We know you have lots of questions and uncertainty surrounding the global COVID-19 outbreak. That’s why, as a trusted academic health center, we’re providing fact-based information, reliable data and the latest, evidence-based recommendations.

What should I do if I might have been exposed to COVID-19?

If you’ve been exposed to someone but aren’t sure they have a confirmed case…

  • Self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days after exposure
  • Call your primary care provider if you experience COVID-19 symptoms
  • A negative test does NOT indicate that quarantine can end

If you’ve been exposed to someone who has a confirmed case…

  • Self-quarantine for 14 days (avoid being closer than 6 feet to others)
  • Call your primary care provider if you experience COVID-19 symptoms
  • If you do not have a primary care provider, call Telehealth Immediate Care at 614-293-3200

What does it mean to quarantine?

Those in quarantine should try to keep 6 to 10 feet of distance between themselves and another person, and avoid prolonged contact while in an enclosed space. They should also:

  • Sleep in a separate room from others
  • Practice strict cough etiquette (cover sneeze or cough with sleeve)
  • Practice strict hand hygiene
  • Avoid sharing utensils, dishware or drinking cups

As the CDC explains: “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, in order to prevent the possible spread of that disease. Quarantine is usually established for the incubation period of the communicable disease, which is the span of time during which people have developed illness after exposure. For COVID-19, the period of quarantine is 14 days from the last date of exposure, because 14 days is the longest incubation period seen for similar coronaviruses. Someone who has been released from COVID-19 quarantine is not considered a risk for spreading the virus to others because they have not developed illness during the incubation period.”

What should I do if I have no symptoms and want to stay healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Recent studies suggest that a significant number of people with COVID-19 don’t have any symptoms, and those who do develop symptoms spread germs before the symptoms appear. In light of this evidence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that people wear face masks in addition to practicing social distancing. (Here are the CDC instructions on how to make and wear a cloth mask.

In general, practicing routine hygiene etiquette is the best way to prevent the spread of infection:

  • Stay home when you're sick
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Get adequate sleep and eat well-balanced meals
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when you sneeze or cough
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water (20 seconds or longer) or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if no soap and water are available
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands or after touching surfaces
  • Clean and disinfect "high-touch" surfaces often

If you’re seriously ill, seek medical advice from a doctor or emergency department.

How does COVID-19 spread?

Based on current CDC guidance, person-to-person spread most likely occurs through respiratory droplets between people in close proximity, similar to influenza and other respiratory viruses.

  • Exposure within 6 feet of an infected person would put you at risk for getting the virus
  • The period from exposure to symptom onset is believed to be within 14 days
    • For example, if a person returned from an outbreak area more than 14 days ago, the person would be outside the window for disease onset
  • Practicing routine hygiene daily is the best way to prevent the spread of infection:
    • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough
    • Wash your hands with soap and water or use alcohol hand rub regularly, especially after coughing or sneezing
    • Avoid close contact with people that are sick
    • Anyone who is ill should keep a safe distance (at least 6 feet) from others to reduce the risk of transmitting germs
    • Stay home if you don’t feel well. If you’re seriously ill, seek medical attention

What's the difference between the different COVID-19 tests available?

We have two types of COVID-19 tests readily available right now. One is an antigen test, and the other is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

An antigen test looks for particular proteins that exist on the surface of the virus. Its results can be read quickly—usually within minutes—but it can miss some details and is therefore less accurate, and it could produce a “false positive” result.

A PCR test provides additional details, including looking at a small amount of genetic material such as RNA. It can detect very small amounts of the virus, and tests are very specific for COVID-19 versus any other type of coronavirus. Because a PCR test requires specialized equipment and highly trained laboratory professionals to monitor the process, it’s slower and more expensive.

Generally, if a health care provider has ordered a COVID-19 test for you, you’ll be receiving the more accurate PCR test.

As we learn more about COVID-19, antigen tests can become more accurate. Both types of tests are important tools, but it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each. 

Will a flu shot help prevent COVID-19?

A flu shot won’t prevent COVID-19, but it can significantly reduce the likelihood that you or anyone you come into contact with would get both the flu and COVID-19. 

A flu shot is recommended for most people even when COVID-19 isn’t a threat, but during a pandemic, getting your flu shot is more important than ever (learn more here).

For more information about the flu vaccine’s ingredients and other common questions about the flu shot, visit our blog here.

How can I tell the difference among symptoms of a cold, the flu or COVID-19?

