Frequently Asked Questions

Updated on April 29, 2020

We are drawing this information from the websites of a variety of trustworthy organizations (e.g. World Health Organization, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Massachusetts State Department of Public Health, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, the Boston Public Health Commission and the Cleveland Clinic among others). Some of this language is used word for word, and other language is paraphrased. We would like to acknowledge the hard work of these organizations in compiling this information.

Important terms:

WHO: World Health Organization

CDC: United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19: COVID-19 is a new disease, caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that has not previously been seen in humans. There are many types of human coronaviruses including some that commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract (sinuses, nasal passages, pharynx and larynx) illnesses. In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’  ‘D’ for ‘disease’ and ‘19’ for ‘2019.’


NEW Can the virus that causes COVID-19 spread through drinking water?

The virus that causes COVID-19 has not been found in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods that filter and disinfect the water should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.

Adapted from source:


NEW Who needs to be tested for COVID-19?

The guidelines for COVID-19 testing vary by location, so check with your local health department or Ministry of Health. In general, only those who have symptoms or are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 need to be tested (contacts of confirmed cases). If you are having symptoms and feel you need to be tested, if at all possible, reach out to a medical provider by phone before seeking care in person.

For information on Testing Centers in India, please visit:

Adapted from sources:


NEW Will warm weather stop the outbreak of COVID-19?

It is not yet known whether weather and temperature affect the spread of COVID-19. Some other viruses, like those that cause 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.  There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with COVID-19 and investigations are ongoing.

From source:


NEW Are people with disabilities at higher risk for COVID-19 infection or severe illness?

Most people with disabilities are not inherently at higher risk for becoming infected with or having severe illness from COVID-19.  Some people with physical limitations or other disabilities might be at a higher risk of infection because of their underlying medical condition.

You should talk with your healthcare provider if you have a question about your health or how your health condition is being managed.

Adapted from source:


UPDATED Should I use a facemask or face cover to prevent COVID-19?

We realize that there have been some changes on this topic. Why this change? There has been a growing realization that one way that the virus is spreading is through people who have COVID-19 but do not yet show any symptoms.  Therefore the current recommendation is that you should cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when you are out in public, for example while going to the grocery store. This is to protect others from the risk of getting COVID-19, since you could spread the virus to others even if you do not feel sick.

The face cover should cover the mouth and nose completely. Face covers must not be shared, and each person should have their own face covers. It is useful to have two sets of such face covers so one can be washed while the other is used.

Cloth face covers should not be used by people who have trouble breathing, or children under age 2 years, or people who are unable to remove the mask without help.

The cloth face cover is not a substitute for social distancing. You should continue to keep 6 feet between yourself and others. Hand washing is still very important, and hands should be washed before wearing the face cover.

A medical/ surgical face mask should ONLY be used by people who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms or by healthcare workers.


How should I clean and disinfect my home in order to protect myself and my family from COVID-19?

If you think a surface may be infected, clean it with a simple disinfectant to kill the virus and protect yourself and others. If surfaces are dirty, clean them using detergent or soap and water before you use the disinfectant.  After cleaning and disinfecting, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wash them with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

On a regular basis, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

Adapted from sources: and

Are the symptoms of COVID-19 different in children than adults?

No. The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in children and adults. However, children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally shown mild symptoms. Reported symptoms in children include cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported. It’s not known yet whether some children may be at higher risk for severe illness, for example, children with underlying medical conditions and special healthcare needs. There is much more to be learned about how the disease impacts children.


Can anti-malarial drugs be used to treat or prevent COVID-19?

The World Health Organization (WHO) is keeping up with research that is being done in hospitals and labs in response to COVID-19, including studies that look at anti-malarial drugs (chloroquine and its derivative, hydroxy-chloroquine) for treatment and/or prevention. The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has recommended the use of hydroxy-chloroquine for prevention only in asymptomatic healthcare workers involved in the care of COVID-19 cases and all the contacts who do not show symptoms in a house with a confirmed case.

The research will show us in the next few weeks how the drugs work in treating COVID-19. Doctors will review the evidence to see if the drugs help. If you have COVID-19, you should consult your doctor about what drugs you should take to help you manage the symptoms.

