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Frequently Asked Questions

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. It comes from the 2019 novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. On January 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” (PHEIC). On January 31, 2020, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency (PHE) for the United States to aid the nation’s healthcare community in responding to COVID-19.

What is a novel coronavirus?

A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The virus causing COVID-19 is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold. Many people are familiar with herd immunity. This concept applies to most respiratory tract infections, not just the ones we vaccinate against. Because this virus is new, there is no herd immunity which means virtually everyone in the world is susceptible to this infection.

A diagnosis with any other coronavirus is not the same as a COVID-19 diagnosis. Patients with COVID-19 will be evaluated and cared for differently than patients with a common coronavirus diagnosis.

What is the difference between coronavirus and other viral fevers?

Viral fever is a generic term meaning a fever that is caused by a viral infection. Most viruses that infect humans can cause a person to have a fever and symptoms such as fatigue that are often referred to as “flu-like symptoms” because they are so similar to each other.

Am I at risk for COVID-19 in the United States?

This is a rapidly evolving situation and cases are continuing to be identified in growing numbers. For a complete list of cases and states impacted in the U.S., click here.

While you may be at risk for getting infected, it is hard to say how high that risk is. It is also hard to predict how severe your symptoms would be if you got infected because everyone has different immune systems. When thinking about your risk of disease, we encourage you also to think about the risk for other people. When you prevent yourself from getting infected, you also prevent the possibility of spreading it to someone else who may have a higher risk of having a severe infection.

How many people in the U.S. and in Oklahoma have been infected?

Yes. The first COVID-19 case in the United States was reported on January 21, 2020. Since the first confirmed instance of person-person-spread with this virus in the U.S. was reported we have seen a wide spread of the disease throughout the U.S. See the current U.S. case count of COVID-19. The Oklahoma State Department of Health is currently tracking the number of people with COVID-19 in Oklahoma. Numbers change daily, please refer to for the latest numbers.

Should younger adults be concerned about COVID-19?

Yes. While the rates of complications and death are lower in young adults who are infected, some young patients have become very ill and some have died.

How far should we take physical distancing? Can I go outside where there are other people?

Yes, but in any setting you are in, it is best to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from those around you and it's important to always wear a mask face covering while in public spaces.

Does a person taking an ACE Inhibitor (i.e. Lisinopril) or an ARB (i.e. Losartan) have a higher risk for a bad outcome if they test positive for COVID-19?

The impact of ACE inhibitors and ARBs in patients with COVID-19 disease are unknown at this time. Some experts believe they could cause a worsening of symptoms, while others believe they may have a protective effect. You should consult with your physician before stopping these medications.

If a person catches COVID-19 and then recovers, is he/she then able to resume normal life, or does he/she need to continue social distancing?

The current CDC recommendation is that the patient stay in isolation until at least 7 days after the onset of symptoms, or at least 3 days after fever breaks, whichever date is the latest.

Is there or will there be a COVID-19 vaccine?

No vaccine currently exists for the virus. Many researchers, including several associated with the OU Health Sciences Center, are engaged in work related to the development of a vaccine. It's important to remember that social distancing and good hand hygiene are the best protection until we have an approved vaccine against the virus.


How is COVID-19 spread?

The first infections were linked to a live animal market, but the virus is now spreading from person-to-person. Someone who is actively sick with COVID-19 can spread the illness to others. That is why CDC recommends that these patients be isolated either in the hospital or at home (depending on how sick they are) until they are better and no longer pose a risk of infecting others.

The virus is spread by droplet transmission, which is a technical term for close contact. When you cough and sneeze, the virus travels about 3 feet (or 1 meter). This means surfaces near the infected person can become infected, as well as people within close contact. The virus is not spread outside very well. We are more concerned about crowded conditions.

How can I help protect myself?

Our first line of defense is to follow practices recommended for any infectious diseases such as washing our hands frequently, covering our mouths when we cough, and staying home and only travel is essential.

  • Wear a mask when in public and maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feat apart.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash or cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

Additional information about the virus and how you can inform and protect yourself can be found through sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath – similar to what you may feel with influenza or a bad cold. Additional information about coronavirus symptoms can be found on the CDC website. The CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

Should I wear a mask or face covering?

