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Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19

The status of COVID-19 is changing constantly. Below, we've collected common questions and answers. 

What are the best sources of up-to-date information?

As always, be sure to check reliable sources for information:

What is COVID-19 and what are the symptoms?

What is Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)?

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses. There are many common human coronaviruses that cause symptoms of the common cold. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory (breathing) illness caused by a coronavirus that was first identified during an outbreak in China.

On February 11, 2020 the World Health Organization announced an official name for the disease that is causing the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak, first identified in Wuhan China. The new name of this disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19. In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease. Formerly, this disease was referred to as “2019 novel coronavirus” or “2019-nCoV”.

There are many types of human coronaviruses including some that commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses. COVID-19 is a new disease, caused be a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans. The name of this disease was selected following the World Health Organization (WHO) best practice for naming of new human infectious diseases.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people, and others, such as canine and feline coronaviruses, only infect animals. Rarely, animal coronaviruses that infect animals have emerged to infect people and can spread between people. This is suspected to have occurred for the virus that causes COVID-19.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms may include fever or cough or shortness of breath 2-14 days after exposure. Symptoms can be mild to severe illness, and result in pneumonia. Learn what to do if you're sick.

In 80% of patients, COVID-19 causes only mild cold symptoms. The elderly, and those with pre-existing medical conditions appear to be more vulnerable to the virus. Preventive actions can help protect those most vulnerable.

How does COVID-19 spread?

We know that the virus spreads the following ways:

  • It travels on droplets when someone sneezes or coughs.
  • It also can be spread when an infected person touches their face and then shakes hands.
  • It may also be transmitted from frequently touched surfaces.

Learn more about preventing virus spread.

How can I protect myself and others? (guidelines, face masks, myths)

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (especially before you eat, prepare food, or feed your children, and after diapering an infant or using the bathroom).
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available

Should I wear a facemask?

Starting May 6, Massachusetts residents over the age of 2 will be required to wear masks in public when social distancing is not possible.

The CDC recommends "wearing cloth face coverings in public settings." This is especially important in areas where it is difficult to socially distance yourself (standing at least six feet from other people), such as grocery stores and pharmacies. The CDC does not recommend using surgical masks or N-95 respirators, as this depletes the supplies available to healthcare workers and first responders. Learn more about the face covering recommendation and how to make your own face covering from items in your house.

What can older adults do to stay safe?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified older adults (specifically those 65 and older) and those living with such chronic medical conditions as diabetes, heart disease, and lung problems as being at higher risk to develop more serious cases of COVID-19. 

Learn the recommendations for staying safe if you are at higher risk.

Is it okay with a mother with symptoms to breastfeed her child?

Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most infants. However, much is unknown about COVID-19. Whether to start or continue breastfeeding should be determined by the mother in coordination with her healthcare provider. A mother with confirmed or symptoms of COVID-19 should take all possible precautions to avoid spreading the virus to her infant, including washing her hands before touching the infant and wearing a face mask, if possible, while feeding at the breast.

If expressing breast milk with a manual or electric breast pump, the mother should wash her hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use. If possible, consider having someone who is well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant.

Learn more. 

Will a flu shot prevent coronavirus?

One myth that has circulated online is that the flu shot might help prevent COVID-19. No, the flu shot does not prevent you from getting coronavirus. The flu shot does prevent the common flu, which causes thousands of deaths and hospital admissions each year. It can also help prevent serious complications if you do get the flu, like pneumonia. More myth-busting.

Learn more about prevention

Is it safe to see my doctor?

Your safety is always our priority. We are taking extra safety precautions including limiting visitors, expanding testing, cleaning rigorously, and screening patients and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms.

We have expanded telehealth for virtual visits with your providers. If you do need to come in person to the hospital or one of our other facilities, know that we taking special measures to keep you safe:

  • We are restricting visitors and limiting certain services.
  • Your caregivers will be wearing masks and personal protective equipment.
  • We are testing all hospitalized patients.
  • The ED continues to follow strict infection control practices: Patients are separated from each other, with specific areas designated for treating COVID-19 patients.

Please note that it is important to attend routine physicals. According to the World Health Organization and partners, many families have delayed vaccines for dangerous diseases including measles, polio and cholera. Missed vaccinations could put the lives of nearly 80 million children under the age of 1 at risk.

Learn more about service changes and safety measures.

What should I do if think I've been exposed to COVID-19?

If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, call your healthcare provider and tell them about your symptoms and your exposure. They will decide whether you need to be tested. Keep in mind that there is no treatment for COVID-19 and people who are mildly ill are able to isolate at home.

Learn more about what to do if you're sick

See the latest updates and information from the Centers for Disease Control

How can I get tested for COVID-19? What kinds of tests are available?

Talk with your primary care provider or call an urgent care center if you have symptoms of COVID-19.

We have opened five outpatient testing centers, and we are offering viral testing for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms. A viral test checks for current infection.

In order to be tested, you must have an order from your doctor or urgent care provider. Medical staff can help to make decisions about whether, when, and where you should be evaluated. This will avoid spreading the virus further to people in waiting rooms and other areas at these locations.

