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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Your Questions Answered

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed daily life. New information comes out every day, and it can feel overwhelming at times. Here are answers to some questions you may have.

How Does Coronavirus (COVID-19) Spread?

People can catch coronavirus from others who are infected, even if they don't have any symptoms. This happens when an infected person sneezes or coughs, sending tiny droplets into the air. These can land in the nose or mouth of someone nearby.

Some even smaller droplets can linger in the air for minutes to hours. These are called aerosols. People send aerosols into the air when they talk or breathe. Aerosols can travel on air currents away from where they started. So coronavirus sometimes can spread by aerosols. This is more likely to happen when an infected person spends a long time indoors, in a space with poor ventilation.

People also might get infected if they touch an infected droplet on a surface and then touch their own nose, mouth, or eyes.

Experts are looking at whether the virus can spread through stool (poop).

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 can cause a range of symptoms, including:

The virus can be more serious in some people. And some people have no symptoms at all.

Some kids are having symptoms caused by inflammation throughout the body, sometimes several weeks after they were infected with the virus. This is called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Doctors are trying to find out how these symptoms are related to coronavirus infection.

Symptoms seen in kids who have MISC-C include:

  • fever
  • belly pain
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • neck pain
  • a rash
  • red eyes
  • feeling very tired
  • red, cracked lips
  • swollen hands or feet
  • swollen glands (lymph nodes)

Kids who are very sick with MIS-C may have trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest, bluish lips or face, confusion, or trouble staying awake.

Most kids with MIS-C get better after they get special care in the hospital, sometimes in the ICU (intensive care unit).

Can Someone Who's Infected Spread Coronavirus (COVID-19) if They Don't Have Symptoms?

The virus spreads most easily when an infected person has symptoms. But it also can spread before symptoms start. It can take 2–14 days after someone is exposed to the virus for symptoms to show up.

The closer you are to someone who is infected with coronavirus, and the longer you're together, the higher your risk of also getting infected.

Who Is at Risk for Severe Coronavirus (COVID-19) Disease?

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. There are far fewer cases of the virus reported in children. Usually, the virus causes a milder illness in kids, though some children have become pretty sick.

Most of the people who have died from coronavirus were older adults or people with other health problems, such as heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes.

Who Should Wear a Mask?

Wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus. All adults and kids older than 2 years should wear a mask when out in public and around others. At home, anyone who is sick should wear a mask when around other household members to prevent spreading the virus.

Children under 2 years old and people who have trouble breathing should not wear a mask. For more about masks, check the CDC's guide.

Can Kids Go to School During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic?

Health experts, school officials, and teachers have worked hard to decide whether to reopen school buildings for in-person learning. To help prevent the spread of coronavirus, some schools limit class sizes, stagger schedules, or offer online learning. Other schools may offer a mix of online and in-person learning. Those schools that have in-person learning generally require kids and teachers to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and take other precautions.

You can find more information on school safety during the pandemic on the CDC's website.

What Should I Do if My Child Has Symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Call your doctor if your child has a fever, cough, sore throat, belly pain, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, dizziness, or just doesn't feel well. If your child has been near someone with coronavirus or lived in or traveled to an area where lots of people have coronavirus, tell the doctor. The doctor can decide whether your child:

  • should get tested for the infection
  • can be treated at home
  • should come in for a visit
  • can have a video or telehealth visit

In a telehealth visit, a health care provider can see your child on video while you stay at home. If you can, choose a telehealth provider who specializes in caring for kids. If the doctor thinks your child needs care right away, they will guide you on where to go. When possible, check for telehealth in your area before anyone in your family is sick.

How Is Coronavirus (COVID-19) Treated?

There is no specific medicine for COVID-19. Most people who have it get better at home with plenty of liquids, rest, and comfort. Some people get very ill and need treatment in the hospital.

How Are People Tested for Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

There are two types of tests for COVID-19:

  • One type of test can tell if someone is currently infected with coronavirus. To do this test, health care providers use a  swab (like a longer Q-Tip) to take a sample from the nose or throat. They also can test a sample of saliva (spit). Some areas offer drive-thru testing, which lets people stay in their car during the test. At some testing sites, people can swab themselves following directions from the health care team. There also are special kits that families can order to do the test at home.
  • A blood test that checks for antibodies can tell if someone was infected with coronavirus at least 2–3 weeks before the test. It can't tell if they're infected at the time of the test, which is why it isn't used to diagnose COVID-19.

How Can We Protect Ourselves From Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

To protect yourself and your family:

  • Adults and kids over 2 years old should wear a mask any time they are out in public and around other people  to help slow the spread of the virus. To learn more about safe mask practices, check the CDC's guide.
  • Avoid large crowds and busy places.
  • Avoid public indoor spaces that do not provide fresh air from outdoors. Restaurants and bars are particularly risky because people must take off their masks to eat and drink. It is safest to eat outdoors if possible, or to get takeout restaurant food to eat at home.
  • Stay at least 6 feet from people you don't live with. COVID-19 can spread before a person has symptoms and even when someone has no symptoms.
  • Wash your hands well and often. Wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Teach your kids to do the same.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Use a household cleaner or wipe to clean and disinfect surfaces and things that people touch a lot (like doorknobs, cellphones, and counters).
  • Keep informed about the latest recommendations for COVID-19 testing in case someone in your family gets sick or is exposed to an infected person. Follow recommendations for quarantine and isolation to stop the virus from spreading.
  • Avoid non-essential travel. If you must travel, follow state and local recommendations or requirements for testing and quarantining before and after travel.
  • Make sure your children get all their vaccinations. Protect them against illnesses like measles and the flu. Kids who have another infection may have a harder time getting better if they do get COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccines are now available for people 16 and older. Everyone should get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. Studies are under way to see if the vaccines are safe and effective in children younger than 16.

Should We Cancel Our Travel Plans Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Recommendations for travel change often. Check the CDC's website for the latest updates. Talk to your doctor, and consider where you live, where you're traveling to, and any medical conditions people in your family have.

Can Someone Get Coronavirus (COVID-19) From Mail or a Package?

The risk of getting infected from mail or a package is very low. But it's a good idea to wash your hands after handling mail.

Can Pets Get Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Some animals have tested positive for coronavirus. People who are sick shouldn't have contact with their pets. If someone must care for a pet while sick, they should wash their hands before and after contact and wear a mask. If your pet is sick, call your vet for advice on what to do.

Where Can I Get Updated Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Check the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) websites for up-to-date, reliable information about coronavirus.

Date reviewed: March 2021