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Frequently asked questions about COVID-19

Common questions related to the Outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Table of Contents

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. Read the CDC's guide: COVID-19 Symptoms.

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.

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?

If you are a close contact of someone with COVID-19 or you are a resident in a community where there is ongoing spread of COVID-19 and develop symptoms of COVID-19, call your healthcare provider and tell them about your symptoms and your exposure. They will decide whether you need to be tested, but keep in mind that there is no treatment for COVID-19 and people who are mildly ill may be able to isolate and care for themselves at home.

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.

Is there a list of places where I can get tested for COVID-19 if I think I have symptoms?

Yes. If you think you may have symptoms, first call your health care provider. If your clinician thinks you should be tested but they are unable to offer a test at their own health care facility, they will provide a referral and you can be tested at test site near you. An appointment is necessary. View the current list: MA COVID-19 Testing Sites | Doc.

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 has issued an Order effective Wednesday, May 6 requiring face masks or cloth face coverings in public places where social distancing is not possible. This applies to both indoor and outdoor spaces. Exceptions include children under the age of 2 and those unable to wear a mask or face covering due to a medical condition. Read the full DPH Guidance.

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 about wearing face coverings and cloth masks in public, including fact sheets in multiple languages.

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.

Is it safe to attend events and gatherings?

The Department of Public Health has posted recommendations to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which are available here: COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment.

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

On July 2, Governor Baker issued an updated order pertaining to limits on gathering sizes in the Commonwealth. The updated order provides for new indoor and outdoor gathering limits as of July 6th.”

Indoor gatherings are limited to 8 persons per 1,000 square feet of accessible, indoor floor space and never more than 25 persons in a single enclosed, indoor space.

Outdoor gatherings in enclosed, permitted or leased spaces are limited to 25% of the maximum permitted occupancy of the facility or 8 persons per 1,000 square feet  and never more than 100 persons in a single outdoor space that is enclosed, permitted or leased.

Outdoor gatherings in unenclosed spaces are not subject to capacity limitations.

The following outdoor activities are prohibited:  street festivals, agricultural festivals, walk-a-thons, road races and bike races, and other outdoor, organized athletic or recreational events that gather large numbers of participants or spectators outdoors are prohibited until further Order; provided, however, that outdoor gatherings for the purpose of political expression are not subject to this Order.

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

All travelers arriving to Massachusetts – including Massachusetts residents returning home – are instructed to self-quarantine for 14 days, except that, beginning July 1, 2020, travelers from Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, and New Jersey arriving in Massachusetts are exempt from this directive and need not self-quarantine for 14 days.  In addition, workers designated by the federal government as essential critical infrastructure workers are exempt from the directive to self-quarantine for 14 days if traveling to Massachusetts for work purposes.  All persons are instructed not to travel to Massachusetts if they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19.

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.

Contact

Phone

Informational and referral hotline 211

24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are free and confidential. Interpreter services are available in multiple languages.

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