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Coronavirus Infections—Everything You Need to Know

Find out what it is, the most common symptoms, best ways to treat, and more
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Written by
Laura Hagopian, MD, FAWM, FACEP.
2020 - Present, Physician Researcher, Buoy Health
Last updated February 18, 2021

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What is COVID-19?

Coronaviruses infect both humans and animals. And COVID-19 is a disease caused by coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

These types of viruses cause the common cold, which is an infection of the upper respiratory tract. The nose, mouth, and throat are part of the upper respiratory tract.

SARS-CoV-2, like its relatives SARS and MERS, can also infect the lower respiratory tract (like the lungs) and cause viral pneumonia.

Most common COVID-19 symptoms

Most people with COVID-19 experience

  • Fever
  • Cough (dry or with phlegm)
  • Shortness of breath (or trouble getting air in the lungs)
  • Unable to smell or taste food
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache

Other possible symptoms include

  • Chills
  • Conjunctivitis (red, itchy, watery eyes)
  • Coughing up blood
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Painful, swollen, red toe(s) or finger(s)
  • Rash
  • Joint Pain
  • Heart conditions (like low blood pressure, high heart rate) with rash, fever, and belly pain in children

Most people fully recover from COVID-19. But some people have more severe symptoms. Breathing problems worsen and can lead to low oxygen levels, which puts vital organs at risk.

COVID-19 can also develop into pneumonia and damage the lungs. Some people eventually require a breathing tube or ventilator. In addition, COVID-19 can weaken the heart, causing abnormal heart rhythms, chest pain, and trouble pumping blood.

So far, children and young adults have fewer complications from COVID-19.

Some people are more likely to develop complications from COVID-19, including

  • Older adults
  • Certain minority populations like Black and Latinx
  • People who have a weakened immune system due to illnesses like cancer, HIV, or lupus; or from medications like chemotherapy or steroids; or some treatments for inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis
  • People who have liver disease, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, Down syndrome, sickle cell disease, and lung diseases such as COPD and emphysema
  • Pregnant women
  • People who are obese (BMI of 30 or higher)
  • Smokers

How does COVID-19 spread?

Most cases of COVID-19 spread person to person. COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets and aerosols. Usually, as someone coughs or sneezes. The droplets released in the air can carry the virus.

Similarly, you can get it from a person who breathes near you. That’s why everyone is told to stay 6 feet away from people whenever possible. There is evidence that viral particles can float and stay in the air, especially indoors.

COVID-19 can also live on contaminated surfaces. If someone touches a surface that has the virus on it and then touches their face, it is possible—though not likely—to transmit the virus.

COVID-19 mostly spreads person to person. And it happens more quickly and easily than the flu.

Isolation, quarantines, and social distancing are some of the best ways to protect yourself and others.

Coronavirus: Check your symptoms

Use Buoy Assistant to figure out if you should seek care for COVID-19.

Massachusetts residents

Virginia residents

All other states

What to do next

Remember, most people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms and improve on their own.

If you are worried that you or a family member may have symptoms of COVID-19—especially fever, cough, or trouble breathing—try Buoy’s AI assistant. It will help you figure out what to do next. It is updated frequently to reflect CDC guidance and the latest research for COVID-19.

Buoy’s AI assistant will ask about your symptoms and general medical problems. It will also help you decide about next steps. That may mean staying at home, calling telemedicine or your primary care doctor, trying to get tested, or going to the emergency department.

It is important to think carefully about your next step and not be scared. If you can safely stay home with mild symptoms, or use telehealth or the phone whenever possible, it means the sickest and most vulnerable people in our community will get care sooner. Otherwise, hospitals and emergency departments and their staff will be overwhelmed. This can be dangerous for everyone.

If you decide that you need to be seen at your doctor’s office or hospital, call ahead before heading in—unless it is a medical emergency. They may need to prepare for your visit to make sure you don’t pass the virus to others.

Testing has become more widespread and accessible. We recommend anyone with symptoms get tested. And anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to the virus should get tested, even if they don't have symptoms. Generally, 5 to 7 days after exposure is the best time to be tested.

How to treat at home

The home treatment for COVID-19 is similar to that for the common cold or flu. As of now, there are no specific over-the-counter medications to fight the virus. What you can do:

  • Isolate to avoid infecting other people.
  • Take over-the-counter medicine for pain, fever, and cough.
  • Rest in bed.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.

It is crucial to isolate from others. If you have COVID-19 (or think you might have it), you need to self-isolate until your healthcare provider or local health department says it’s OK to stop. It keeps other people safe and is a first step in ending the pandemic.

  • Stay home.
  • Do not go outside to any public places except to see a doctor.
  • If you live with other people, you can’t be in the same room unless it’s impossible. Also, use a separate bathroom if you can. If not, disinfect it after you use it.
  • Wear a face mask, if you have one, whenever you’re around other people.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and warm water.
  • Disinfect your area every day.

If your symptoms get worse, call your doctor. If you feel like you can’t breathe, call 911 or go to the ER.

