What are the symptoms and complications of COVID-19?

Current symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever cough, and difficulty breathing, as well as new loss of taste or smell. Consult DPH's About COVID-19 and read CDC's Guide.

How does COVID19 spread?

The virus spreads largely by respiratory droplets. These spread by coughing, sneezing, or through respiratory secretions. 

The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading from person-to-person. Someone who is sick with COVID-19 can spread the illness to others as much as 48 hours before they have symptoms. That is why it’s so important to practice social distancing. The CDC recommends patients who have symptoms or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 should be isolated either in the hospital or at home (depending on how sick they are) until they are better and no longer a risk of infecting others.

How long someone is actively sick can vary so the decision on when to release someone from isolation is made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with doctors, infection prevention and control experts, and public health officials and involves considering specifics of each situation including disease severity, illness signs and symptoms, and results of laboratory testing for that patient.

Current CDC guidance for when it is OK to release someone from isolation is made on a case by case basis and includes meeting all of the following requirements:

  • The patient is free from fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • The patient is no longer showing symptoms, including cough.

Someone who has been released from isolation is not considered to pose a risk of infection to others.

Is there a vaccine?

There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Visit Preparing for a COVID-19 Vaccine for information about Massachusetts’ planning for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Is there a treatment?

There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. Studies are currently ongoing to determine the efficacy of different antiviral treatments. People with COVID-19 can seek medical care to help relieve symptoms.

Why are COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts now being reported at the city/town level?

As our testing efforts have greatly increased, we know that every community in Massachusetts has experienced the impact of coronavirus. Many cities and towns have been reporting this information directly to their residents, and now that the case numbers have increased, it is possible to make them available statewide by municipality.

As is standard public health practice, we will not release the number of positive cases if there are fewer than five cases in populations of 50,000 or less, in order to protect individual privacy.

Having the ability to look at this virus through the lens of its impact on specific cities and towns will help us identify potential “hot spots,” inform the public health response, assist cities and towns working to slow the spread of this disease, and help the state appropriately deploy resources.

Should I be tested?

You should get a test if you develop any symptoms of COVID-19, even if they are mild, or you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Visit www.mass.gov/GetTested to learn about testing for COVID-19 in Massachusetts.

For detailed information, visit the CDC’s webpage: Testing for COVID-19

You can also call 2-1-1, a 24-hour state-supported telephone hotline.

Where I can get tested for COVID-19?

Visit our interactive testing map to find a testing site near you, or download a full list of sites: MA COVID-19 Testing Sites PDF | DOC.

For more details about testing in Massachusetts, please visit About COVID-19 Testing.

What should I do if someone in my household is quarantined?

  • Establish a room (and a bathroom if possible) which only the quarantined person can use.
  • The quarantined person should not leave home at all, except for urgent medical care. If urgent care is needed, they should wear a surgical mask at all times while outside of the home. Do not take buses, subways or ride shares like Uber or Lyft. Use a personal vehicle or call an ambulance to get to the provider’s location. And call ahead to your provider so they can be ready.
  • All household members should practice strict personal hygiene. That means washing your hands frequently with soap and warm water. When you cough or sneeze, use a tissue every time. Then wash your hands.
  • Do not share plates, glasses, cups, or utensils. Wash all these items in a dishwasher or with dishwashing liquid and warm water.
  • Wipe down frequently used surfaces with a household disinfecting cleaner – especially if they’ve come in contact with bodily fluids like spit, mucus, urine, feces, or vomit.
  • Do not allow visitors in your home.

All household members should monitor their own health and call their healthcare provider if they develop symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath).

In addition, the CDC has provided a list of recommendations for how to best care for someone at home which can be found on the CDC website.

Should I wear a mask when I go out in public?

Yes. Governor Baker issued a revised Mask Order effective November 6, 2020 requiring all people in Massachusetts over 5 years of age to wear face masks or cloth face coverings in all public places, whether indoors or outdoors, even where they are able to maintain 6 feet of distance from others. Masks or face coverings are encouraged but not required for children between the ages of 2 and 5. Read the full DPH Guidance.

The revised order still allows for an exception for children under the age of 2 and for residents who cannot wear a face-covering due to a medical or disabling condition, but it allows employers to require employees to provide proof of such a condition. It also allows schools to require that students participating in in-person learning provide proof of such a medical or disabling condition.

It is critical to emphasize that social distancing measures remain in effect and keeping 6 feet apart from others remains important to slowing the spread of the virus. 

Learn more on www.mass.gov/MaskUpMA

How will the phases of reopening be determined?

Reopening is driven by public health data. Before Massachusetts can begin reopening, key public health metrics must indicate it is appropriate to do so.

When will it be safe to move to the next phase?

During each phase of reopening, public health metrics must indicate it is appropriate to move to the next phase. These metrics include the 7-day average of positive COVID-19 test rates, the 3-day average of COVID-19 patients in hospitals, the number of hospitals using surge capacity, and the 3-day average of COVID-19 related deaths.

How can we track these metrics?

The COVID-19 Command Center publishes a weekly dashboard showing the status of the public health indicators that are most critical to reopening.

What is the limit on the number of people in gatherings?

View the latest orders on COVID-19 State of Emergency: Limits on Gatherings.

Is it safe to attend events and gatherings?

Gatherings should be in accordance with Limits on Gatherings Orders and the Department of Public Health COVID-19 Prevention recommendations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Is it safe to travel/fly in the United States?

A number of states have issued travel restrictions. The situation is rapidly changing. For national travel information, please visit www.travel.state.gov

View the COVID-19 Travel Order for information for all travelers arriving to Massachusetts – including Massachusetts residents returning home.

Is it safe to travel internationally?

All nonessential international travel is discouraged at this time. Please refer to the CDC website for ongoing data on worldwide transmission in different countries: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers.

What if I am pregnant?

CDC-issued guidance for People Who Are Pregnant, Breastfeeding, or Caring for Young Children, including resources on how to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19.

What if I am having anxiety and stress?

The CDC has resources for Manage Anxiety & Stress, including information about reducing stress in yourself and others.

The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health has resources and tips for Maintaining Emotional Health & Well-Being During the COVID-19 Outbreak.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health also has resources for managing stress, anxiety, or other strong emotions:

The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster, including disease outbreaks like COVID-19. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories.

What resources are available to me if I am struggling with issues related to  sexual or domestic violence during this time?

Help and support are available to you. Many services for people struggling with issues related to  sexual and domestic violence are available remotely during this COVID-19 public health emergency. Visit the Domestic Violence Program and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Survivor Services page for more information.

What should health care professionals and health departments do?

This DPH website has a number of guidance documents tailored for a number of groups including clinicians, long term care facilities, schools, emergency responders and others. Visit COVID-19 Guidance and Directives. If you have specific questions, you may contact the DPH Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences 24/7 at (617) 983-6800.

Additional recommendations and guidance on persons under investigation; infection control, including personal protective equipment guidance; home care and isolation; and case investigation, can be found on the CDC website: Information for Healthcare Professionals. For information on specimen collection and shipment, see Information for Laboratories. For information for public health professionals on COVID-19, see Information for Public Health Professionals.

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