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Answers to frequently asked questions about coronavirus globally and in Mississippi:

The questions below will be frequently updated to reflect current information related to the coronavirus and COVID-19.

(Sources: UMMC Division of Infectious Diseases; UMMC Infection Prevention: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; World Health Organization)


Q: How close do you have to be to someone who is positive or shedding the virus to become infected, and for how long? What if they have no symptoms?

A: National health experts now say that between 25 and 50 percent of those infected with the virus have no symptoms – yet can unwittingly still spread the virus, accounting for widespread community transmission.

“This helps explain how rapidly this virus continues to spread across the country,” Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, told a National Public Radio affiliate in Atlanta on March 30.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, said recommendations that Americans wear masks to curb the spread of the virus are being considered.  But he and others strongly caution that wearing a mask does not replace social distancing.

Although definitions continue to change, close contact is currently defined as being within approximately 6 feet (2 meters) of a COVID-19 case. Usually, close contact can occur while caring for, living with, visiting, or sharing a health care waiting area or room with a COVID-19 case. 

The approximate duration of close contact is unknown. However based on limited data, around 20 minutes or longer duration of contact can result in transmission- associated infection.

Q: Who should be screened for COVID-19?

A: Anyone showing symptoms – fever with or without cough, sore throat and breathing problems including shortness of breath – can call their provider’s office or consult a telehealth provider for guidance. They’ll be asked a series of questions to determine whether they are at high risk for COVID-19, and if so, should be tested.

Recent out-of-state or international travel previously was a risk factor for screening, but no longer is a factor because of the virus’ community-based outbreak. Having definite knowledge of close contact with someone who has a laboratory confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis is no longer a requirement for testing due to the highly contagious virus’ community spread.

But, if someone with symptoms knows they have had contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient, they should tell a provider and receive guidance on next steps.

A physician's suspicion for COVID-19 is sufficient indication for screening or testing for what appears to be a milder case not requiring hospitalization. They will base this on the local outbreak situation, and evaluation of those with severe respiratory illness of unclear origin.

Don’t go to a provider’s office without calling ahead to give them time to protect patients and staff from infection. Do not go to your emergency room unless your symptoms are severe, including breathing problems, and call ahead.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is periodically updating its guidelines on who should be screened, and those guidelines might continue to change.

Q: If I believe I have symptoms of COVID-19 and that I meet one or more of the conditions that warrant screening or testing, should I come to UMMC?

A: Unless are experiencing a true emergency, do not come to the UMMC Emergency Department or another hospital emergency department if you believe you have mild symptoms of COVID-19. Instead, call your provider or local clinic ahead of time, explain your symptoms and ask for guidance. Emergency rooms are critically needed for patients who are traumatically injured or very sick.

Providers will ask you screening questions to determine if you need to be isolated and tested for the virus. Please call ahead before visiting a provider or clinic so that they can take steps to protect others from potential exposure before your arrival.

COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. If you are having trouble breathing, seek immediate medical attention.

Most acute care hospitals in the state are prepared to care for COVID-19 patients needing hospitalization. Unlike in the Ebola crisis of a few years ago, most COVID-19 patients do not receive added benefit from a higher level of care offered by medical centers that treat more severe conditions that require specialized knowledge and more intensive health monitoring.

Q: If I have been in close contact with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patient, do I need to get tested?

A: You don’t need to be tested as long as you are not having any symptoms. Continue working as usual and follow basic prevention measures while working, such as hand hygiene, environmental cleaning, social distancing (at least 6 feet) and following standard precautions.

You are also advised to monitor your temperature twice daily and monitor for respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath and sore throat. If you develop any symptoms at home, then stay at home, isolate yourself from others and refer to CDC guidance on home care.

Q: If I give COVID-19 specimens at the Mississippi Fairgrounds drive-through collection, how long will it take for results of my test, and who will tell me?

A: Currently, the Mississippi Department of Health (MSDH) is the only laboratory in the state that can perform COVID-19 testing. Due to widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the state, MSDH is receiving large volumes of test specimens every day. Hospitalized patients have the highest priority for testing. You can anticipate results to take at least 72 hours. 

Q: If my symptoms are mild, is it OK not to seek immediate care or testing?

A: Those with mild symptoms who are not having difficulty breathing can wait on a test and stay at home and be watchful for worsening illness.  There’s no vaccine or drug for COVID-19, but over-the-counter medications for fever and cough can offer relief.

