What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?


COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) is a form of the coronavirus that infectious disease experts believe jumped from animals to people in Wuhan, China. It then began spreading from human to human in China in December 2019, and since has been spreading around the globe.

Virus mutations

Scientists have recently identified a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. This is not uncommon as respiratory viruses can change often. Early information shows the new version of the virus may spread more quickly than the original version we have been experiencing. Colorado and other states have recently identified patients who have this new variant.

We believe the best way to protect yourself and others from this new version of COVID-19 is to continue wearing a mask, social distancing and washing your hands often. Experts believe it is likely the new strain of the virus will not impact the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines; however, research is ongoing.

What makes COVID-19 (coronavirus) different?


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

Persons who have contracted COVID-19 have had 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 long as 14 days after exposure.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

According to the CDC, the virus appears to spread:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Via 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?

  • Wash your hands frequently 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.

In Colorado, there are three circumstances where public health may decide that a patient needs to be tested:

  • The patient has a fever OR signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, and the patient has been in close contact with someone confirmed with COVID-19, within 14 days of when symptoms started.
  • The patient has a fever and signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness (and other diagnoses such as influenza have been ruled out), and the patient recently traveled to parts of the world where infection rates are high or community spread is occurring, within 14 days of when symptoms started.

Coronavirus symptoms

Please note this guidance varies slightly from Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. As we have capacity, Colorado will continue to consider testing for individuals who are not hospitalized in order to identify patients who have traveled to affected areas who have less severe disease.

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 and high doses of oxygen. Some will need a ventilator to help them keep breathing.

According to the CDC, there is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, treatment should include care to support vital organ functions.

People who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 should contact their health care provider immediately.

Is there a vaccine to prevent coronavirus (COVID-19)?

On December 11, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to permit the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for people who are 16 years old and older. UCHealth has received limited quantities of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and is now vaccinating health care workers who have the most frequent and direct contact with patients who have COVID-19. All COVID-19 vaccinations must follow the distribution guidelines from the State of Colorado. The FDA will review another COVID-19 vaccine, made by Moderna, later in 2020.

Learn more about the latest COVID-19 vaccine updates and information.

Who is most at risk after contracting coronavirus (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 and maintain a high level of care?

UCHealth providers have deep experience caring for patients with infectious diseases. We are separating patients with suspected infections from healthy patients. Every UCHealth facility has designated negative air pressure rooms where caregivers isolate patients who may have the novel coronavirus, 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 protect vulnerable people, to follow orders to stay at home and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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

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. Researchers are learning more about whether some people can be contagious before they have symptoms. The best way to prevent the spread of the disease is to avoid spending time around people. Respect the orders to stay home and practice physical distancing — staying at least 6 feet away from other people.

How is the coronavirus spreading?

Scientists are still learning about all the ways that the coronavirus is spreading. It primarily spreads from human to human through droplets from coughing or sneezing. When these droplets from an infected person reach the nose, eyes, mouth or lungs of another, the virus can spread to them. That’s why physical distancing – staying at least 6 feet away from others – is so crucial.

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

Yes, 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, stay home and avoid contact with people as much as possible to reduce your chances of getting the virus.

How do I stay healthy?

Stay home. Wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your face. Practice physical distancing – staying at least 6 feet away from people outside of your family. And, if someone in your home is having symptoms, please try to isolate them as much as possible with their own room and bathroom within your home. Avoid contact with anyone who is sick with cold or flu symptoms. Clean surfaces, counters and your mobile phone.

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. Researchers do not know exactly how long the new coronavirus lives on surfaces. One recent study found that the virus could live for several hours on surfaces in a lab. But, many factors — from light to temperature and humidity — affect how long the virus can live on surfaces outside the lab. Again, your best bet is to be extremely cautious. Stay home. Avoid contact with people outside your family, wash your hands frequently and wash commonly touched surfaces every day.

Which places are open or closed now?

UCHealth clinics and hospitals are open, but medical providers are trying to keep anyone who is infected with COVID-10 from spreading the illness to others. Therefore, people with symptoms should email or call their provider before seeking care. Patients can also arrange a visit with providers at UCHealth’s Virtual Urgent Care.

With respect to non-UCHealth facilities, most non-essential businesses are now closed. Look online or call ahead if you need to visit an essential business. Some grocery stores, for instance, have changed their hours and are offering older adults the chance to shop before others. If you don’t need anything, please stay home and help slow the spread of the virus.

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.

Should I still leave my house for regularly scheduled doctor’s appointments?

If you need medical care, please email or call your provider to learn how they can help you. Many providers are doing virtual visits so vulnerable people can stay home.