Frequently Asked Questions of COVID-19
What is coronavirus disease (COVID-19)?
Coronavirus disease (also called COVID-19) is an infection caused by SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus), one of the most recently discovered types of coronaviruses. Those who have this disease may or may not experience symptoms, which range from mild to severe.
How does COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 spreads easily from person-to-person, even when an infected person is not showing symptoms. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, droplets containing the virus go into the air. These droplets can be inhaled or land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, exposing them to the virus.
People may also be exposed to COVID-19 by touching their eyes, nose, or mouth after touching a surface with the virus on it. Although this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, researchers are still learning more about COVID-19.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after being exposed to the virus. The most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Cases of COVID-19 range from mild to severe. Some people who are infected don’t have any symptoms and don’t feel sick. Most people have mild symptoms. Visit the CDC website for more information about symptoms.
Who is at high risk of getting very sick?
Severe cases are more likely to occur in older adults (65 years of age and older), those who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility, those with weakened immune systems, and those with underlying health issues (such as lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, diabetes, obesity, heart conditions, kidney disease or on dialysis, and liver disease). However, serious illness can also occur in young, healthy adults. For more information, visit the CDC Website
Am I at risk of getting COVID-19?
COVID-19 is very contagious. The risk of getting COVID-19 depends on many factors, including close contact with people who have symptoms of COVID-19. It is important to follow your federal, state, and local government guidance to protect yourself from exposure.
How is COVID-19 treated?
There is currently no treatment for COVID-19. Not all patients with COVID-19 will require medical attention, and most people recover within 2 weeks without any specific treatment. For severe cases, hospitalization and respiratory support may be required. For mild cases, treatment focuses on managing symptoms.
How can I protect myself from getting COVID-19?
The best way to protect yourself is to avoid situations in which you may be exposed to the virus. Everyday actions can help protect you and prevent the spread of respiratory diseases such as COVID-19.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Restrict any activities outside your home and maintain a safe distance (around 6 feet) between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community. This includes avoiding crowded areas, shopping malls, religious gatherings, public transportation, etc.
- Wear simple cloth face coverings in public settings (like grocery stores and pharmacies) where social distancing is difficult, especially in areas where COVID-19 is spreading.
- Stay home when you are sick, unless you are seeking medical care.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces (including tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks).
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water aren’t available. Always wash hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
What can I do to prevent spreading COVID-19?
If you believe you may have COVID-19 or test positive for COVID-19 and have mild symptoms, the following steps can help prevent the disease from spreading to others:
- Stay home except to get medical care
- Take care of yourself by getting rest and staying hydrated
- Over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen, may help you feel better
- Avoid public areas, including work and school
- Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis
- Stay in touch with your healthcare provider
- Separate yourself from other people
- Stay in a separate room and away from other people and pets in your home
- If possible, use a separate bathroom
- If you need to be around other people or animals, wear a face covering
- Cover your nose and mouth
- If you are sick, wear a face covering when you are around other people or pets
- Use a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw away used tissues in a lined trash can
- Clean your hands often
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, going to the bathroom, or before eating or preparing food
- If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, mouth, and other people with unwashed hands
- Do not share
- Do not share dishes, cups/glasses, eating utensils, towels, bedding, or electronics with other people or pets
- After using personal items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water or put in the dishwasher
- Clean all "high-touch" surfaces every day
- Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in your separate "sick room" and bathroom
- If possible, wear disposable gloves while cleaning
- Someone else should clean and disinfect surfaces in common areas
- If a caregiver or someone else needs to clean and disinfect, it should be done on an as-needed basis
- Caregivers should wear a face covering and disposable gloves
- Clean and disinfect areas that might have blood, stool, or bodily fluids on them
When should I seek medical care?
If you think you have been exposed, it is important to closely monitor for symptoms. Seek medical attention immediately if you develop severe symptoms, especially if you experience:
- Severe trouble breathing (such as being unable to talk without gasping for air)
- Continuous pain or pressure in your chest
- Feeling confused or having difficulty waking up
- Blue-colored lips or face
- Any other emergency signs or symptoms
If you seek medical attention, be sure to call ahead before visiting the facility. This will help the facility keep other people from possibly getting infected or exposed.
- Tell any healthcare provider that you may have COVID-19.
- Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
- Put on a facemask before you enter any healthcare facility.
What is social distancing?
