What you should know about coronavirus or COVID-19 in Colorado

Feb. 27, 2020
hand washing helps prevent coronavirus or flu
Washing hands frequently with soap and water is the best way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases including the flu, colds and coronavirus. Photo: Getty Images.

UCHealth doctors and experts on infectious diseases continue to monitor the new coronavirus, now dubbed COVID-19, that originated in Wuhan, China.

For all updates and to read more articles about the new coronavirus, please visit uchealth.org/covid19

For updated information on COVID-19 at UCHealth locations, please click here. For community testing locations throughout Colorado, please click here.

For those who have questions about COVID-19, Dr. Michelle Barron, medical director of infection control and prevention at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, provides answers.

What is COVID-19? Are there other coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are very common and many don’t cause serious illnesses. In fact, the common cold is a type of coronavirus. So, it’s possible for a person test to positive for coronavirus, but not to have the new type, COVID-19. Infectious disease experts believe that COVID-19 jumped from animals to people in Wuhan, China. It then began spreading from human to human in China in December and since has been spreading around the globe.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

How long does it take for symptoms to occur after exposure to the virus?

At this time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure.  

How does COVID-19 spread?

The virus spreads from person to person. 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 coronavirus?

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Wash for at least 20 seconds before you eat, after your 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.
coronavirus or COVId-19 in Colorado
Coronaviruses can cause illnesses as simple as colds. But, the new coronavirus, also called COVID-19, is spreading around the world. Photo: Getty Images.

What happens if I get COVID-19?

Health officials have standard protocols when anyone with an apparently contagious illness arrives at a health care facility.

“We put them in isolation. It’s similar if they have the flu. Anyone coming in contact with that patient will be wearing a gown, gloves and a mask. We do that if we suspect you have any virus,” Barron says. “It’s assumed that if you have the flu, you can give me the flu. But, I won’t know until I test you.”

Is there a vaccine to prevent COVID-19?

Health experts are working to create a vaccine and hope to begin testing it within months. But, it may take about a year to fully develop and test a vaccine to prevent the spread of the illness.

Why do some people with COVID-19 get sicker than others?

As with all viruses, some people are more vulnerable than others. According to data from China, the most vulnerable people include those with heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes and obesity.

Still, illnesses affect people differently, so health officials have much to learn about how COVID-19 is affecting people. For instance, Barron said, the H1N1 strain of the flu was particularly hard on relatively healthy people in their 20s.

“You need your immune system for protection, but sometimes the immune system can get tricked when you’re young. Instead of sending out the army, it sends out the nuclear weapons and a healthy person can get sicker than an 80-year-old. The 80-year-old might have some troops, but not the nuclear option,” Barron said.

If a young person’s body triggers the nuclear option, there can be collateral damage and they can get very, very sick.

Time will tell why COVID-19 has affected various people differently. Early reports in China indicated more deaths among older men. There is a high rate of cigarette smoking among older men in China and previous harm to their lungs may have made them more vulnerable. But, some younger people also have died. Among the most tragic was a 34-year-old Chinese doctor, Li Wenliang, who was punished for trying to warn people about the dangers of the new coronavirus when it first appeared in Wuhan.

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.