COVID-19: Understanding the Basics

As the number of COVID-19 cases rises in Pennsylvania—and around the world—it’s important to stay safe and informed. 

Coronavirus: Understanding the basics (Image courtesy of the PA Department of Health)


Staying informed shouldn’t feel overwhelming, however. That’s why we’re breaking down the basics of what you need to know about COVID-19, from what it is to how you can stay healthy.

What is COVID-19?

There are multiple types of coronaviruses, which were first identified in the 1960s. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these viruses “are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.” 

COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, which means it’s a coronavirus that had not been identified. It was first named by the WHO on Feb. 11, 2020, after the outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, in 2019. On March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and they can take up to 14 days after exposure to appear. Symptoms range from mild to severe. In some cases, those infected do not show symptoms.

What do I do if I think I have COVID-19?

If you are showing symptoms or believe you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, call your health care provider. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s online Coronavirus Self-Checker can also help you make decisions and get the appropriate care.

Learn more about COVID-19 testing

How can I prevent infection or spread?

COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person to person through droplets (e.g., saliva). It’s also possible that “a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,” according to the CDC.

To help prevent infection and spread, the Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends: 

  1. Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
  2. Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  3. Avoiding touching your face, especially with unwashed hands 
  4. Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces regularly
  5. Practicing social distancing, including staying home and maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others in public

How can I stay informed?

To stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 news, developments, and guidelines, visit and