have COVID-19?
    • The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and difficulty breathing. If you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing but have not been around anyone who you know has COVID-19, the likelihood that you have COVID-19 is fairly low. COVID-19 is circulating in some communities in the United States but several other respiratory viruses are circulating as well.
  • Who is at higher risk of severe illness?
    • Those at higher risk include:
      • People over 60 years of age. The risk increases significantly thereafter and escalates with age, with persons over age 80 in the highest risk category.
      • People, regardless of age, with underlying health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or chronic lung diseases like COPD, as well as those with severely weakened immune systems.
  • Should I go to my doctor and get tested for COVID-19?
    • If you have any of the conditions that may increase your risk for a serious viral infection—age 60 years or over, are pregnant, or have medical conditions—call your physician’s office and ask if you need to be evaluated in person. They may want to monitor your health more closely or test you for influenza.
    • If you do NOT have a high-risk condition and your symptoms are mild, you do not need to be evaluated in person and do not need to be tested for COVID-19. There are currently no medications to treat COVID-19.
  • What should I do to keep my infection from spreading to my family and other people in the community?
    • Stay home except to get medical care
      • You should restrict activities outside your home, except for getting medical care. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
      • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home:
      • People: As much as possible, you should stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. Also, you should use a separate bathroom, if available.
      • Animals: Do not handle pets or other animals while sick.
    • Call ahead before visiting your doctor
      • If you have a medical appointment, call the healthcare provider and tell them that you have symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19. This will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
    • Wear a face mask
      • You should wear a face mask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) or pets and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a face mask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then people who live with you should not be in the same room with you, or they should wear a face mask if they enter your room.
    • Cover your coughs and sneezes
      • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in a lined trash can; immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 to 95% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Soap and water is preferred if hands are visibly dirty.
    • Avoid sharing personal household items
      • You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
    • Clean your hands often
      • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Soap and water is preferred if hands are visibly dirty. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
    • Clean all “high-touch” surfaces every day
      • High touch surfaces include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables. Also, clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool, or body fluids on them. Use a household cleaning spray or wipe, according to the label instructions. Labels contain instructions for safe and effective use of the cleaning product including precautions you should take when applying the product, such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use of the product.
    • Monitor your symptoms
      • Seek prompt medical attention if your illness is worsening (e.g., difficulty breathing). Before seeking care, call your healthcare provider and tell them that your symptoms are consistent with COVID-19. Put on a face mask before you enter the facility. These steps will help the healthcare provider’s office to keep other people in the office or waiting room from getting your infection.
      • If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, notify the dispatch personnel that you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. If possible, put on a face mask before emergency medical services arrive.
    • Discontinuing home isolation
      • If you have fever, cough or difficulty breathing and have not been around anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should stay home away from others until 72 hours after the fever is gone and symptoms get better.

If you think you have been exposed to someone with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, follow the steps below to monitor your health and avoid spreading the disease to others if you get sick.

  • What is coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?
    • COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that can spread from person to person. The most common symptoms of the disease are fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Most people with COVID-19 will have mild disease but some people will get sicker and may need to be hospitalized.
  • Who is at higher risk of severe illness?
    • Those at higher risk include:
      • People over 60 years of age. The risk increases significantly thereafter and escalates with age, with persons over age 80 in the highest risk category.
      • People, regardless of age, with underlying health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or chronic lung diseases like COPD, as well as those with severely weakened immune systems.
  • How do I know if I was exposed?
    • You generally need to be in close contact with a sick person to get infected. Close contact includes:
      • Living in the same household as a sick person with COVID-19,
      • Caring for a sick person with COVID-19,
      • Being within 6 feet of a sick person with COVID-19 for about 10 minutes, OR
      • Being in direct contact with secretions from a sick person with COVID-19 (e.g., being coughed on, kissing, sharing utensils, etc.).
    • If you have not been in close contact with a sick person with COVID-19, you are considered to be at low risk for infection. You can continue to go to work and school, but should monitor your health for 14 days and stay away from others if you get sick.
  • What should I do if I am a close contact to someone with COVID-19 but am not sick?
    • You should monitor your health for fever, cough and difficulty breathing during the 14 days after the last day you were in close contact with the sick person with COVID-19. You should not go to work or school, and should avoid public places for 14 days.
  • What should I do if I am a close contact to someone with COVID-19 and get sick?
    • If you get sick with fever, cough or difficulty breathing (even if your symptoms are very mild), you should stay at home and away from other people. If you have any of the following conditions that may increase your risk for a serious infection —age 60 years or over, are pregnant, or have medical conditions—contact your physician’s office and tell them that you were exposed to someone with COVID-19. They may want to monitor your health more closely or test you for COVID-19.
    • If you do not have a high-risk condition but want medical advice, you can call your healthcare provider and tell them that you were exposed to someone with COVID-19. Your healthcare provider can help you decide if you need to be evaluated in person. There are currently no medications to treat COVID-19. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, notify the dispatch personnel that you may have been exposed to COVID-19. If possible, put on a face mask before emergency medical services arrive or immediately after they arrive.

If you are sick and have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or suspected to have COVID-19 because you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, follow the steps below to help prevent the disease from spreading to people in your home and community.

  • Symptoms of COVID-19
    • The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and difficulty breathing. If you have been exposed to someone with laboratory confirmed COVID-19 and are experiencing fever with either cough or difficulty breathing, you might have COVID-19. You can contact your doctor to see if you need to be tested. If you have tested positive for COVID-19 or are suspected to have COVID-19 but are not tested, you should follow the below instructions.
  • Who is at higher risk of severe illness?
    • Those at higher risk include:
      • People over 60 years of age. The risk increases significantly thereafter and escalates with age, with persons over age 80 in the highest risk category.
      • People, regardless of age, with underlying health conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or chronic lung diseases like COPD, as well as those with severely weakened immune systems.
  • Stay home except to get medical care
    • You should restrict activities outside your home, except for getting medical care. Do not go to work, school, or public areas. Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home
    • People: As much as possible, you should stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. Also, you should use a separate bathroom, if available.
    • Animals: Do not handle pets or other animals while sick.
  • Call ahead before visiting your doctor
    • If you have a medical appointment, call the healthcare provider and tell them that you have or may have COVID-19. This will help the healthcare provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
  • Wear a face mask
    • You should wear a face mask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) or pets and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a face mask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then people who live with you should not be in the same room with you, or they should wear a face mask if they enter your room.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in a lined trash can; immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 to 95% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Soap and water is preferred if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items
    • You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Clean your hands often
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Soap and water is preferred if hands are visibly dirty. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean all “high-touch” surfaces every day
    • High touch surfaces include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables. Also, clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool, or body fluids on them. Use a household cleaning spray or wipe, according to the label instructions. Labels contain instructions for safe and effective use of the cleaning product including precautions you should take when applying the product, such as wearing gloves and making sure you have good ventilation during use of the product.
  • Monitor your symptoms
    • Seek prompt medical attention if your illness is worsening (e.g., difficulty breathing). Before seeking care, call your healthcare provider and tell them that you have, or are being evaluated for, COVID-19. Put on a facemask before you enter the facility. These steps will help the healthcare provider’s office to keep other people in the office or waiting room from getting infected or exposed.
  • Ask your healthcare provider to call the local or state health department to discuss your situation.
    • If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, notify the dispatch personnel that you have, or may have COVID-19. If possible, put on a face mask before emergency medical services arrive.
  • Discontinuing home isolation
    • If you have tested positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and do not require medical attention, you should remain under home isolation precautions for 7 days from start of symptoms (if multiple symptoms, then from start of cough) OR until 72 hours after fever is gone and symptoms get better, whichever is longer.
    • If you have fever with cough or difficulty breathing but have NOT been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and have NOT tested positive for COVID-19, you should stay home away from others until 72 hours after the fever is gone and symptoms get better.
    • For additional information for your household members, intimate partners, and caregivers, see CDC’s Guidance for preventing COVID-19 from spreading.

CDPH strongly recommends avoiding travel to countries and areas where we see widespread sustained transmission of COVID-19. Because COVID-19 can be more serious in older adults and those with chronic medical conditions, people in these groups should avoid all non-essential travel. If you must travel, take the following routine precautions:

  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean your hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty.
    • It is especially important to clean hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.

The latest travel updates are available on CDC’s COVID-19 web page for travelers.

Travelers returning from any country with a Travel Alert Level 3 should stay home and monitor their health for up to 14 days. Please follow instructions during this time. Your cooperation is integral to the ongoing public health response to try to slow the spread of this virus. 

  • Do not go to school or work. Absences for this purpose should be excused and alternate arrangements should be made for teleworking and online school assignments.
  • Take your temperature with a thermometer 2 times a day and watch your health.
  • If you develop a fever (100.4F/38C) or cough, seek medical care right away. Call ahead before going to a doctor’s office or emergency room. Tell them your symptoms and that you were in an affected area. You could also call CDPH at 312-746-7425 (SICK) during business hours, after hours call 311 and request to speak to the Medical Director on call. In the case of a medical emergency, call 911.

Travelers returning from any country with a Travel Alert Level 2 are also encouraged to monitor their health but do not need to limit their movement or activity. If you develop COVID-19 symptoms, contact your healthcare provider, and tell them about your symptoms and your recent travel to an area with community spread of COVID-19.

What if I recently traveled to an area affected by COVID-19 and got sick?

If you were in a country with a COVID-19 outbreak and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, within 14 days after you left, you should

  • Seek medical advice – Call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room. Tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
  • Avoid contact with others.
  • Not travel on public transportation while sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to avoid spreading the virus to others.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water immediately after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

If you are a healthcare provider, be on the look-out for:

  • People who recently traveled from China or another affected area and who have symptoms associated with COVID-19, and
  • People who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 or pneumonia of unknown cause.

New CDC Interim Infection Control Guidance now allows for testing in the outpatient settings. Patients and community members should not be directed to local health departments (including the CDPH coronavirus hotline or CDPH SICK line) for decision making about testing. PUI authorization is now completed online: providers should not call CDPH or 311 for routine PUI authorization, instead complete the online form and you will receive authorization codes by email. Further guidance and additional information can be found at www.chicagohan.org/COVID-19.