About COVID-19

COVID-19 is a member of the coronavirus family of viruses and causes the respiratory infection known as coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19.

Updated: September 17, 2020

COVID-19 spread

According to the CDC, COVID-19 is spreading very easily and sustainably:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (prolonged face to face contact, usually 10-15 minutes, within about 6 feet).
  • Via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes and the droplets land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly inhaled into the lungs.
  • People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest).

While it may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching one's own mouth, nose, or eyes—or from someone who is infected but not showing symptoms—this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Current evidence suggests a typical incubation period (time from exposure of the virus to the development of symptoms) of 2 to 14 days.

Last updated: June 17, 2020 11:30 AM

Symptoms of COVID-19

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia and other complications, especially in infants, older individuals, and in those with underlying health conditions.

Last updated: June 17, 2020 11:30 AM

Determining whether your illness is COVID-19

COVID-19 symptoms and cold/flu symptoms are similar. 

Students that have symptoms of fever, cough, breathing challenges, and are feeling concerned should call Columbia Health at 212- 854-7426. Faculty and staff should call their primary care provider or use the tools on the Human Resources website.  

Please also exercise the usual precautions associated with seasonal illnesses like colds and flu.

  • Stay home to rest, monitor your symptoms, and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Only travel to get medical care when necessary, avoid public transportation, and wear a face covering.
  • Contact your health care provider (see above) for guidance.
  • Limit contact with other household members.
  • Do not share items like drinking glasses, towels, eating utensils.
  • Wipe down high touch surfaces (e.g. doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and bathroom surfaces) often with a standard household disinfectant such as Clorox® wipes.

Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If your or someone you know is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately.

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

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

Last updated: June 17, 2020 11:30 AM

COVID-19 complications in children

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) has been associated with COVID-19. Learn more about this condition, current treatment, prevention, and what to do if you suspect your child has MIS-C on the CDC website.

Last updated: June 17, 2020 11:30 AM

Risk of COVID-19 death

Currently available data show that most of the deaths have been in more vulnerable groups, including the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. Similar to the flu, these populations are at increased risk for more severe illness.

Pets or animal transmission

At this time, the risk of COVID-19 spreading from animals to people is considered to be low. It appears that the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread from people to animals in some situations. Visit the CDC website for more information about pets and COVID-19.

Last updated: June 17, 2020 11:30 AM

Feces and the spread of COVID-19 in public restrooms

At this time, according to the CDC, there is no definitive evidence that feces or aerosolization of fecal matter can transmit the virus that causes COVID-19. Thus, the best ways to minimize any potential risk when using public restroom facilities is to practice physical distancing, wearing of face coverings and thorough washing of hands. Also see Reopening Columbia FAQs about Restrooms, including Toilet Lids.

Updated: September 17, 2020 

About coronaviruses

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses such as the common cold and more severe illnesses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and COVID-19

Coronaviruses commonly circulate in animals and sometimes also infect humans. COVID-19 is believed to have originated from animals.



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