About COVID-19

What is COVID-19?

Symptoms   Testing   Treatment   Delta Variant   Contact Tracing

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a virus (SARS-CoV-2). It affects different people in different ways. Some people do not have any symptoms, while others can have symptoms that range from mild to extremely severe leading to hospitalization or death. Even people who do not have symptoms initially can experience long-term complications.

COVID-19 most often causes respiratory symptoms that feel like a cold or flu, but it can also harm other parts of the body.

  • Most people who catch COVID-19 have mild symptoms, but some people become severely ill.
  • Older adults and people who have certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
  • While COVID-19 is an illness most persons recover from, it can cause symptoms that last for four or more weeks after it started. Even people who had a mild case of COVID-19 may struggle with long-term effects like shortness of breath, chest pain and brain fog. 
  • COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death. Find your spot to take your shot in North Carolina.

How does COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is most often spread through the air by talking, coughing or sneezing. Less often, it may result from touching your nose, mouth, or eyes after touching a contaminated surface without washing your hands first.

The best way to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community is to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Hundreds of millions of Americans have been safely vaccinated. Learn about more ways to protect yourself and your community from getting and spreading respiratory illnesses.

What are variants?

Viruses are always changing (mutating) and new variants (or strains) of a virus are expected. The best way to slow the emergence of new variants is to reduce the spread of infection by taking measures to protect yourself, including getting vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is tracking emerging variants – including the Delta variant. The Delta variant, classified by the CDC as a variant of concern, is currently the predominant strain of the virus in the United States. It is more than twice as contagious as previous variants, and some data suggests it might cause more severe illness than previous strains in unvaccinated persons.

On Nov. 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified a new variant, named Omicron, as a variant of concern and on Nov. 30, 2021, the United States also classified it as a variant of concern. The CDC issued a statement Dec. 1, 2021 confirming the first case of the Omicron variant in the United States. The variant was first detected in South Africa and has subsequently been detected in several other countries in southern Africa, and Europe and Canada. The CDC and NCDHHS are monitoring and continuing to learn about this new variant. 


Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, fatigue, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea. Some people with COVID-19 may not have symptoms, but they can still spread it to other people. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure.

The CDC recommends you stay home and separate (quarantine) yourself from other people in the home as much as possible if:

  • You are sick with COVID-19.
  • You believe you might have COVID-19.
  • You are experiencing mild symptoms of COVID-19.
  • You have been in close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more) with someone who has COVID-19, unless you are fully vaccinated, or if you are fully vaccinated but are now showing symptoms of the virus.
  • Learn more about quarantining for COVID-19 from the CDC.

It has never been easier or faster to get tested for COVID-19. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or think you may have COVID-19, you should get tested. Learn more about how and when to get tested.

Seek emergency medical care immediately if you have trouble breathing; persistent pain or pressure in the chest; new confusion; inability to wake or stay awake; or pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone. In the event of an emergency, call 9-1-1.

How can I protect myself and others?

Vaccines are the best protection from COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States are remarkably effective in reducing risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even against the widely circulating Delta variant. While a small proportion of people who are fully vaccinated become infected and experience illness, if you are not vaccinated, your risk of severe illness and death is much higher. Nearly all cases of severe disease, hospitalization, and death continue to occur among those not yet vaccinated. Vaccines save lives.

In addition to getting vaccinated, there are some common-sense measures everyone can take to protect themselves and others from the spread of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.

If you are not fully vaccinated, you should continue to take steps to protect yourself and others, including practicing the 3 Ws – wear a mask, wash hands frequently, and wait 6 feet from others.

If you are fully vaccinated, to maximize protection from the Delta variant and prevent possibly spreading it to others, wear a mask in all indoor public spaces if you are in areas of high or substantial levels of transmission as defined by the CDC until more people are vaccinated and viral transmission decreases. As of late October, most of North Carolina is seeing high or substantial levels of transmission. In general, you do not need to wear a mask in outdoor settings but consider doing so in crowded outdoor settings and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.

Both the vaccinated and unvaccinated should monitor their health and be alert for COVID-19 symptoms, especially if they have been around someone who is sick. Get tested if you develop symptoms.