About COVID-19

COVID-19 is a condition that is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a new member of the coronavirus family, which is transmitted largely through the respiratory route. COVID-19 can affect various organs in the body, but most commonly affecting the respiratory system.

Updated: July 20, 2021

COVID-19 is a condition that is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a new member of the coronavirus family, which is transmitted largely through the respiratory route. COVID-19 can affect various organs in the body, but most commonly affecting the respiratory system.

Key Facts:

  • Most people who get infected with SARS-CoV-2 have mild symptoms, but some people become severely ill.
  • Older adults and people who have certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk of severe illness.
  • The virus has spread rapidly around the world and hundreds of thousands of people have died from COVID-19 in the United States.
  • Vaccines against COVID-19 have been identified and several have been shown to be safe and effective.

COVID-19 Spread


According to the CDC, COVID-19 is spread in three main ways, most commonly through the first two:

  • Breathing in air when close to an infected person who is exhaling small droplets and particles that contain the virus.
  • Having these small droplets and particles that contain virus land on the eyes, nose, or mouth, especially through splashes and sprays like a cough or sneeze.
  • Touching eyes, nose, or mouth with hands that have the virus on them.

People who are closer than 6 feet from the infected person are most likely to get infected especially for 10 minutes or more, irrespective of whether wearing or not wearing face covering. While it may be possible to get in 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.

Persons with COVID-19 can be completely asymptomatic and can transmit the virus to others. Current evidence suggests a typical incubation period (time from exposure of the virus to the development of symptoms) of 2 to 14 days and that a person with mild to moderate COVID-19 may shed virus up to 10 days following symptom onset, while a small proportion of persons with severe COVID-19, including immunocompromised persons, may shed replication-competent virus for up to 20 days.

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: July 19, 2021

Protecting Yourself From COVID-19:

  • Get vaccinated: Several vaccines are available with favorable safety provide and demonstrated efficacy in the prevention of COVID-19
  • Follow guidelines regarding masking and distancing
  • Stay home if sick  
  • Observe guidance regarding isolation or quarantine

Determining Whether Your Illness Is COVID-19

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

Individuals that have symptoms of fever, cough, difficulty breathing may have respiratory infection e.g. influenza, COVID-19. Please stay home if have such symptoms and contact provider, if symptoms get worse or do not resolve and get tested for SARS-CoV-2. Students should contact Columbia Health at 212- 854-7426 or CUIMC Student Health on Haven at 212-305-3400. 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.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 if you have had close contact with an individual with confirmed COVID-19 or symptoms do not improve or worsen
  • 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 severe 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: July 19, 2021

COVID-19 Complications in Children

Children are less likely to get sick with COVID-19. However, a rare syndrome called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) has been associated with COVID-19 in children. 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: July 19, 2021

Risk of COVID-19 Death

Currently available data show that most of the deaths from COVID-19 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. Consult with your provider regarding  several treatments available now for COVID-19.

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 SARS-CoV-2 can spread from people to animals in some situations. Visit the CDC website for more information about pets and COVID-19.

Last updated: July 19, 2021

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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