Adapted from source:

How does COVID-19 spread?

People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets coming from the nose or mouth when a person with COVID-19 coughs or breathes out. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, and then their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breath in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or breathes out droplets. This is why it is important to stay 3-6 feet or about 1-2 meters away from a person who is sick.


UPDATED What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include repeated shaking with chills, muscle pains, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

Those who are ill may also have fatigue (tiredness), nasal congestion (stuffy nose), or diarrhea; however, many people who become infected do not have any symptoms. Most people who get COVID-19 get better without needing special treatment. However, some become very ill. Please talk to your doctor about any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.


What should I do if I think I am sick?

If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider for medical advice. If you are sick, you should stay home and stay away from others as much as possible. Many people will be able to recover at home; however, be sure to get care if you think it is an emergency. If you seek care, call ahead to make sure they know you may have COVID-19 so that healthcare workers can protect themselves.


Can COVID-19 be caught from a person who has no symptoms?

People are most likely to spread the disease when they have the symptoms,  that is, “symptomatic” or sick. This is because the main way the disease spreads is through droplets expelled by someone who is coughing or sneezing. However, it is possible that some spread can happen before people show symptoms. Social distancing is recommended even for people without symptoms.


Who is at risk for serious complications from COVID-19?

People of all ages can become infected with COVID-19, but some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness. This includes:

  • Older adults
  • People who have underlying chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, lung disease

This does not, however, mean that other groups won’t fall sick or are immune from it. Everyone is at risk; some more than others.


What does it mean to practice ‘social distancing’?

  • Keeping your distance from others (3-6 feet or 1-2 meters away).
  • Not taking public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares during this period.
  • Avoiding crowded places (for example: shopping centers, schools, workplaces, movie theaters, and places of worship such as churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques).


What steps can my family take to reduce our risk of getting COVID-19?

Practice everyday preventive actions to help reduce your risk of getting sick and remind everyone in your home to do the same. These actions are especially important for older adults and people who have chronic medical conditions:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with the inside of your elbow or a tissue and throw the tissue in the trash. Then wash your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before cooking or eating.
  • If you do not have soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that people touch a lot (e.g. phones, other electronics, tables, countertops, light switches, doorknobs, and cabinet handles).


Can COVID-19 be spread through food?

Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets. Right now, there is no evidence to support the spread of COVID-19 through food. Before preparing or eating food it is important to always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds for general food safety. Throughout the day wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or going to the bathroom.

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

In general, because it is hard for COVID-19 to survive on surfaces for long, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packages that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at room temperature or refrigerated or frozen temperatures.


Is it safe to receive a package from any area where COVID-19 has been reported?

Yes. It is unlikely that a person with COVID-19 will infect the contents of a package. Since packages are moved and exposed to different conditions and temperatures, it is also unlikely that people will catch COVID-19 from the outside of a package. However, it is advised to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, after touching objects handled by other people.


Can someone who has been quarantined for COVID-19 spread the illness to others?

Quarantine means separating a person or group of people who have been exposed to a contagious disease but have not developed illness (symptoms) from others who have not been exposed. The purpose of quarantine is to prevent the spread of that disease. A person exposed to similar coronaviruses as the COVID-19 virus usually develops an illness within 14 days of exposure. Because of this, a person who might have been exposed to the virus from another infected person should quarantine themselves for a period of 14 days. During this period, they can develop and/or spread the illness to others. Beyond the quarantine period, the person is considered to be not at risk of developing or spreading the illness.


Is there a vaccine, drug or treatment for COVID-19?

There are multiple vaccines to prevent COVID-19, with more under development. Please visit our Vaccine FAQs page for more information.


Please follow the links below for more information:

Boston Public Health Commission

Cleveland Clinic


CDC How it Spreads

CDC Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Massachusetts Department of Public Health

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India

World Health Organization (WHO) FAQs

CDC Symptom Description and Symptom Checker


This material was curated by Viswanath Lab of Harvard Chan School of Public Health and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) with the help of the Health Communication Core  of Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC). These are  not the official views of Harvard Chan  or DFCI. For any questions, comments or suggestions reach out to