Preventative tips

Get the vaccine, if you can. (Check your state’s health department website for more information.) Social distancing and masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • Stay at least six feet away from anyone you don’t live with—no handshakes or hugs.
  • Always wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose—along with eye protection—when out in public.
  • In public places, like grocery stores, do your best to stay at least six feet from anyone you don’t live with. And wash hands as soon as you get home.
  • Work from home if it’s an option.
  • Cancel playdates and postpone any events, even if it’s in your home.
  • If you decide to get together with people you don't live with, meet somewhere that is outside. And limit it to a very small group.

It’s also important to:

  • Wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap and water.
  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when soap and water are not available.
  • Do your best not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. It can put germs directly into your body.
  • Stay away from anyone who seems sick. If they’re in your home, ask them to self-isolate.
  • Stock up on a 15- to 30-day supply of food and other household essentials. And have a 30- to 60-day supply of prescription medication. But no hoarding. Leave enough food and supplies for everyone else.
  • Don’t panic. Many precautions are already in place. And most people with COVID-19 will make a full recovery.

Covid long haulers

While most people with COVID-19 recover fully, some people have symptoms that linger for weeks or months.

Even people who had a mild case of COVID-19 and weren’t hospitalized can experience long-term physical and psychological symptoms.

Most common lasting symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath (or trouble getting air in the lungs)
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Cough
  • Joint pain

Other possible lasting symptoms include

  • Brain fog (trouble thinking or concentrating)
  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Hair loss
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Fever that comes and goes
  • Heart palpitations (heart racing or pounding)
  • Unable to smell or taste food
  • Dizziness
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating

Scientists are continuing to investigate why some people experience long-term symptoms after they’ve seemed to recover.

If you continue to have symptoms for several weeks after getting sick, call your doctor.

If your symptoms have lasted for more than 3 months, your doctor may suggest going to a COVID-19 recovery clinic, if one is available in your area.


The scientific understanding of COVID-19 as well as guidelines for its prevention and treatment are constantly changing. There may be new information since this article was published. It’s important to check with sources like the CDC for the most up-to-date information.

Hear what 6 others are saying
35+ days since first symptom: How long is this supposed to last?Posted May 1, 2020 by R.
Day 35 and I'm still dealing with a fever and fatigue... Day 1: March 28—difficulty breathing, fever at 101. Day 2-6: no symptoms. Day 7: April 3—difficulty breathing/chest tightness, fever around 101, soreness, fatigue, lower abdomen pain. Day 8–9: difficulty breathing/chest tightness, fever 100-101, soreness, fatigue, lower abdomen pain, diarrhea. Day 10–26: April 6–22—occasional difficulty breathing and chest tightness not constant, fever 100-101, slight fatigue (much more energy). Spoke to a doctor virtually—advised to rest and not leave house. Day 27—29: April 23–25—Congestion in nose, scratching throat, sneezing often, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and right tonsil, neck sore to touch. Fever 102 Day 29: spoke with a virtual doctor. Prescribed antibiotics to treat secondary infection. Diagnosed as strep. Day 30—31: April 26–27—symptoms began to subside from secondary infection. Occasional stomach pains (believe to be from antibiotics & probiotics). Fever 100-101. Day 32–35: April 28–May 1—fever remains between 100–101. Slight fatigue.
Confused about COVID-19Posted April 14, 2020 by A.
Female, age 39. Last night I started with a sore throat and aches, mostly in my upper legs and arms. I have NO FEVER! I had tried to get ahold of my PCP but ended up with a different doctor. She told me to go to a testing site for Covid-19 and I am scared because I am a heart patient and I have an autoimmune disorder. I am not sure what to do. I am really scared that I may have it and I'm really scared to go get tested. And even if I do get tested and have it, they are not going to do anything for it unless I am very sick and need to be in a hospital. I am just unsure of what to do. I did call back my doctors to see if I can speak to my primary care to see what he says
Possible COVID experience from a healthy 24-year-oldPosted April 8, 2020 by R.
Female, age 24. On March 28th, I experienced shortness of breath, like I couldn't take in enough air. My throat was also tight, so I took my temperature and it was 101. The next day, I felt fine and had no temperature. Over the next week, I went for a couple of runs and experienced no symptoms. That Friday, April 3rd, I woke up feeling exhausted and my shortness of breath was back. I took my temperature and it was 100.5. Since then, my temperature has remained in the 100-101 range. My eyes feel tired and my muscles sore (like I just did an intense lifting workout). The chest tightness and shortness of breath comes and goes—mostly after meals. If you have experienced anemia, it feels exactly like that. I don't feel terrible but I do feel off. I am not bedridden and have enough energy to continue working remotely. I spoke to my PCP and she urged me not to seek medical attention to get tested, but Buoy Symptom Checker suggested otherwise. Other symptoms have been diarrhea and stomach pains (early on), clammy hands and lightheadedness. I have no congestion, cough or loss of smell. I know I will fully recover; I just hope my fever drops soon.
2020 - Present, Physician Researcher, Buoy Health
Laura Hagopian, MD, FAWM, FACEP is an Emergency Medicine trained physician with 10+ years of clinical, research, and teaching experience. She has a special interest in using technology to make healthcare more accessible and affordable for everyone. Laura is a part time practicing Emergency Physician at Lowell General Hospital. In addition, she completed both quantitative and qualitative medical re...
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