What is COVID-19?


COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) is a form of the coronavirus that infectious disease experts believe jumped from animals to people. COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and there are now multiple variants of this virus circulating around the globe. >> Get the latest updates

Virus mutations

Scientists have recently identified new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. This is not uncommon, as respiratory viruses can change often. The B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant, which was first identified in Great Britain, is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in Colorado, and the P.1 (“Brazilian”) and B.1.351 (“South African”) variants have been identified among Colorado coronavirus cases. Studies have shown that vaccines remain very effective against these variants.

The best way to protect yourself and others from new versions of COVID-19 is to continue wearing a mask, social distancing and washing your hands often.

What makes COVID-19 (coronavirus) different?


Michelle Barron, MD of UCHealth explains the difference between the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the flu.

People who have contracted COVID-19 have a range of symptoms, from mild, cold-like symptoms to severe respiratory symptoms like those found with pneumonia. Certain severe cases have resulted in death. At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that COVID-19 symptoms may appear in as few as 2 days or as many as 14 days after exposure.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Severe headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of smell or taste

According to the CDC, the virus appears to spread:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • From respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

What can you do to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?

  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine. Studies show that getting a COVID-19 vaccine may prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death.
  • Follow state and local guidelines regarding mask wearing and social distancing.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Wash for at least 20 seconds before you eat, after you sneeze and after using the bathroom.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in addition to hand-washing.
  • Regularly clean surfaces like counters and your mobile phone.
  • Avoid community candy jars and be careful at buffets where many people touch surfaces or utensils.
  • Sneeze and cough into a sleeve rather than into your hand or the air.
  • Avoid contact with anyone with cold or flu symptoms.
  • Stay home from work or school if you are sick.
  • If you’re sick or you are immune-compromised, avoid places with large numbers of people.

UCHealth is offering COVID-19 testing for people:

  • Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath.
  • Who have been in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19.
  • Who would like a test for medical procedures, work or travel.

Learn more or schedule a COVID-19 test.

Coronavirus symptoms

Treatment varies depending on the severity of the illness. About four out of five patients who get COVID-19 are likely to cope with mild to moderate symptoms, according to early research from China, where the virus first surfaced. These patients should isolate themselves at home and can recover from the illness as they would from influenza, by getting plenty of fluids, resting and treating any fevers or body aches with over the counter medications. People coping with a severe form of the coronavirus may develop pneumonia and other breathing difficulties. These patients may require hospitalization.

People who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or think they may have been exposed to COVID-19, should contact their health care provider immediately.

Monoclonal antibody therapy

For people at high risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, monoclonal antibody treatment given early can significantly reduce the risk of progressing to severe COVID-19 disease and needing hospitalization. The treatment can also shorten the duration of COVID-19 symptoms.

Learn more

Is there a vaccine to prevent COVID-19?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) to permit the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people who are 16 years old or older, and the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccines for people who are 18 years old or older.

Get the latest COVID-19 vaccine updates and information.

Who is most at risk after contracting COVID-19?

As with all viruses, some people are more vulnerable than others. According to the CDC, older adults and people who have certain underlying conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 illness. Also, according to data from China, the most vulnerable people include those with heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes and obesity.

What is UCHealth doing to keep patients safe?

UCHealth providers have deep experience caring for patients with infectious diseases. We are separating patients with suspected infections from healthy patients. UCHealth facilities that are caring for patients with COVID-19 have designated areas where caregivers isolate patients who may have COVID-19. Learn more at uchealth.org/covid19.

How do we know people will have access to care if they need it?

UCHealth leaders are teaming up with Colorado’s governor and leaders of other hospital systems to constantly monitor the number of available beds, supplies and staffing throughout the state. UCHealth providers are prepared to care for severely ill patients with COVID-19 in addition to other patients.

How long does it take to recover?

People with mild to moderate cases often report feeling better in a couple of weeks. For those with severe illness, it can take several weeks to recover. And, unfortunately, some people who are severely ill — particularly older people and those with other health challenges — can die from the virus. That’s why it’s so critical to get the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you and to continue to follow state and local safety guidelines.

How long are you contagious if you have it? Can you be contagious without symptoms?

If you have been exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or if you have any symptoms like a fever, a cough or cold symptoms, you should stay home and isolate yourself for at least 14 days. The best way to prevent the spread of the disease is to avoid spending time with other people.

If I have a health issue, am I at a high risk?

Older adults and people with pre-existing health conditions or suppressed immune systems are at greater risk for suffering poor outcomes if they get COVID-19. If you fall into one of these categories, getting the COVID-19 vaccine may protect you from severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Does the virus live on surfaces and for how long?

The virus spreads most easily from person to person through droplets from coughing and sneezing. Scientists found that the virus that causes COVID-19 will likely die within hours to days. Again, your best bet is to wash your hands often and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

Are all UCHealth hospitals and clinics open?

Yes, our primary care, urgent care, emergency rooms, specialty clinics and hospitals are open and safe. As we schedule appointments, we are taking every precaution possible to ensure it’s safe to see your doctor while receiving the highest level of care.

People with symptoms of COVID-19 should email or call their provider before seeking care. Patients can also arrange a visit with providers at UCHealth’s Virtual Urgent Care.

How can I find information I can trust? How do I tell fact from opinion?

Medical experts advise people to be wary of random information they find online.

The best way to be sure you are getting facts rather than opinions is to seek information from sources you can trust including the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

In addition, you can count on UCHealth to provide you with regular updates and answers to your questions from trusted UCHealth medical experts at uchealth.org/covid19.