Coronavirus (COVID-19): What You Need to Know

This is a rapidly evolving situation. Last updated Monday, October 12, 2020.

The “2019 novel coronavirus” (COVID-19) is a new coronavirus and the responsible agent for an outbreak of pneumonia cases in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. COVID-19 was initially reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 31, 2019 with links to a large seafood and animal market; now person-to-person spread is being reported. The virus is transmitted via infectious secretions (respiratory droplets, sputum, serum, or blood) between individuals in close contact (within about 6 feet). It is possible that, in addition, the virus can be transmitted by saliva, urine, and stool.

On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

The situation is rapidly evolving. There have been more than 37 million confirmed human infections and more than 1 million deaths worldwide as of October 12, 2020. In the United States alone, there are more than 7.7 million confirmed cases. For an up-to-date heat map of global cases, click here.

Per the CDC, health care providers should immediately notify their local or state health department in the event of the identification of a person under investigation (PUI) for COVID-19

What to look for:

The CDC criteria is as follows as of April 2, 2020.

PRIORITY 1 – Ensure optimal care options for all hospitalized patients, lessen the risk of nosocomial infections, and maintain the integrity of the health care system.

  • Hospitalized patients
  • Symptomatic health care workers

PRIORITY 2 – Ensure that those who are at highest risk of complication of infection are rapidly identified and appropriately triaged.

  • Patients in long-term care facilities with symptoms
  • Patients 65 years of age and older with symptoms
  • Patients with underlying conditions with symptoms
  • First responders with symptoms

PRIORITY 3 – As resources allow, test individuals in the surrounding community of rapidly increasing hospital cases to decrease community spread and ensure health of essential workers.

  • Critical infrastructure workers with symptoms
  • Individuals who do not meet any of the above categories with symptoms
  • Health care workers and first responders
  • Individuals with mild symptoms in communities experiencing high COVID-19 hospitalizations

NON-PRIORITY – Individuals without symptoms.

Note: Fever may not be present in some patients, such as those who are very young, elderly, immunosuppressed, or taking certain fever-lowering medications. Clinical judgment should be used.


What else could it be:

The differential diagnosis of COVID-19 includes other etiologies of lower respiratory tract infection.

Viral infection:

Bacterial pneumonia, eg:

Atypical bacterial pneumonia, eg:


If you suspect COVID-19:

See WHO for specific guidance for suspected COVID-19 infection. Refer to the US CDC for additional guidance.

Immediately notify infection control at your institution and the local or state health department in the event of a PUI for COVID-19.

No vaccine or specific treatment for COVID-19 is available; care is supportive.

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