About COVID-19 symptoms and spread

Information about the symptoms of COVID-19 and how coronaviruses spread.

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COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus that emerged in late 2019. Reported illness ranges from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

Symptoms of infection may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus and may include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of sense of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • In elderly, chronically ill, or debilitated individuals such as residents of a long-term care facility, symptoms of COVID-19 may be subtle such as alterations in mental status or in blood glucose control

However, it’s possible for people with COVID-​19 to spread the virus to others up to 48 hours before they have symptoms. Visit the CDC's resource on symptoms for more information.

If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, even if they are mild, please contact your healthcare provider. Visit COVID-19 Testing to learn more about testing options.

You can also call 2-1-1 to learn more about COVID-19 prevention, symptoms, and treatment. Mass 2-1-1 is a hotline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are free and confidential. Interpreter services are available in multiple languages.

How coronaviruses spread

Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses; some cause illness in people and some occur in animals, including camels, civet cats and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then may spread between people. Human coronaviruses cause routine seasonal respiratory virus infections. Other coronaviruses, like SARS and MERS, can cause serious illnesses.

Coronaviruses are respiratory viruses and are most commonly spread through respiratory secretions (droplets from coughs and sneezes) of an infected person to another person in close proximity (within about 6 feet). CDC describes on How COVID-19 Spreads in more detail.


The most important thing you can do to help protect yourself and others from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. Learn more about vaccination locations, doses, and safety at mass.gov/CovidVaccine.

Visit mass.gov/StopTheSpread to learn about additional ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, like flu and RSV.


If you are COVID positive and have any symptoms, treatments for COVID-19 can help prevent hospitalization and reduce your chance for severe disease. Learn how to access therapeutic treatments at mass.gov/CovidTreatments.

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