Coronavirus/COVID-19 symptoms

  • Dry cough (can be severe)
  • Loss of taste and/or smell
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing (in severe cases)
  • View all symptoms of COVID-19

Influenza symptoms

  • Dry cough
  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

Common cold symptoms

  • Cough, wet or dry
  • Sneezing
  • Body aches
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Watery eyes

Learn more about how to tell the difference in an explainer from an Ohio State expert.

Do face masks lower oxygen levels for the wearer?

Masks do not harm oxygen levels, and they're currently our best defense against the spread of COVID-19. 

An Ohio State pulmonologist explains this in a blog post about the topic

Should I postpone a routine medical appointment during the pandemic?

This could depend on the reason for the appointment, and it’s best to check with your doctor to weigh any potential risks of missing an appointment. However, in general, it’s best to continue with routine appointments—especially cancer screenings, such as colonoscopies, endoscopies and mammograms—because many serious diseases have much better outcomes when they’re caught early.

Medical professionals screen for cancer and chronic disease, such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia and diabetes, because they can progress to serious complications when left untreated. Early detection helps patients and their health care providers become better partners on a treatment plan.

If you’ve fallen behind on your doctor visits and checkups, an Ohio State doctor shares tips for getting back on track

Should I gather with family or friends outside of my household for holiday celebrations?

No. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s important to reduce the amount of time we’re in contact with others—and that means re-evaluating how we celebrate holidays. The safest way to approach your holiday celebration is to limit in-person gatherings to your own household, connecting with family and friends only virtually. And when it comes to holiday shopping, buying online is the safest way to avoid crowds.

Visit our blog to learn how to approach holiday-planning conversations with your family and how to reduce risk when spending holidays apart simply isn’t possible.

What is the best kind of face mask to wear?

The most important thing about a mask is that it fits you well—it needs to cover both your nose and mouth and stay affixed while you’re talking and going about your business. It’s important that it works for you, stays in place, and doesn’t irritate your skin or ears.

It’s also best to use a mask that’s thick enough or has enough layers that you can’t see light through it easily when you hold it up to sunlight. 

We caution against masks like thin-material neck gaiters, which studies now show can not only allow respiratory droplets through the material, but can fracture those droplets into smaller, aerosolized droplets that remain in the air longer.

Why does it seem like experts’ guidelines for COVID-19 keep changing?

The circumstances around COVID-19 have changed constantly because what we know continues to evolve. As scientists continue to study how COVID-19 droplets travel, how long the virus lives on various surfaces, how long it takes between exposure and symptoms, etc., their findings inform what medical experts recommend. For example, there is mounting evidence that face masks are effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19, both for the wearer and for others around them. 

We’re getting better and better at knowing what we’re up against when it comes to the COVID-19 virus.

The best way to keep up with changing guidelines is to pay attention to what’s coming out from reliable sources. Be cautious with what you read on social media, and treat all information with some scrutiny. 

Who is most at risk for experiencing severe symptoms with COVID-19?

Older people and people of all ages with severe underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, seem to be at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 symptoms.

Other groups typically at higher risk of infectious disease, such as pregnant women and young children, aren’t currently considered high risk.

What should I do if I’m in one of the at-risk groups?

The CDC continues to update recommendations for immunocompromised individuals and those at higher risk for severe COVID-19.

What if I need care and I have a change in insurance coverage?

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CARES Act requires that certain services and items related to COVID-19 testing are available at no cost to the patient. 

For ongoing health care needs, below are options for the recently unemployed who no longer have employer insurance coverage: 

  • Cobra: Purchase a continuation of your employer’s insurance coverage 
  • Ohio Medicaid: Coverage for eligible low-income children, pregnant women, parents, seniors, individuals with disabilities.  Current Medicaid enrollees should check to ensure their coverage is current. 

Please also note that some of your care may be completed via telehealth. As of 4/1/2020 the following insurance plans pay for video visits: Aetna, Anthem, Buckeye, CareSource, Cigna Behavioral Health, Medical Mutual of Ohio, Molina, OSU Health Plan, Paramount, United Behavioral Health, United Health Care, Medicare and all the Medicaid insurance plans. Cigna Medical is not currently covering video visits. You are responsible for your insurance plan co-pay. If you are unsure of your coverage, contact your insurance plan.

Should I travel out of the country?

The CDC and the U.S. Department of State maintain travel alerts that can help you make the decision about embarking on any international travel.