Skip to main content

Health Library

How the coronavirus spreads

A woman sneezes into her elbow.

COVID-19 is a new disease, and there is still a great deal we don't know about it. But we are learning new information almost every day.

One of the most important things to know about COVID-19 is how it spreads. That's one of the keys to containing it. Here's what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found so far.

Cover those coughs

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2. It appears to spread mainly from person to person. It may pass from an infected person through the droplets they breathe out when they cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land on people who are nearby and possibly be inhaled into their lungs. That's why people are urged to keep a distance of at least 6 feet from one another and to cover coughs and sneezes with a cloth face mask, tissue or elbow.

This is the main way the virus is believed to spread. But there may be others. One is through contact with surfaces contaminated by live virus.

The droplets that an infected person coughs or sneezes into the air can land on any surface—such as a table, a keyboard or a doorknob. CDC says it is possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching an object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.

That's why people are urged to clean and disinfect shared surfaces daily.

You can use disinfectant wipes if they're available. Or you can make your own cleanser using bleach. To make a bleach solution, make sure your bleach hasn't expired, and then follow either of these recipes:

  • Mix 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) of bleach with 1 gallon of water.
  • Mix 4 teaspoons of bleach with 1 quart of water.

Be sure you never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. That can create toxic fumes.

What about silent spreaders?

CDC experts now believe that a significant number of people who are infected with SARS-CoV-2 may show no symptoms. That means you can't rely on warning signs like a fever, cough or shortness of breath to alert you that you're contagious. While CDC says people are probably most contagious when at their sickest, it may be possible to spread the virus even when you feel fine. Staying home as much as possible—and 6 feet away from others when you must go out—can help protect everyone.

It's also important to:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wear a cloth face mask if you leave your home.
  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and water and wash for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your face between handwashings.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces you share with others often.

Visit our Coronavirus health topic center for more tips on coping with the pandemic.

Reviewed 7/21/2020

Related stories

Choose Language