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Arm Yourself with Information

What is COVID-19?

Coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, is caused by a novel coronavirus that was first identified as part of an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China. 

What's a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). A novel coronavirus is a new strain that has not been previously identified in people. (

How worried should I be?

Right now, public experts in the United States are recommending that people continue to practice social distancing and wearing masks as the best way to keep themselves and others safe. While some people who become infected do not have serious symptoms requiring hospitalization, currently hospitals across the country are filled with those who have had serious infections. Several vaccines are now available but distribution has just begun and only a limited number of people have been able to receive the shot. 

Important: It is possible for asymptomatic people to have coronavirus and pass it along to others. The best way to avoid becoming infected and infecting others is to practice social distancing. When you must go out, wear a mask to protect yourself and others.

What is social distancing?

Social distancing is the public health intervention that recommends people avoid crowds and gatherings. Best practice requires staying home and away from others as much as possible and maintaining at least a six-foot distance between yourself and others when you need to leave the house. Social distancing and practicing good preventative care can save lives.

What should I be doing now?

There are simple preventive actions that help stop the spread of viruses, including COVID-19. These include:

  • Stay home as much as possible, especially if you have recently traveled, experienced symptoms, or been around someone with symptoms.
  • Wear a mask when you leave your house, especially if you will be indoors.
  • For outdoor activities, maintain at least 6 feet of distance between yourself and others.
  • Exercise proper handwashing technique and wash your hands frequently.
    • Wet your hands, apply soap, and lather for at least 20 seconds (to time yourself, you can hum Happy Birthday twice, sing the chorus to Cowboy Take Me Away once, etc).
    • Be sure to wash the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
    • Rinse well, then dry thoroughly using a clean towel or air dryer.
    • If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Learn about the science behind handwashing here.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your coughs by coughing into your elbow or a tissue. Sneeze or blow your nose with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands (or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer) after.
  • Combat misinformation and stigma when you see it.

Help Stop Stigma

Stigma and discrimination can often occur when people associate an infectious disease, such as COVID-19, with a population or nationality. You should know that stigma hurts everyone by creating fear or anger towards ordinary people. Viruses cannot target people from specific populations, ethnicities, or racial backgrounds. 

Help counter stigma:

  • Speak out against negative behaviors, including negative statements on social media about groups of people.
  • Be cautious about the images that are shared. Make sure they do not reinforce stereotypes.
  • Engage with stigmatized groups in person and through media channels including news media and social media.
  • Share the need for social support for people who have returned from China or are worried about friends or relatives in the affected region.

Bust Myths and Stop Misinformation

Not everything you hear about COVID-19 is true. Make sure you are taking advice from public health experts, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Share reliable information and speak out if you see or hear myths or rumors, which can be damaging to public health. The United Nations also offers reports and policy briefs on COVID-19.

See a list of common myths and the facts here.

From ProPublica: States are Reopening: See How Coronavirus Cases Rise or Fall (interactive site)

For More Information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 8). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

EPI-WIN. (2020). Myth busters. World Health Organization.

World Health Organization. (2020). Coronavirus.