Social distancing, also called “physical distancing,” means keeping space between yourself and other people outside of your home. It includes:
- Staying at least 6 feet (2 meters) from other people
- Not gathering in groups
- Staying out of crowded places and avoiding mass gatherings
Social distancing is one of the best ways to avoid being exposed and to help slow the spread of the virus. It is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
Be sure to continue to follow federal, state, and local government guidance regarding social distancing.
Should I self-quarantine or self-isolate? How does it work?
If you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, it is very important to stay home and limit your interaction with others in your household and in public.
- If you have not been tested but may have been exposed to COVID-19, self-monitoring and self-quarantine is recommended to see if you get sick.
- If you have tested positive for COVID-19, self-isolation is recommended so that you do not pass the virus to others
What’s the difference between quarantine and isolation?
Isolation and quarantine are both ways to limit your interaction with others to prevent the spread of disease.
- Isolation is separating individuals with COVID-19 from people who are not sick. Individuals are separated for a period of time until they are no longer infectious.
- Quarantine is separating individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19 but haven’t been tested. They are separated for a brief period of time (14 days after possible exposure) to see if they develop symptoms.
Is there a difference between stopping isolation vs. stopping quarantine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines about this may at first seem confusing. These guidelines are:
- Those who have been infected with COVID-19 should isolate. They may be able to stop isolating once symptoms have improved, and it has been at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared. Those who have never had symptoms may be able to stop isolating 10 days after testing.
- Those who have been possibly exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine. They may be able to stop quarantining if they don’t develop symptoms, and it has been at least 14 days after possible exposure.
This means that it’s possible for a person diagnosed with COVID-19 to stop isolation before someone possibly exposed can stop quarantining.
When can I stop in-home isolation?
If you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, please check with your primary healthcare provider or local health department to help determine when it’s right to stop isolation. Typically this is done when fever and symptoms improve and/or a specified amount of time has passed, or when you’ve had follow-up PCR testing done. Be sure to continue to follow federal, state, and local government guidance regarding social distancing and isolation. For more information, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
Can someone who has had COVID-19 become infected again?
At this time, it is not known whether someone who has been infected with COVID-19 can become infected again after recovering. The CDC has suggested that if an individual has recovered from COVID-19, they may have some degree of immunity from future infection. Visit the CDC website for further information.
Antibody Test-Specific Questions
What is the purpose of COVID-19 antibody testing?
On an individual level, an antibody test looks for antibodies in the blood. Your immune system makes antibody proteins to help fight infections. If you were exposed to COVID-19, an antibody test will show whether or not you’ve developed antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. An antibody test cannot tell you whether you have a current COVID-19 infection.
On a population level, antibody testing can give researchers a sense of how many people have been exposed to and infected by COVID-19. In the future, antibody testing may show whether someone has immunity against COVID-19, meaning that they cannot get infected again. If antibodies make people immune to COVID-19, it can help inform leaders and public health officials about whether the population has reached herd immunity. Herd immunity is when a large percentage of a population has become immune to COVID-19, which can protect those people who are not immune.
What are the different types of antibodies? Do they offer different types of immunity?
There are three different types of antibodies: IgM, IgG, and IgA.
- Immunoglobulin M (IgM) is produced as the body’s first response to a COVID-19 infection. Generally, IgM may provide short-term protection and can help tell if an individual has been recently infected.
- Immunoglobulin G (IgG) is the most common type of antibody. It’s made several days to weeks after being exposed to COVID-19. Generally, IgG remains in the body and may provide long-term protection against future exposure.
- Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is found in the blood, sinuses, lungs, and stomach. Generally, IgA helps protect these areas from infection. However, the role of these antibodies in determining exposure or immunity is unknown.
There is not enough evidence at this time to suggest that people who have these antibodies are protected against future COVID-19 infections.
When do IgG antibodies develop?
Based on the most current research, IgG antibodies develop around 10 to 18 days after infection from COVID-19. However, this varies by individual, and some people may take a longer time to develop IgG antibodies.
Can antibody tests be used to diagnose a COVID-19 infection?
Antibody tests do not show whether a person is currently infected. A molecular (PCR) test is a more reliable indicator of current COVID-19 infection.
Antibody testing by itself should not be used to establish the presence or absence of COVID-19 infection or reinfection. Individuals might get tested too early before antibodies develop, and some individuals never develop detectable antibodies following infection. Additionally, having antibodies may indicate a previous infection and may be unrelated to the current illness.
