What is coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, known as SARS-CoV-2, is the virus strain identified in January that causes COVID-19, coronavirus disease, and is spreading from person to person. While the virus has the potential to cause severe illness and pneumonia in some people, about 80% of cases are relatively mild.

How does this new coronavirus spread?

Its main mode of spreading is respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Droplets can land in the mouth or nose or be inhaled into the lungs of nearby people (within 6 feet). It may be possible for a person to be infected by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.

How severe is COVID-19?

Most coronavirus illnesses are mild with fever and cough. The vast majority of people with a SARS-CoV-2 infection don’t require hospital care. A much smaller percentage of people get severely ill with respiratory problems like pneumonia. Elderly people and people with underlying medical conditions are at the highest risk.

Globally, 3.4% of reported COVID-19 patients had died as of March 3, leading experts to say it may be 34 times more fatal than the seasonal flu. However, with many mild cases not reported, the percentage may be lower.


About 99%* of people who have the virus will have symptoms. On average, symptoms appear five to six days after infection, but may appear as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus.

If you show early signs of illness

If you have symptoms and were exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 patient, call both your health care provider and, in King County, the Novel Coronavirus Call Center, 206-477-3977. You can also call the state coronavirus hotline at 800-525-0127, although this number has high traffic and may be temporarily unavailable.

If you have symptoms but don’t know if you were exposed, don’t head straight to the emergency room or urgent care, where you might infect others. Call your doctor about whether, when and where you should be evaluated.



For most patients, COVID-19 begins and ends in the lungs, although other organs and systems can be affected. The disease attacks the lungs in three phases: viral replication, immune hyper-reactivity, and pulmonary destruction. Not all patients go through every phase, with milder cases often remaining in the first stage.


No medications are specifically approved for COVID-19. Most people with mild coronavirus illness will recover on their own by drinking plenty of fluids, resting, and taking pain and fever medications. However, some patients develop pneumonia and require medical care or hospitalization.


Steps you can take to prevent the flu and the common cold will also help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus:

• Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If that’s not available, use hand sanitizer.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid contact with people who are sick.

• Stay home while you are sick and avoid close contact with others.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.


Hand-washing 101

Wash your hands as soon as you walk through the door of your home. Scrub with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Household preparation

To minimize your risk of exposure to the new coronavirus, Public Health – Seattle & King County recommends staying home, avoiding crowds and reducing close contact, a practice known as “social distancing.”

Beyond a basic emergency kit, have the daily necessities and shelf-stable foods on hand. This will help you to practice social distancing and to care for yourself and your household if someone becomes ill.

If the virus does start circulating in your community, or if someone is sick in your home, plan on cleaning surfaces that get touched frequently — such as kitchen counters, door handles and bathroom faucets — several times a day.

Supplies to consider:

• Extra fluids, hydrating drinks (such as Gatorade and Pedialyte)

• Food for when you’re sick, like soups, broths, crackers, honey (especially nonperishable items to carry you through a couple of weeks)

• Pain and fever medications (like acetaminophen)

• Cough drops, cough medications

• Prescription medications

• Tissues

• Household cleaners (bleach, alcohol, soap)

Other languages

To help neighbors who do not speak English, King County has created fact sheets in several languages. Find them below or at

አማርኛ – Amharic

العربية – Arabic

中文 – Chinese

Tagalog – Filipino

हिदायते – Hindi

日本語 – Japanese

한국어– Korean

Русский – Russian

af Soomaali – Somali

Español – Spanish

Tiếng Việt – Vietnamese

Download a printable version of the fact sheet here.

Note: Viruses not to scale

Sources: King County Public Health, World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Matthew Frieman, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Hawaii National Public Radio, University of California San Francisco Health, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic

Coronavirus resources

How is this outbreak affecting you, if at all?

Are you changing your routine or going about your business as usual? Have you canceled or postponed any plans? What kinds of discussions are you having with family members and friends? Are you a healthcare worker who's on the front lines of the response? Whoever you are, we want to hear from you so our news coverage is as complete, accurate and useful as possible. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, click here.

Do you have questions about the novel coronavirus?

Ask your question in the form below and we'll dig for answers. If you're using a mobile device and can't see the form on this page, ask your question here. You can see questions we've already answered on this FAQ. If you have specific medical questions, please contact your doctor.