About COVID-19

Last updated May 23, 2023

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COVID-19 is a disease caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. This virus was first identified in December 2019 and quickly spread around the world. Most people with COVID-19 have mild illness. But some people get very sick, and some die from the disease. Most people recover in a few weeks, but some people are sick for a long time.

The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated with all the recommended doses. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and work well to keep you from getting very sick.

Learn more about Colorado’s Roadmap Forward

How COVID-19 spreads

COVID-19 spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and very small particles that contain the virus. These droplets and particles can be breathed in by other people or land on their eyes, noses, or mouths. In some circumstances, they may contaminate surfaces they touch. People who are within 6 feet of the infected person are most likely to get infected. This is similar to how flu and other respiratory viruses spread.

People at increased risk of infection are:  

  • People who aren’t up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines.
  • People who have been to areas where widespread community transmission is occurring. 
  • People who spent time in a poorly ventilated area with someone who has COVID-19.
  • People who spent time in large groups or crowded areas.
  • People who had direct close contact with someone who has COVID-19. 

Symptoms of COVID-19

  • People with COVID-19 may have a wide range of symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Symptoms may feel like a cold at first. They can include headache, cough, congestion or runny nose, soreness, tiredness, and new loss of taste or smell. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Learn more about COVID-19 symptoms on CDC’s website.
  • If you have any of these symptoms, you should isolate yourself and get tested. If your test is positive, continue isolating and tell your health care provider you have tested positive for COVID-19. You should also let people you’ve been in contact with know that they may have been exposed, especially if they are at high risk and could benefit from getting treatment.
  • Most people who have COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and recover within a few weeks. If your symptoms are mild, you should rest, drink plenty of fluids, and take pain- and fever-reducing medicine if you need it. 
    • If you have mild symptoms but are at high risk of severe disease, you may be eligible for COVID-19 treatments. Getting treatment for COVID-19 quickly could help you avoid severe outcomes, including hospitalization and death.
  • If your symptoms start to get worse or are worrying you, call your health care provider or a nurseline. Tell them you have COVID-19 and your symptoms have gotten worse.
  • If symptoms are severe, call 911 or go to the emergency room. Severe symptoms include: 
    • Trouble breathing. 
    • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest. 
    • Confusion. 
    • Inability to wake or stay awake. 
    • Bluish lips or face.
Higher-risk people

COVID-19 variants

Viruses constantly change through mutation. Sometimes these mutations result in a new variant of the virus. Sometimes new variants emerge and then disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and continue to spread. Scientists have documented multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 around the world.
CDC and the World Health Organization classify some variants as variants of concern. CDC defines a variant of concern as one that may spread more easily, cause more severe disease, reduce the effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or be harder to detect using current tests. 
The CDPHE laboratory and some private laboratories routinely do genetic tests on COVID-19 samples from around the state each week. This allows CDPHE to track the variants that are circulating in Colorado. Variant data is available on CDPHE’s data dashboard.

To learn more about variants, visit CDC’s webpage What You Need to Know About Variants.


Protect yourself and prevent the spread

To keep from getting and spreading COVID-19, you can:

  • Get vaccinated. Getting all the recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine greatly reduces the chance that you will get sick or pass the virus on to others.
  • Improve ventilation at your home and workplace. Opening doors and windows to bring in fresh air can reduce your chances of getting sick.
  • Stay home if you’re sick, and keep your children home if they are sick.
  • Frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Follow recommended precautions if you are exposed to someone with COVID-19.