Can I use a semi-quantitative COVID-19 antibody test to determine my level of immunity?
A semi-quantitative antibody test can help identify individuals who have developed an immune response after exposure to COVID-19 or vaccination. However, it should not be used to determine the level of immunity you have. However, evidence is still being collected to determine if antibodies provide protective immunity against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) specifically. Follow up with your healthcare provider for additional guidance on how to interpret your test results.
Can I use a semi-quantitative COVID-19 antibody test to track my antibody levels over time?
This test provides a numerical value that helps determine whether or not you have antibodies at the time of testing. However, it is still unknown whether or not it is useful to track antibody levels over time. Follow up with your healthcare provider for additional guidance on how to interpret your test results
My COVID-19 antibody test was positive, but I’m still having symptoms. What should I do?
If you’re having symptoms of COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider or local health department to get tested for active infection. The antibody test can only tell you if you’ve been exposed and have developed an immune response, but it cannot say whether you have an active infection.
My COVID-19 antibody test was negative, but I previously tested positive for COVID-19 or was exposed. Is my result incorrect?
Getting an IgG antibody test too soon after being infected may cause a false negative result. It usually takes around 10 to 18 days after being infected with COVID-19 for your body to produce enough IgG antibodies to be detected in the blood. Some people may take even longer to develop antibodies or may not develop enough antibodies to be detected by the test. It is recommended that you contact your healthcare provider or local health department to see if retesting is needed.
If my COVID-19 antibody test is positive, can I get sick again with COVID-19?
At this time, there is not enough evidence to suggest that people who have IgG antibodies are protected against future COVID-19 infections.
What is the chance that my COVID-19 antibody test result was a false positive?
False positives occur when a person tests positive even though they DO NOT have the antibodies for COVID-19. There is a small chance that the result could be a false positive. Manufacturers must demonstrate a high specificity of approximately 99% to 100% to ensure validation of their test. If you have additional questions, please contact the lab directly for more information.
Am I immune if I tested positive for antibodies?
If your test results show that you’re positive for COVID-19 antibodies in the blood, it means you’ve likely been exposed to COVID-19. Although having antibodies usually gives immunity from further infection, there is not enough evidence at this time to suggest that people who have these antibodies are protected against future COVID-19 infections.
If I had more severe symptoms of COVID-19, does that mean I have a higher antibody level?
Some studies have shown that individuals with more severe symptoms develop higher antibody levels. However, although having antibodies usually gives immunity from further infection, there is not enough evidence at this time to suggest that people who have these antibodies—in any amount—are protected against future COVID-19 infections.
If I had high antibody levels, does that mean I’m better protected against COVID-19?
Some studies have shown that individuals with more severe illness develop higher antibody levels. However, although having antibodies usually gives immunity from further infection, there is not enough evidence at this time to suggest that people who have these antibodies—in any amount—are protected against future COVID-19 infections.
Can I have antibodies if I did not have any symptoms of COVID-19?
Yes. You can have IgG antibodies from an asymptomatic COVID-19 infection. An asymptomatic infection is when you are infected but do not show any symptoms.
Can my antibody value change over time?
It usually takes 10 to 18 days for IgG antibodies to be detected in your blood. Because antibodies develop over time, it’s possible that your antibody levels can change depending on when you tested.
My antibody value is low. Should I get retested to see if my result will change?
It usually takes 10 to 18 days for IgG antibodies to be detected in your blood. Because antibodies develop over time, it’s possible that your antibody levels can change depending on when you tested. However, this varies by individual. Talk with your healthcare provider or local health department about your results to see if retesting is advised.
What does an equivocal COVID-19 antibody result mean?
If your test results show that you’re equivocal for COVID-19 antibodies in the blood, this means that the results were neither positive nor negative. You will likely need to be retested in order to confirm whether or not you have antibodies in the blood. An equivocal result can happen if you do not have enough antibodies in your blood for the test to detect, such as if you test too soon after becoming infected. This result can also happen if there was a problem with your sample or the test itself.
Based on the results of my antibody test, do I need to continue social distancing and/or wearing a mask? Can I visit someone who is at risk for severe symptoms of the virus?
