About COVID-19

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, and more severe illnesses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and COVID-19. Coronaviruses commonly circulate in animals and sometimes also infect humans. (For more information, please read the Columbia Preparedness' Frequently Asked Questions.)


Pathologists Debunk 13 Myths About the Coronavirus, Including Why Masks Won't Help (video, Business Insider, featuring Stephen Morse)

While SARS-CoV2 is believed to have originated from an animal host, the virus is thought to spread:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet) via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes

  • When a susceptible person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touches their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes

While people with COVID-19 are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic, the transmission of the virus is possible even with a mild illness or in the absence of symptoms. In fact, research from our School’s faculty shows that undocumented cases are responsible for most of the spread of the virus

The current evidence suggests a typical incubation period (time from exposure of the virus to the development of symptoms) as 2 to 14 days. 

While there is still much that is unknown about this virus, social distancing and personal hygiene can slow its spread. Use the following to help reduce the risk of infection:

  • Avoid contact with people outside your household since anyone could be transmitting the virus asymptomatically. Take extra precautions with symptomatic individuals.

  • Wash your hands often using soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you’ve touched someone who is sick.  If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
  • If you have cold and cough symptoms, make sure to cover your coughs and sneezes by using the bend of your arm (elbow) or using disposable tissues and immediately disposing of them in the trash

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces