Coronavirus (COVID-19): Understanding the Risks

The nation’s emergency physicians are on the frontlines of treatment and prevention of COVID-19. You should take appropriate precautions and consider simple steps to minimize your risk of getting or spreading the virus.

Reduce your risk

The best way to protect yourself and your family is to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Until you're fully vaccinated, help slow to the spread of COVID-19 by taking simple precautions.

  • Maintain six feet of distance from others outside your household.
  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Cover your face in public.
  • Wash your hands regularly and cough or sneeze into your arm or a tissue.
  • Always know when to go to the emergency department. 

Symptoms 

Call your doctor if you’ve been in contact with someone who already has COVID-19 or has traveled to an affected region and within 14 days you develop the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle/Body Aches
  • Sore Throat
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • New Loss of Taste and Smell
  • Congestion/Stuffy Nose

Additional Resources

COVID-19: Know When To Go

A one-pager that outlines what to do if you think you're sick with COVID-19, including information about getting tested, and how to know when to go to the emergency department.

En español

ACEP Advocacy and Clinical Guidance

In addition to advocating for federal policy changes to ensure emergency departments are equipped to handle the growing outbreak, ACEP is providing up-to-date clinical guidance for emergency physicians via the National Strategic Plan for Emergency Department Management of Outbreaks of COVID-19

Frequently Asked Questions

What should you do if you think you are sick with COVID-19?

1. Consider your symptoms.

Call your doctor if you’ve been in contact with someone who already has COVID-19 or has traveled to an affected region and within 14 days you develop the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle/Body Aches
  • Sore Throat
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • New Loss of Taste and Smell
  • Congestion/Stuffy Nose

If you are experiencing fever that responds to acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen and a cough, and you are young and otherwise healthy, treat yourself as you would for a bad cold or flu. If you have shortness of breath that is new for you, call your doctor.

2. If your symptoms are mild, contact your primary care physician to discuss your best options for care. While you do not need to call ahead for the emergency department, it is important to know when to go.

3, Call 911 or visit your closest emergency department if:

  • You’re experiencing a medical emergency,
  • You’re sick enough that you need to go to the hospital, especially if you recently started experiencing shortness of breath, or
  • You’re sick and you are a high-risk individual, such as an older patient or a person with an already weakened immune system.

 

How is COVID-19 treated?

COVID-19 can be treated like many viral infections; acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and fever relief, food and fluids, good hygiene, rest and appropriate distance from others.

How dangerous is COVID-19? Who is at risk?

Those at risk include people who have been in contact with a person who already has COVID-19. High-risk individuals include older people, especially those with chronic or pre-existing medical conditions, or those with an already weakened immune system.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is regularly updating information here.

How does it spread?

Like other respiratory viruses, scientists believe COVID-19 spreads from person to person via tiny droplets of saliva when you breath, speak, cough, or sneeze. You can contract the virus by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your nose or eyes. The virus can live up to nine hours, though it is likely only contagious for one to two hours. It’s smart to avoid touching your face, and make sure you cough or sneeze into your arm or a tissue.

How can I protect myself and my family from getting or spreading the virus?

  • Maintain six feet of distance from others outside your household.
  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Cover your face in public.
  • Wash your hands regularly and cough or sneeze into your arm or a tissue.
  • Get vaccinated when you're eligible.
  • Always know when to go to the emergency department. 

Do I need to wear a mask?

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone above the age of two should wear a face covering to minimize the risk of contracting, and spreading COVID-19 while in public settings. 

Covering your face protects you and those around you from infectious droplets emitted when someone talks, breathes, coughs, or sneezes. These particles can remain airborne for up to three hours. Personal choices and safe behaviors are the best defense against COVID-19.

Is coronavirus the same thing as COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that infect people and usually only cause mild respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold. However, some strains of the virus have caused more serious diseases including the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The virus often presents with pneumonia-like symptoms: mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

COVID-19 is a new disease, caused be a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans.

What role do emergency physicians play?

Emergency physicians have protocols in place to protect the public and are working alongside hospitals and other health professionals to stop the spread of this virus and report relevant cases to local, state and national health departments.

Emergency departments approach potential public health epidemics with the “three I’s;”

  • Identify the symptoms;
  • Isolate the patient in accordance with proper protocol; and
  • Inform the appropriate authorities.

Emergency physicians will work with the CDC and others to share information, alerts, and recommendations during any acute disease outbreak.

Where can I learn more about how emergency departments are preparing?

As anticipation grows for more widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in the U.S., emergency physicians are on the frontlines caring for those affected. As the national medical society representing emergency medicine, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) is the preeminent source for clinical, advocacy and emergency patient guidance. You can visit our COVID-19 overview page for the latest patient information and learn more about how emergency departments are adapting to keep patients safe

Read more about COVID-19

CDC COVID-19 Infections & Infectious Diseases Know When to Go Public Education What's Trending in the ER
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