• 24 hour numbers
  • Urgent Care
    • 617-253-1311
  • Urgent Mental Health Concerns
    • 617-253-2916
  • Violence Prevention & Response
    • 617-253-2300
  • All contact numbers
  • Close
Alert icon

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19, is an illness caused by a respiratory virus, SARS-CoV-2, first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. 

December 21, 2021

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under a microscope. Common human coronaviruses usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold, with symptoms that last only a short time. However, two other human coronaviruses, MERS and SARS, have been known to cause severe symptoms and even death.

January 30, 2020

What are the symptoms and signs of COVID-19?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of COVID-19 may include fever greater than 100.4°F (38.0°C), chills, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, sudden loss of sense of smell or taste, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, nausea or diarrhea, muscle or body aches, and headache. These symptoms typically begin gradually.

Not all affected individuals will exhibit all symptoms, and there is now evidence that up to 40 percent of infected individuals will have no symptoms at all. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should self isolate and be tested.

December 21, 2021

How does COVID-19 spread?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) people become infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) through exposure to respiratory fluids carrying infectious virus. An infected person is likely to exhale small droplets and particles that contain the virus. You could be infected by breathing in air containing those small viral particles. You could also be infected by having these small droplets and particles land on your eyes, nose, or mouth, especially through splashes and sprays like a cough or sneeze.

Research has shown that it is highly unlikely to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes. However, the CDC still recommends frequent hand-washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub.

December 21, 2021

What does “close contact” mean?

The CDC defines “close contact” as either: 

  1.  being “within approximately 6 feet (2 meters) for at least 15 cumulative minutes within a 24-hour period” of an individual who has been positively diagnosed with the virus or
  2.  “direct contact with infectious secretions.” Examples include sharing eating or drinking utensils, close conversation, or kissing, hugging, and other direct physical contact.

“Close contact” does not include activities such as walking by a person or briefly sitting across a waiting room or office.

January 30, 2020

If I were exposed to COVID-19, how long would it take for me to become sick?

The time between exposure to a contagious illness and the onset of symptoms is called the “incubation period.” Based on what has been seen previously with similar viruses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated the incubation period for COVID-19 to be from 2–14 days. An average  of five days from exposure to symptom onset or positive test was most commonly seen early in the pandemic, but the average incubation period has become shorter with new variants — slightly less than four days for the Delta variant and likely less for Omicron.

December 21, 2021

What underlying health conditions or other factors may increase my risk of more severe illness or other complications of COVID-19?

The risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 increases steadily with age. Eight out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the United States have been among individuals aged 65 years and older. Certain underlying medical conditions also increase your risk for severe illness. These include type 2 diabetes, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), chronic kidney disease, immune deficiency, and obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. Other medical conditions, such as asthma, smoking, and pregnancy, may also increase an individual’s risk of severe COVID-19 illness.

September 8, 2020

Who can get tested for COVID-19?

If you are concerned about symptoms you are experiencing or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19: You should call your medical provider immediately. Your provider can help make arrangements for you to be tested and give you advice about what to do next. If you are coming to campus regularly, you must also attest to your condition using the Covid Pass app.

If you need a COVID test for travel, documentation, or another reason, and you get your primary care at MIT Medical, you can be tested at MIT Medical. Call our Primary Care Service at 617-258-9355 to make an appointment. NOTE: Insurance does not cover testing that is not medically necessary, so you will be billed for the cost of this testing.

Covid Pass users may use their Institute-required test result for travel if it meets the entry requirements for their destination. See the MIT Medical Travel Health Clinic for more information.

If you are coming to campus regularly, the Covid Pass app will notify you when you need to be tested. But, remember, if you have symptoms or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, do not come to be tested at the Covid Pass testing site. Instead, call your medical provider to arrange for a COVID-19 test.

December 21, 2021

How long does COVID-19 live on surfaces? Is it safe to handle mail and packages? What about take-out food?

While it is theoretically possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes, the CDC now says that “touching surfaces is not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads.” And the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges that “there are no specific reports which have directly demonstrated fomite transmission.”

study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that, in laboratory tests, the virus was detectable for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel surfaces, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to four hours on copper. But a “detectable” amount of virus is not the same as an infectious amount. In fact, most viral particles die relatively quickly outside of the body. Even on stainless steel and plastic, the half-life of the virus — the length of time it takes for half of the microbes in a given sample to die — was 5.6 and 6.8 hours respectively. On cardboard it was less than four hours.

While mail and packages could have small amounts of infectious viral particles on them, the risk is relatively low and any small risk can be eliminated through hand-washing.

June 1, 2021

Can I get COVID-19 from airborne particles that end up in food?

Almost certainly not. While we are still learning more about the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food. 