Yes. Many people are asymptomatic, meaning they may carry the virus but do not have the symptoms, but they can give the disease to another person. Read more about masking.

How long does COVID-19 live on surfaces?

We are still learning the details, but it appears to be a relatively hardy virus which means it is important to actively disinfect surfaces (and hands) and not assume the virus will die after an hour or two.

What Should I Do?

Should I be tested for COVID-19?

If you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, please visit the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker provided on this website or at the CDC Testing for Coronavirus. Please then work with your healthcare professional to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19. You can also see OU Medicine's list of drive-thru testing sites that are in partnership with the state Department of Health.

How do you test a person for COVID-19?

Your healthcare provider will work with you and the state health department to order tests when it is appropriate. It is important to be aware that diagnostic tests, including the one for COVID-19, perform differently depending on the infected person’s stage of illness. That is, it performs better after people start to show symptoms. It is not as accurate in the pre-symptomatic stage.

Can a person test negative and later test positive for COVID-19?

Using the CDC-developed diagnostic test, a negative result means that the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in the person’s sample. In the early stages of infection, it is possible the virus will not be detected. For COVID-19, a negative test result for a sample collected while a person has symptoms likely means that the COVID-19 virus is not causing their current illness.

Terms and Definitions

What does it mean to conduct screening, swabbing and testing?

Screening is a series of questions asked to determine a person's risk for COVID-19. They include questions about symptoms, travel history in recent weeks, and exposure to someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19. After screening, the decision is made whether or not to do testing. Swabbing means inserting a small stick with special material on the end (a swab) into a person’s nostril to collect cells for testing. Testing means sending a patient’s nasal swab sample to a laboratory for analysis. By analyzing the cells from that swab, laboratory personnel can determine whether a person has COVID-19. For patients who have a productive cough (a cough that produces saliva and mucus), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that healthcare professionals collect a sample of that saliva/mucus for additional testing.

What does “close contact” mean in the context of COVID-19 screening?

Close contact has two definitions in this context. One is being within approximately 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time. Close contact can occur while living with, caring for, visiting, or sharing a healthcare waiting room with someone who has COVID-19.

What does "triage" mean?

Triage means to sort people based on their need for immediate medical treatment. For example, an older person who is showing symptoms of respiratory illness would receive priority for treatment over a younger person showing symptoms of respiratory illness.

What does it mean to be at high or higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19?

The CDC currently defines high-risk as adults over age 65, and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions. Examples of serious underlying conditions include:

  • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • People who have heart disease with complications
  • People who are immunocompromised, including having cancer treatment
  • People with diabetes that is not well controlled
  • People with renal failure
  • People with liver disease
  • People of any age with severe obesity (having a body mass index over 40)


Do you have to use antibacterial soap when washing your hands? Dishes? Are there specific disinfectants that kill COVID-19, or will any household disinfectant work?

There is no need to use antibacterial soap when washing your hands. The virus is not susceptible to antibacterial agents. Many disinfectants will kill the virus. A common household disinfectant is diluted bleach, which will effectively kill the virus.

I read I should not take ibuprofen if I contract COVID-19. Is this true?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) currently states that there are no data suggesting an association between COVID-19 clinical outcomes and NSAID use. We are consulting with physicians treating COVID-19 patients, and they are not aware of guidelines that state we should limit the use of ibuprofen or naproxen, beyond the usual recommendations in certain people.

Can I make my own hand sanitizer out of vodka or grain alcohol?

CDC only says sanitizer needs to be at least 60% alcohol to kill the virus, but it doesn't recommend healthcare workers make their own hand sanitizer because it dries the skin. According to the CDC, hand-washing with soap and water is the best way to protect oneself. If soap and water aren’t available, hand sanitizer containing 60% alcohol is acceptable. Making hand sanitizer is not as easy as simply combining the correct ratio of ingredients. The chemistry and math involved is complicated, and there’s no guarantee that any of these recipes will end with the right alcohol percentage. Stick to hand washing.

Can I take vitamin C or zinc to ward off the virus?

There is no evidence that vitamin C or zinc will prevent you from getting COVID-19.

Is it true that children are immune to COVID-19?

Children and young adults are not immune from COVID-19, but they generally seem to have a very mild course of infection with few symptoms. Children can be carriers of COVID-19.