Although having antibodies usually gives immunity from further infection, there is not enough evidence at this time to suggest that people who have these antibodies will no longer transmit the virus. There is no test that can tell you when to stop social distancing or isolating. Check with your primary healthcare provider or local health department to help determine when it’s right to stop isolation. Be sure to continue to follow federal, state, and local government guidance regarding social distancing, wearing a mask, and hand washing. You should also use caution or avoid visiting at-risk individuals like those above the age of 65 or with pre-existing medical conditions
If I have antibodies, am I a good candidate for donating plasma?
People who have fully recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are encouraged to consider donating plasma. You must be completely recovered from symptoms for at least 14 days prior to 14 donation. If you have additional questions, please contact the donation center directly for more information.
How do I know if the COVID-19 test is accurate and reliable?
PWNHealth only uses COVID-19 tests that have received Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). These approved tests minimize the chance of inaccurate, false positive, or false negative results. The FDA has found that tests that meet certain standards are of superior quality and have high sensitivity and specificity* (measurements of accuracy).
PWNHealth will not use tests that have been shown to have low sensitivity and specificity. For additional information, please reach out to the lab directly.
*Actual sensitivity and specificity may vary between test manufacturers. A sample that is not properly collected may also result in an inaccurate result.
What is the difference between an antibody test and a PCR test?
An antibody test checks to see if you’ve developed antibodies against COVID-19, which occurs after being exposed to the virus. Antibody tests do not show whether a person is currently infected.
PCR tests check for genetic material (viral RNA) produced by the virus. It determines if you’re currently infected and can spread COVID-19 to others.
When would I get an antibody test vs. a PCR test?
You should get an antibody test to check if you’ve been previously exposed to COVID-19.
You should get a PCR test if you have symptoms of COVID-19, are a healthcare worker, or you live or work in a place where people reside, meet, or gather in close proximity. This can include homeless shelters, assisted living facilities, group homes, prisons, detention centers, schools, and workplaces.
A PCR test may also be helpful if you currently have symptoms of COVID-19 or want to check if you have the virus and can pass it on to others.
If I’m having symptoms of COVID-19 or believe I’ve been exposed to it, what type of test should I get?
If you’re currently having symptoms of COVID-19 or have recently been exposed, you should get a PCR test to see if you’re currently infected.
Can an antibody test be used instead of a PCR test to diagnose COVID-19?
IgG antibody tests do not show whether a person is currently infected. Therefore it should not be used in place of a PCR test to diagnose a current infection.
Can an antibody test be used together with a PCR test?
IgG antibody tests can complement PCR tests by providing information about exposure and how the immune system responds to COVID-19 infections.
Can a COVID-19 test tell me when I can visit someone who is at risk for severe symptoms of the virus?
There is no test that can tell you when you can visit someone who is at risk for more severe symptoms of COVID-19. Check with your primary healthcare provider or local health department to help determine when the time is right to make such visits. Be sure to continue to follow federal, state, and local government guidance regarding social distancing and isolation.
What is the difference between Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval?
The FDA has the authority to grant Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to diagnostic tests that have not yet received formal approval in times of a public health emergency. The FDA has granted EUA for certain tests during the COVID-19 pandemic to help detect or diagnose COVID-19.
Like full FDA approval, EUA relies on strict standards. However, EUA is completed more quickly based on the limited data that is available, unlike full FDA approval.
For more information, please visit the FDA website.
Have COVID-19 tests been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?
The antibody tests and the molecular tests (together referred to as “tests”) have not been cleared or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA);
The FDA has authorized the use of some tests by certain laboratories under Emergency Use Authorization (EUA);
The antibody tests have been authorized for the detection of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 only, and not for the detection of any other viruses or pathogens;
The molecular (PCR) tests have been authorized for the detection of nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2 only, and not for the detection of any other viruses or pathogens; and,
Tests are only authorized for as long as the circumstances exist to justify the authorization of emergency use of in vitro diagnostics for detection and/or diagnosis of COVID-19 under Section 564(b)(1) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 360bbb-3(b)(1), unless the authorization is terminated or revoked sooner.
What are false positives and false negatives?
A positive result that is incorrect is called a false positive. False positives occur when a person tests positive even though they do not have the infection.
A negative result that is incorrect is called a false negative. False negatives occur when a person tests negative even though they do have the infection.
False negatives and positives can worsen the COVID-19 pandemic by providing false reassurance to those who have the infection or by causing those who do not have it to use critical resources.
PCR Test-Specific FAQs
What is a false negative COVID-19 PCR test result?
The test can show a negative result even if you are infected with COVID-19*. This can happen if:
- It is too soon for the test to detect the virus.