This is not surprising based on what we know about the varying paths organisms take to make people sick. Respiratory viruses, like COVID-19, typically attach to cells in places like the lungs and cannot survive the acidic environment of the digestive system. In contrast, the microorganisms that cause digestive illnesses, like norovirus and salmonella, survive the acid in stomachs and make people ill by attaching to the cells inside people’s guts. 

In addition, any viral particles landing on food would not be expected to remain viable for long. Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot grow inside food, so any amount of virus in food would diminish over time, rather than grow.

When it comes to food and COVID-19, the biggest risk is contact with other people — like cashiers, restaurant staff, or people delivering food. Minimizing or completely eliminating those contacts will greatly reduce any risk associated with food.

June 1, 2021

When do I need to wear a mask?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that individuals wear masks or respirators in public settings where it may be difficult to maintain social distancing, such as grocery stores. Masks are designed to contain your respiratory droplets and particles. They also provide you some protection from particles expelled by others. Respirators are designed to protect you from particles, including the virus that causes COVID-19, and in doing so they also contain your respiratory droplets and particles so you do not expose others. More information on different types of masks and respirators are available on the CDC website. See also: “What kind of mask do I need now?

Individuals who are vaccinated may gather, unmasked, with other non-symptomatic, vaccinated individuals, but they should still follow the same masking and distancing precautions in public settings.

January 11, 2022

What should I do if I have been in close contact with someone who was later diagnosed with COVID-19?

If you are up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccination, including a recommended booster shot if eligible, or if you have tested positive for the virus in the last 90 days, CDC guidelines do not require you to quarantine, but you should be tested at least 5 days following the date of your exposure and monitor yourself for symptoms until 10 days have passed since your exposure. If you develop symptoms, you should self-isolate and be tested as soon as possible.

If you are not vaccinated, or are not up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccination, including a recommended booster shot if eligible, you should stay home and quarantine for five full days. While you are quarantining and for the five days following, you should self-monitor for symptoms: 

  • Take your temperature twice a day, morning and night (and at least 30 minutes after eating, drinking, or exercising and 6 hours after taking any temperature-lowering medication, such as Ibuprofen or aspirin). Write down your temperature in a log.
  • Be alert for any other symptoms of COVID-19, including cough or difficulty breathing.
  • Call your healthcare provider if you have a cough, trouble breathing, or a fever (temperature of 100.4°F or 38°C). DO NOT go to an emergency room, urgent care clinic, or healthcare provider’s office without calling ahead.

Get tested at least 5 days after your exposure. Wear a well-fitted mask for 10 full days any time you are around others inside your home or in public until 10 full days have passed since your exposure. Do not go to places where you are unable to wear a mask.

January 11, 2022

Is it possible to live with someone who is self-quarantining because they are sick with COVID-19 or may have been exposed to the virus?

Yes, it’s possible, but it isn’t easy. The individual who is self-quarantining must stay as separate as possible from other people sharing the living space. They should stay in their own bedroom and, if possible, use a bathroom that is not shared with others. If the self-quarantining individual needs to come out of their room for any reason, they should wash their hands and wear a mask. If there’s only one bathroom, set up a bathroom rotation in which the self-quarantining individual uses the bathroom last and then disinfects it thoroughly (read more about proper disinfection techniques). 

Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces frequently. This includes countertops, doorknobs, light switches, and bathroom surfaces. Wash your hands frequently.

Do not share any items with the self-quarantining individual. This includes dishes, drinking glasses, silverware, towels, phones, and remote controls. If possible, use a dishwasher to clean and dry dishes and silverware used by the self-quarantining individual. If this is not possible, wash them by hand using detergent and warm water. Dry them thoroughly, using a separate dishtowel. 

April 7, 2020

Should I cancel house-cleaning services?

Maybe. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Taking into account your individual risk of complications from contracting the virus, such as age or underlying medical conditions, it may make sense to suspend house-cleaning services during the pandemic. However, recognizing that house-cleaners are often immigrants and low-wage workers, you may want to consider continuing to pay them if you can afford to do so. 

If you do continue to use house-cleaning services, it’s important to take precautions that protect both you and the cleaners. Even though they are there to make your house clean, they could still transmit the virus to you, or you to them, if either of you were infected. Make sure your cleaners don a fresh pair of disposable gloves when they enter your home and change them often while they are working. Stay at least six feet away from your cleaners while they are in your home. Ask them not to come if they feel sick, or if you become ill. You might also think about trying to limit the amount of time they spend in your home each time they visit; perhaps more time-consuming cleaning jobs, like washing windows, can be done during a separate visit. 

There’s no way to remove all risks associated with having people come into your house to clean, but being vigilant about following these precautions will mitigate these risks if you continue to use house-cleaning services during this time. 

September 10, 2020