Medical Information

healthcare worker with patient | Photo Credit: CDC/Scott Housley
CDC/Scott Housley
If you think you may have been exposed to or infected with COVID-19, discuss those concerns with your healthcare provider. If you believe you have been exposed on the job, report the incident to your supervisor or occupational health clinic, as well.
What are Coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause respiratory illness in people. Coronaviruses also circulate among animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.

How Does SARS-CoV-2 Compare with Other Coronaviruses?

Just like there are different types of related viruses that cause smallpox, chickenpox, and monkeypox, different coronaviruses cause different diseases in people. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus causes SARS and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus causes MERS. The novel coronavirus responsible for the current pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, is one of seven types of known human coronaviruses. SARS-CoV-2, like the MERS and SARS coronaviruses, likely evolved from a virus previously found in animals. The remaining known coronaviruses cause a significant percentage of colds in adults and children, and these are not a serious threat for otherwise healthy adults.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of COVID-19?

People with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) can experience mild to severe respiratory illness. People with these symptoms or combinations of symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

This list does not include all possible symptoms.

Emergency warning signs and symptoms of COVID-19 that may suggest that you need urgent medical attention include:*

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

*This list is not all possible symptoms. Call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

Some infected healthcare workers have also reported experiencing a sore throat and lost sense of smell, but the relationship between these symptoms and SARS-CoV-2 infection is unclear.

What Should I Do if I Think I Have Been Exposed to or Infected with SARS-CoV-2?

Alert your healthcare provider immediately if you think you may be infected with SARS-CoV-2, including if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and have signs/symptoms of infection. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should tell your healthcare provider about any suspected exposures you may have had. Although many communities are experiencing ongoing transmission, be sure to tell your healthcare provider about any recent travel to areas where SARS-CoV-2 is spreading.

If you believe you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or another source of SARS-CoV-2 on the job, alert your supervisor or occupational health clinic immediately.

If you are sick with COVID-19 or think you might have it, follow CDC recommendations, including the steps below, to help protect other people in your home, workplace, and community:

  • Stay home: People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are able to recover at home. Do not leave, except to get medical care. Do not visit public areas.
  • Take care of yourself. Get rest and stay hydrated. The CDC recommendations address the use of over-the-counter medicines to help you feel better.
  • Stay in touch with your doctor: Call before you seek medical care. Be sure to get care if you feel worse or you think it is an emergency. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, notify the operator that you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a face mask before medical help arrives.
  • Notify your supervisor: Your employer can take actions that will keep others in your workplace healthy and may be able to offer you additional schedule and leave flexibilities while you are away from work.
  • Avoid public transportation: Avoid using public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
How is COVID-19 Diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider can determine if your signs and symptoms are explained by other causes, or if there is reason to suspect you may have COVID-19. If laboratory testing is appropriate and available, your healthcare provider will work with health officials in your state, who in turn will work with the CDC, to collect and test any clinical specimens for diagnosis.

The CDC's Information for Laboratories webpage provides detailed information and interim guidelines for collecting, handling, and testing clinical specimens from patients under investigation and also provides laboratory biosafety guidelines for handling and processing specimens associated with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients.

How is COVID-19 Treated?

No vaccine or specific treatment for COVID-19 is available. Hospitals can provide supportive care for people who have serious cases of COVID-19.

Am I at High Risk for Complications from COVID-19?

Anyone can become infected with SARS-CoV-2, however, those with a higher risk of severe illness should exercise additional caution. People who have serious underlying medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, may be at increased risk of complications from COVID-19. Older adults (those 65 years of age or older) and those with immunosuppressive conditions like cancer, or taking immunosuppressive medications, are also at increased risk of severe illness.

Workers may consider discussing their medical conditions that could place them at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 with their supervisors, and work with their supervisors to determine appropriate steps to help prevent exposure to SARS-CoV-2 on the job.

The U.S. Department of Labor-funded Job Accommodation Network has information about workplace accommodations for people who may be at higher risk of COVID-19 due to age and/or chronic health conditions.

When Can I Return to Work After Having COVID-19?

CDC provides guidance about the discontinuation of home isolation for people with COVID-19. Generally:

  • If you have been isolating yourself at home: Your healthcare provider or state, local, tribal, or territorial health department can provide the best information about when you can discontinue isolation and return to essential activities, such as going to work.
  • If you have been hospitalized with COVID-19: Follow your healthcare provider's discharge and follow-up instructions, which should include information about when you can return to essential activities, such as going to work.

Employers should note that, because of the strain on the healthcare system associated with the ongoing pandemic, not all COVID-19 patients need medical attention in order to get better, and not all workers may be able to provide a doctor's note before returning to work after recovering from COVID-19. Sending a worker to a doctor when there is no need for medical care may place additional, and possibly unnecessary, strain on doctors' offices, urgent care facilities, and hospitals, and may contribute to the spread of the disease.