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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?

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 COVID-19 spread?

The virus spreads by respiratory droplets which are produced by activities like coughing, sneezing, talking and singing.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreads 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 people who 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.

People are released from isolation once they are no longer able to spread the virus to others. Most people are released from isolation once they meet all of the following requirements:

  • The patient is free from fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • The patient’s symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) have improved.
  • It has been at least 10 days since their symptom onset or the day their positive test was taken, whichever is earlier.

Certain immunocompromised individuals with severe disease may need to be isolated for longer.

Is there a treatment?

There are several monoclonal antibody treatments for early mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in high-risk patients.  People at high risk from COVID-19 who have a positive test should contact their healthcare provider to determine what treatments may be indicated.

Is there a vaccine?

Yes. For the latest updates on the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines in Massachusetts, please visit Massachusetts COVID-19 Vaccine Information.

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

Due to our testing efforts, we know that every community in Massachusetts has experienced the impact of coronavirus and it is important to make data 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.  You can view the state’s Interactive COVID-19 Dashboard for more state and town-level data. 

Should I be tested?

You should get a test if you develop any symptoms of COVID-19, even if they are mild, or if you are an unvaccinated close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Testing may also be advised if you are unvaccinated and have recently traveled out of Massachusetts. 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 can I get tested for COVID-19?

Visit www.mass.gov/CovidTestSearch to find a testing site near you.

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

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

If someone in your household is identified for quarantine:

  • 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.

If the remaining household members are not contacts of a confirmed case then they are not required to quarantine at this time.  However, all household members should practice strict personal hygiene in the home and socially distance as much as possible from the individual in quarantine.  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).  If the individual in quarantine does become a case, then the remaining household members may be identified as close contacts and would have to quarantine at that time.

Fully vaccinated individuals are not required to quarantine following an exposure to COVID-19.

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

All unvaccinated residents are advised to wear masks in indoor settings and when they can’t socially distance.  Masks continue to be required for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals at all times in the following locations:

  • On public and private transportation as well as in transportation hubs like bus stations, train stations, and airports  
  • In K-12 schools and in childcare programs
  • In healthcare facilities and medical provider offices
  • In congregate care settings

For more details on when masks are required, see: www.mass.gov/MaskUpMA

I have questions about travel

In Massachusetts, if you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic. Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, visit vaxfinder.mass.gov.

For recommendations related to travel, please consult the CDC for information and recommendations.

Is it safe to travel internationally?

Please refer to the CDC website for data on 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 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 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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