However, it’s critical that anyone experiencing symptoms who think they may have the virus should rigorously self-isolate themselves away from other people to avoid spreading the virus. Stay in a specific room away from other people and pets. Use a separate bathroom if you can. Stay home except to get medical care. Wear a facemask if you are around other people in a room or vehicle, around pets, or in a provider’s office.

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, throw away the tissue, then immediately wash your hands. Don’t share personal household items with people or pets, and clean all high-touch surfaces daily.

Q: If I think I need to be tested, are there options other than going to a clinic? I’ve heard that everyone is trying to conserve personal protective equipment due to the international shortage.

A: Those using the new and free C Spire Health UMMC Virtual COVID-19 Triage app, downloadable beginning March 23 from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, can give specimens for testing at no cost at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds if telehealth providers determine they are at high risk. App screening is 8 a.m.-8 p.m., seven days a week.

Only those using the app will be allowed to take part in drive-through specimen collection, by appointment only, beginning March 24 at tents at the Fairgrounds organized by UMMC and community partners. They will be given an identification code to be presented when they enter the Fairgrounds at the High Street entrance only. No one will get out of their vehicle; a provider will come to their window and collect a nose swab specimen. Collection hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., seven days a week.

Results of testing at the Mississippi State Department of Health will be communicated by UMMC.

Q: What should I do during self-isolation?

A: The CDC says most people who get sick with COVID-19 will have mild illness and should recover at home – but it’s critically important that anyone with confirmed COVID-19, or COVID-19 symptoms but no testing, home-isolate themselves from others, including those living at that residence. COVID-19 is highly contagious and spreads quickly through communities.

During home-isolation, stay away from other people for at least seven days from the onset of symptoms, or three days after the symptoms disappear or diminish significantly, whichever is longer. Leave home only to seek medical care. Treat symptoms as if you had the flu: get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and use acetaminophen for aches and fever.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and use hand sanitizer. Contact your medical provider if your symptoms significantly worsen. Older adults and anyone with certain serious underlying medical conditions like lung disease, heart disease or diabetes should monitor symptoms closely and call their provider if symptoms worsen.

Q: Is anyone more susceptible to COVID-19 compared with the general population?

A: Any person, of any age, can be infected with COVID-19. Those with serious health conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer or other illnesses that compromise the immune system are more likely to experience complications from COVID-19, flu or pneumonia. The very young and the very old also are often more at risk.

Q: How deadly is COVID-19?

A: National medical experts say that COVID-19 has two or three times the transmission rate of influenza, and the case fatality rate for COVID-19 is about 30 times that of the flu.

Because this novel coronavirus is so new, experts can only estimate the fatality rate, currently 3 to 4 percent.

Experts believe based on available information that COVID-19 is far less deadly than Ebola or a different novel coronavirus called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. However, because COVID-19 is so highly contagious and so widespread, significantly more people will die from it than those two diseases.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, the coronavirus outbreak of 2003, had a fatality rate of 9.6 percent. MERS has a 34.4 percent fatality rate, with cases still occurring since an initial outbreak in September 2012, WHO estimates.  The fatality rate for the seasonal flu, based on much more complete data, is less than 1 percent.

Q: Is there an immunization or anti-viral drug for COVID-19?

A: There’s no vaccine and no drug. Patients can use over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms, such as cough syrup or ibuprofen/acetaminophen for fever. A number of biotech and pharmaceutical firms in several countries are developing a vaccine, but even if clinical trials are successful, further testing and regulatory action would be needed before a vaccine could become available. That could take a year to 18 months, officials with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases say.

Q: What are the main symptoms of COVID-19? Are they the same for the flu?

A: Patients with confirmed COVID-19 can experience fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath, and that can be true with flu. Just as with the flu, the symptoms of COVID-19 can be mild or severe.

Q: What is the incubation period for COVID-19?

A: The length of time between exposure to the virus and developing symptoms is estimated at anywhere from two to 14 days.

Q: How does COVID-19 spread?

A: The virus is spread by droplets created by coughing or sneezing, the same way the flu is spread. Someone can inhale the droplets and be infected, or touch their eyes, nose or mouth fingers that have been exposed to droplets. Spread can also occur from touching a contaminated surface and introducing the virus to your nose or mouth.  How easily a virus spreads person to person can vary, and it’s not clear how easily COVID-19 spreads from person to person.

Q: What will UMMC do if someone who might have COVID-19 comes to the Emergency Department or another outpatient area?

A: Unless their symptoms are severe or they are having difficulty breathing, someone who believes they have COVID-19 should not come to UMMC's Emergency Department or that of another hospital. Instead, if they are having symptoms, they should call their provider for guidance and next steps. Emergency Departments should be reserved for the severely ill and traumatically injured.  