We are now also testing all patients admitted to Baystate Medical Center for any reason and hope to soon expand this to our community hospitals. We are also testing many patients entering our emergency departments. We continue to test all symptomatic Baystate employees and selected first responders at two distinct sites.

Finally, to help our community and to try to identify potential ‘hot spots’ of COVID-19 transmission, we have partnered with community stakeholders to offer expanded testing in nursing homes and other post-acute facilities, group settings, jails, and in some of the most vulnerable neighborhoods in our area.

How can we know whether someone has immunity to COVID-19?

“Immunity” to infectious agents, like viruses or bacteria, means that a person is protected from infection or illness caused by these agents. Immunity usually results from either previous infection with the agent or in some cases from vaccination. In both of these circumstances, the body’s internal defense system is activated and produces antibodies and other protective responses that can last for either brief or extended periods of time. In the case of COVID-19, we do not yet know whether previous or recent infection endows a person with immunity, and there is no vaccine currently available.

We are hoping soon to have a blood test available that will measure antibodies against COVID-19. This will provide some information about a person’s previous exposure to this virus. With further study of people who have these antibodies, we will also learn whether their presence correlates with protection against infection. This will take some time to get answers but would be a major advance and would allow us to know who is at risk and who is not. This knowledge would greatly inform our processes and how we manage patients in our facilities in the future.

What is the treatment for COVID-19?

Currently, there aren’t prescriptions or over-the-counter medicines that have been proven effective for specifically treating COVID-19, but medication trials are underway. There is no vaccine yet for COVID-19, but researchers are working as quickly as possible to achieve this goal.

Baystate Health has Embarked on Several COVID-19 Treatment Clinical Trials

A dedicated COVID-19 Research Work Group is meeting regularly and actively reviewing research studies related to COVID-19. There are at least 16 potential research opportunities being reviewed. It is important to remember that no one knows yet if these treatments will work.

No matter what you may hear or read in the news, no medication has yet been proven to be effective to successfully treat or prevent COVID-19 infection. But it is still important to scientifically study potentially promising treatments. 

Information about current clinical trials

How should I clean my house?

For cleaning use:

  • Soap & water

For disinfection use:

  • Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.
  • Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol
  • Diluted bleach: 1 tsp bleach, 1 cup of water

What should I do if I live with someone who is infected?

Symptomatic people should:

1. Stay home

  • In an area apart from family and pets
  • With a separate bathroom if possible
  • Restrict activities outside your home except for medical care

2. Cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your elbow (discard tissue immediately).

3. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces every day.

4. Avoid sharing personal household items: food, drink, dishes, utensils, towels, and bedding.

Should I avoid the emergency room if I have another urgent condition?

No. In a medical emergency, you should call 9-1-1 and go to the emergency room. Safety is our highest priority, and many procedures and precautions are in place. Learn more.

For non-life-threatening situations that are still urgent, we are still here to care for you at our urgent care centers and through telehealth visits

Can I visit the hospital?

To protect our patients, community, and employees,we are currently not allowing any visitors in the hospital.

Exceptions are as follows and are at the discretion of Baystate Health:

  • One parent or guardian for a patient under the age of 18
  • One birthing partner for a woman in labor
  • One person at a time for a hospice or end of life patient
  • One clergy member for an end of life patient
  • One caretaker for a completely dependent patient

If you are experiencing symptoms of fever and/or cough, please don’t visit.

Those meeting exceptions will be screened prior to visitation. More information and exceptions.

What are some ways of coping with stress and isolation?

What are some healthy ways of managing stress?

If you are experiencing mental health challenges due to this pandemic, you are not alone. The coronavirus outbreak is very stressful for most people.

Dr. Barry Sarvet shares advice on the best ways to manage stress and practice self care.


  • Baystate Behavioral Health
  • Crisis Text LineThe Crisis Text Line has resources on their website related to coronavirus and stress. You can text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA): SAMSA offers trained counselors that are available 24/7 at 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish) or via text (TalkWithUS 66746).

How can I stay connected while social (physical) distancing?

Social, or physical distancing (which means staying away from other people) is one of the best things we can do to stay safe and limit the spread of COVID-19. Experts are now seeing evidence that social distancing is working to "flatten the curve" in our area.

But being isolated from other people can take a toll on mental and physical health. From sending letters to friends to seeking out new ways to "visit," here are some suggestions for staying connected.

What is the best way to talk to kids about COVID-19?

This is a difficult time for many kids, and it can be hard for parents to know how to talk about it. Baystate Health’s Child Life Specialists share advice, with tips from the Child Mind Institute. 

How can I stay healthy by eating nutritious food?

All it takes is 1-2 small changes at an easy pace to make a significant impact on your health. Here are some simple diet modifications you can start right away:

  • Choose water as your main drink
  • Give yourself just the right amount of food
  • Choose healthy carbs and fiber rich foods
  • Snack on fruits and vegetables
  • Watch your sugar intake
  • Get active
  • Drink several cups of water a day

More nutrition tips.