- There was a problem with your sample or the test itself.
No test is 100% accurate at all times.
- If your results are negative and you’re having symptoms, continue to follow isolation precautions and ask your healthcare provider if you need further testing.
- If your results are negative and you don’t have any symptoms, continue to monitor for any symptoms up to 14 days after your last possible exposure.
*Although the possibility is low, a false negative result should be considered if you have had recent exposure to the virus along with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
What is a false positive COVID-19 PCR test result?
This test can show a positive result even if you are not infected with COVID-19. This can happen if there was a problem with your sample or the test itself. These tests have been designed to minimize false positive results. If you are concerned about the accuracy of your results, ask your healthcare provider if you need further testing.
What does an indeterminate COVID-19 PCR test result mean?
Indeterminate means that the test did not detect a clear positive or negative result. It was unable to accurately detect COVID-19.
Your result could be indeterminate if:
- You are infected with COVID-19 but the test was done too early to detect the virus, OR
- There was a problem with the sample you provided or the test itself.
It is recommended that you get retested or see a healthcare provider to discuss your result and confirm next steps. To get retested, please directly contact the company from which you ordered the test or ask your healthcare provider about testing recommendations.
When can a COVID-19 PCR test detect the virus?
A PCR test shows if you’re currently infected and can spread COVID-19 to others. It may take several days for the virus to be detected, so the test may not identify the virus if you were recently infected.
If I have a positive PCR test result, can I pass the virus to others?
A PCR test shows if you’re currently infected and can spread COVID-19 to others. However, it is possible to have a positive PCR test result for up to 6 weeks after infection. How long someone remains infectious varies by individual and depends on the severity of illness.To prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect people in your home and community, follow these guidelines provided by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Return to Work Questions
When can I go back to work?
The decision to return to work should be determined by you and your employer based on a number of factors. Contact your employer for guidance about returning to work. Be sure to continue to follow federal, state, and local government guidance regarding social distancing and isolation.
If I can stop isolating, does that mean I can go back to work?
Whether or not you can return to work depends on a number of factors. Contact your employer for guidance about returning to work.
What is the process for returning to work?
Contact your employer for guidance about returning to work.
What are the risks of going back to work too soon?
If you go back to work too soon, you risk transmitting COVID-19 to others or becoming infected with COVID-19 yourself.
- Transmitting to others: If you’ve been infected with COVID-19, you can transmit the infection to your coworkers or customers. Many people who are infected have no symptoms. Only a PCR test can determine if you have an active infection.
- Becoming infected: Coworkers or customers who have COVID-19 can transmit the virus to you. There is a risk of becoming infected if you have had close contact with an infected person (being within six feet of them for more than a few minutes within the past 14 days).
What steps can I take to protect myself at work?
Follow your employer’s guidance regarding ways to protect yourself and others from becoming infected with COVID-19.
In general, some protective measures include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Wearing a face mask or cloth face covering
- Avoiding touching your face
- Using gloves
- Washing your hands frequently
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces
- Staying more than 6 feet away from others
- Your employer may also have procedures in place to check your temperature regularly.
What does it mean to have a safe work environment?
Employers are responsible for maintaining a safe and healthy work environment for their employees. These duties include:
- Ensuring the building is well ventilated to provide acceptable indoor air quality.
- Regularly checking air filters to ensure they are within service life and appropriately installed.
- Following the CDC’s Guidance for Building Water Systems.
- Ensuring adequate supplies for employees, customers, and visitors so they may clean their hands and cover their coughs and sneezes (i.e., offering soap and water, hand sanitizer, tissues, and no-touch trash cans).
- Performing routine cleaning by following the CDC’s Guidance on Cleaning and Disinfecting .
Additionally, your employer should encourage safety practices that adhere to state and local guidance and minimize your risks at work. These include:
- Encouraging hand hygiene and using non-contact methods of greeting.
- Hanging informational posters at the entrance of the workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
- Directing employees to visit CDC’s Coughing and Sneezing Etiquette and Clean Hands webpage for more information.
- Encouraging or requiring the use of face masks or cloth coverings.
- Holding meetings in open, well-ventilated space that maintain social distancing guidelines.
- Adjusting, cancelling, or postponing in-person meetings, or encouraging videoconferencing or teleconferencing.
- Limiting non-essential travel, and advising employees who travel that they must take additional precautions and preparations.