Many clinic appointments at the Medical Center have been postponed, so if you have not already received a call to reschedule, be sure to call your provider before coming to the clinic.

Q: If you have COVID-19 but don’t have any symptoms, can you still spread it?

A: Yes – you can shed the virus and make others ill, even if you are not showing symptoms.

Q: What’s the treatment for COVID-19?

A: There is no antiviral treatment, but instead those infected should receive supportive care to relieve symptoms. This can range from over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms at home, to hospitalization for more severe breathing issues.

Q: How can I protect myself from getting COVID-19?

A: First and foremost, wash your hands properly and often – with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If that’s not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Practice social distancing, which is staying at least six feet away from other people and avoiding going out in public. Stay home if at all possible, and stay home if you are sick at all, especially if you are having symptoms of the virus. Experts advise only leaving home if it's essential so that you can protect yourself and others. 
Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. For more guidance, go to the CDC's website.

Q: Will wearing a mask in the general public protect me from COVID-19?

A: The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a N95 surgical facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases such as COVID-19. That mask is recommended only for use by health care workers who need protection from both airborne and fluid hazards (for example, splashes, sprays).  

A nationwide shortage of facemasks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) is a threat to health care workers' ability to protect themselves and others.
Patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should wear a facemask until they are isolated in a hospital or at home, the CDC says, and the patient does not need to wear a facemask while isolated.
Learn more about the use of facemasks and PPE by going to the CDC website.

Q: Should I fly now?

A: A list of destinations with COVID-19  travel health notices compiled by the CDC is available here. The CDC recommends against Americans taking cruises at this time. Travelers should take into account restrictions imposed by airlines when they plan.

WHO says practice proper hand hygiene and coughing/sneezing etiquette on an airplane and stay away from people who are sick. COVID-19 is spread by respiratory droplets generally emitted from a cough or sneeze, and experts say that they can travel up to six feet. 
Crowded travel settings, like airports, may increase your risk of exposure to COVID-19, if there are other travelers with the virus.

For more information on how you can protect yourself on an airplane, visit the U.S> Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website here.

Q: Will the warmer weather stop COVID-19?

A: It is not yet known whether weather and temperature impact the spread of COVID-19, the CDC says. Some other viruses, like the common cold and flu, spread more during cold weather months, but that does not mean it is impossible to become sick with these viruses during other months.  

At this time, it is not known whether the spread of COVID-19 will decrease as the weather becomes warmer. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity and other features associated with COVID-19 and investigations are ongoing.
Learn more about the impact of weather and other environmental factors on COVID-19 on the CDC website here.

Q: Should I avoid contact with my pets if I become infected with COVID-19?

A: The CDC has not received any reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19. Further studies are needed to understand if and how different animals could be affected by COVID-19.

The CDC recommends that you restrict contact not just with people, but with animals including pets, if you have the virus. When possible, have another member of the household care for your pets while you are sick, and avoid contact with your pet such as snuggling, petting, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or other animals when you are sick, wash your hands before and after interaction.
Learn more about taking care of your pets during the COVID-19 outbreak here.

Q: How long can the novel coronavirus live on hard surfaces?

A: Recent studies show the COVID-19 coronavirus can survive up to two or three days on plastic and stainless steel, up to four hours on copper and up to 24 hours on cardboard. Research also shows that virus droplets can hang out in the air for up to three hours before they fall, although they usually fall more quickly than that.

It’s really not known if the virus survives longer or not as long when it’s exposed to sunlight, heat, or cold. In the meantime, follow the CDC's recommendations for frequent cleaning of surfaces and objects that are touched numerous times during the day. That can include tabletops, counters, toilets and bathroom fixtures, doorknobs, phones, keyboards, tablets, and desks or bedside tables.

To clean surfaces, first use a detergent and water, then disinfect them. Find a list of CDC-approved products for COVID-29 cleaning here.

Don’t forget to frequently wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after bringing in packages, going to public places, or touching surfaces that could be infected.

Q: If I’m pregnant, could COVID-19 make me sicker than others who get the disease? Could it affect my baby?

A: The CDC says it’s not known, because the virus is so new, if pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public. It’s also not known whether they are more likely to have serious illness as a result.

It’s also not known what, if any, risk is posed to infants of a pregnant woman who has COVID-19. 

The CDC says pregnant women experience changes in their bodies that may increase their risk of some infections. With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, the CDC says women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness.