Last updated: 4/30/20

The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes (COVID-19) are a global pandemic. It’s critical that everyone does their part to limit the spread of the virus, as people without symptoms or with mild symptoms can still spread the virus to others.

Risk in the U.S. and Canada

  • Current risk of contracting COVID-19 in the U.S. and Canada varies by community based on the extent of the outbreak and the success of mitigation efforts.
  • While the majority of people who contract COVID-19 will experience only mild symptoms, the disease does bring risk for serious and life-threatening health conditions. Even people at low risk for serious health complications should take steps to protect groups who would be at higher risk if they got the disease.
  • Risk for more serious health effects is highest among:
    • Older adults (age 65 and up)
    • People with underlying health conditions (e.g., heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, cancer)
    • People with weakened immune systems
  • The majority of deaths caused by COVID-19 have occurred among people falling into at least one of these higher risk categories.

Transmission & Exposure

  • Transmission: Spread primarily through airborne respiratory droplets during coughing, sneezing and regular breathing. Being in close proximity (less than six feet) to an infected person, especially in enclosed spaces, may result in transmission. Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands, or touching an object with the virus on it, followed by touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands can spread the virus.
  • Secondary spread: People who have recovered from COVID-19 may still be able to transmit the virus to others. The risk of transmission after recovery is likely substantially less than during illness.
  • Asymptomatic spread: The CDC reports that about 25 percent of people who get the virus remain asymptomatic and never get sick. However, these people are still able to spread the virus to others.
  • Diagnosis: If you suspect you have COVID-19, call your healthcare provider. A lab test may be performed and sent to the CDC.
  • Known or suspected exposure: Self-quarantine for 14 days to prevent potentially spreading the virus to others.
  • Secondary infection: The duration of immunity to SARS-CoV-2 is not yet known. The World Health Organization suggests people are not immune to getting the virus again.

Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

  • Incubation: For people who develop symptoms, it takes between 2-14 days for symptoms to appear after exposure. During this time period, people are contagious and able to pass on the virus. The average onset of symptoms is around 5 days.
  • Symptoms: Mild to moderate respiratory symptoms similar to the flu. People may experience these symptoms or a combination of symptoms:
    • Cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
    • At least two of these symptoms: fever (100.4°F or greater), chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell
    • In serious cases, these symptoms progress to pneumonia and other life-threatening respiratory conditions.
    • Emergency warning signs include trouble breathing, persistent pain in the chest, confusion or sluggishness and bluish lips or face; seek medical attention.
  • Treatment: There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19 and no specific treatment beyond those typically prescribed for seasonal flu. If you are sick with COVID-19 or suspect COVID-19 is causing your illness, focus on supportive care to relieve symptoms. Do the following to help prevent the disease from spreading:
    • Keep in contact with your healthcare provider.
    • Stay home except to get medical care. Don’t go to work, school or public areas and avoid public transportation.
    • If you must go out in public, wear a surgical mask or similar facial covering and avoid close contact with other people.
    • Call ahead before visiting your doctor so the office can take steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.
    • Seek medical attention if your conditions worsen (e.g., difficulty breathing).
    • Clean “high-touch” surfaces every day with a household cleaning spray or wipe.
    • Avoid sharing personal household items like drinking glasses, utensils or bedding. Wash these items thoroughly with soap and water after use.
  • Employers should encourage workers with known exposure or who are symptomatic to stay home or use available telework options. Employers should consider the feasibility of allowing workers who are sick or suspected of being sick to stay home without punitive measures such as loss of pay.

Preventing & Limiting the Spread of the Virus: Protect Yourself & Others

  • Follow orders, guidance and recommendations from federal and state agencies. Examples include respecting requests to stay indoors, practicing social distancing and avoiding non-essential travel.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Follow CDC recommendations to wear a facial covering in public places (e.g., grocery stores, pharmacies) when close proximity to other people may be unavoidable.
  • Practice social distancing by limiting person-to-person contact within six feet, especially in large groups or in enclosed spaces.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean “high-touch” surfaces every day with a household cleaning spray or wipe.

Preventing & Limiting the Spread of the Virus: Frontline Workers

In addition to the guidelines above, workers who come in contact with infected persons, such as healthcare workers, should take additional precautions. In addition to the steps above, these workers should:

  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE). This may include N95 respirators, gloves, gowns or other protective clothing and eye protection. If an N95 respirator is not available due to supply, workers should wear the most protective mask available until an N95 becomes available.
  • Be trained on safe donning, doffing and disposal of PPE to avoid infectious disease transmission.
  • Be medically able to wear the type of respirator needed and fit-tested to wear it. A respirator can’t protect you if it doesn’t fit your face.
  • Be aware of the differences between surgical masks and N95s. Surgical masks do not protect the wearer from airborne respiratory droplets. Remember: surgical masks protect others from you; N95s protect you from others.

Note: The CDC provides additional guidance on how critical infrastructure workers who may have been exposed but remain asymptomatic can continue to work to ensure continuity of essential functions.

Essential Travel & Alternatives

  • If you are sick or suspect you have the virus, do not travel.
  • The CDC recommends you stay home as much as possible, especially if your trip is not essential. Avoid non-essential travel on commercial airlines, trains and buses for work or personal use.
  • Consider the importance of attending events in person versus the risk, and act accordingly.
  • Travel options may vary across the country. When making travel plans, take into account the circumstances where you live, where you’re going and the planned route.

Additional Resources

For more information on guidance for employers and workers, household preparation, dealing with mental health impacts and other topics, visit the Fund’s Coronavirus & COVID-19 Resource page at For specific questions not covered above, contact the Fund at 202-628-5465 or by email at