What you should know about the new coronavirus

Person vigorously washing hands in sink

As news about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) continues to evolve, there is still much to learn. While researchers continue to look for answers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that you follow the advice given every flu season.

What can you do?

Take precautions as you would with the normal seasonal flu. There is no vaccine for the virus that causes COVID-19 at this time, although many scientists are working around the clock on this. The CDC recommends washing your hands often to stay healthy, especially during these key times when you are likely to get or spread germs:1,2

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

The following hand washing procedures will help reduce your risk of infection:3

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick

If you have flu-like symptoms and suspect COVID-19, you can help protect others:4

  • Seek medical advice – Call ahead before you go to a doctor’s office, urgent care, retail clinic, or emergency room. Tell them about your symptoms and any recent travel. If you have life-threatening symptoms, dial 9-1-1 immediately.
  • Stay home while you are sick
  • Avoid close contact with others
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces

In addition, the CDC recommends that everyone wear cloth face coverings when leaving their homes, regardless of whether they have a fever or symptoms of COVID-19. This is due to evidence that people with COVID-19 can spread the disease even when they don’t have any symptoms.5

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses known to cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more serious respiratory diseases. A novel (in other words, new) coronavirus is a new strain of coronavirus that had not been identified previously in humans. The “corona” part of the name refers to the crown- or corona-like surface of such viruses as viewed under a microscope.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Patients have reported respiratory illness ranging from mild to severe.6

Why should you care?

In a world that is globally connected, viral outbreaks in one country can impact others. Cases of COVID-19 have been reported worldwide, including in the U.S., with the largest numbers reported so far inside China, according to situation reports from the World Health Organization.7

The CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China, Iran, South Korea, Italy and other countries with high numbers of COVID-19 reports.8

Scientists, government agencies and many others are working to expand scientific knowledge about the new virus and to protect health and prevent the spread of this outbreak.9

To learn more or stay up to date, visit the CDC website, opens new window and check out the CDC’s travel guidance, opens new window. You can also learn more from the World Health Organization, opens new window.

Revised June 2, 2020


  1. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Prevention & Treatment,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed March 6, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention-treatment.html, opens new window.
  2. “When and How To Wash Your Hands,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed March 6, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html, opens new window
  3. “When and How to Wash Your Hands.”
  4. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Prevention & Treatment.”
  5. “Important Information about Your Cloth Face Coverings,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed May 26, 2020 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/cloth-face-coverings-information.pdf, opens new window
  6. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Symptoms,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed March 6, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/symptoms.html, opens new window.
  7. “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation reports,” World Health Organization, last accessed March 6, 2020, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports, opens new window.
  8. “Novel Coronavirus Information for Travelers,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed March 6, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html, opens new window.
  9. “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,” World Health Organization, last accessed March 6, 2020, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019, opens new window