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Coronavirus Facts

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Last content update:  4/3/2020


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About Novel Coronavirus

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. Many coronaviruses naturally infect animals, but some can also infect humans. Coronaviruses are thought to spread through the air by coughing/sneezing and close personal contact, or by touching contaminated objects or surfaces and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

What do we know about the novel coronavirus?

There has been an outbreak of a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which first appeared in December 2019. The virus has spread to most countries in the world, including the United States.

Since this coronavirus is new, health authorities are still learning more about the virus and how it spreads. The situation is quickly changing and the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) provides updated information as it becomes available:

What is the difference between COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2?

COVID-19 is the disease caused by novel coronavirus. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) refers to the virus, while Coronavirus Disease-19 (COVID-19) refers to the disease caused by the virus.

How is the novel coronavirus treated?

There is no vaccine for the novel coronavirus and no specific treatment or cure for COVID-19. However, many of the symptoms can be treated. COVID-19 patients should get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, eat healthy foods, and manage stress.

Acetaminophen should be used to reduce fever and aches and pains. For severe cases, medical care may be needed to relieve symptoms and support vital organ functions until the patient recovers.


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Do I need to be concerned about transmission of novel coronavirus?

We know that everyone is concerned about the novel coronavirus. What is now known is that the disease is in Santa Clara County and is circulating at some level, but importantly, it is unknown as to what degree. The priority is to conduct public health surveillance to determine the extent of local spread. The County public health laboratory now has the ability to run the test and now will be able to quickly evaluate what's happening in our community.

The County has engaged public health colleagues from across County Departments as well as from the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for assistance. The County will continue to work with these and other partners to respond to cases, to trace contacts, and to understand what is going on in our community. The Emergency Operations Center has been activated for many weeks and will continue to be active in response to this crisis.​

What about transmission by people who have no symptoms?

Several studies have documented spread from a person who does not yet have symptoms (pre-symptomatic transmission), for up to 48-hours before onset of symptoms. Therefore, a person may be at risk for COVID-19 if they were in close contact (within 6 feet for a prolonged period of time) with a person confirmed to have COVID-19, for up to 48-hours before the onset of symptoms. People are still thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest). These findings underscore the importance of following social distancing because people without symptoms could be contagious.


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What are the symptoms of the novel coronavirus?

Symptoms include fever, tiredness, cough, and muscle or body aches. The illness can progress to shortness of breath and complications from pneumonia. Symptoms may also include nausea with vomiting, diarrhea, chills, night sweats, sore throat, headaches, confusion, or loss of sense of taste or smell. Some infected patients experience only mild symptoms while others—particularly older individuals and those with underlying health conditions—might develop more severe symptoms. Symptoms may develop 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.

If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19, get medical attention immediately. Emergency warning signs include*:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face
*This list is not all-inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.


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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Testing

(Note: Information may change with rapidly changing circumstances.)

The Public Health Department strongly supports expanding the availability of testing for COVID-19. The current lack of widespread testing capacity nationwide and locally has negatively affected our ability to monitor the epidemic, to focus on measures to reduce the spread, and to inform individual people of their infection status. Unfortunately, local and national testing resources have not scaled to the extent that we expected, and not everyone who is ill can be tested at this time.

Testing Occurring in the Public Health Laboratory

In Santa Clara County, we obtained CDC approval to perform the first COVID-19 test in our public health laboratory on February 26, 2020. The role of the local public health laboratory is limited: it serves as a specialty reference laboratory offering testing for emerging infections such as COVID-19 and as a bridge laboratory while other laboratory sectors (commercial and academic) come on-line. For example, at the beginning of the West Nile Virus epidemic, only public health laboratories were able to test for West Nile Virus. Very soon after, West Nile Virus testing was offered widely in the commercial sector. In the United States, unlike in some other countries, high volume testing is done exclusively by commercial private sector labs.

The County’s public health laboratory is able to run a maximum of 100 tests per day. We receive all of our test kits from the CDC. The number of patients we can test is much less than the number of test kits. This is because some tests are used as controls, and multiple samples may be submitted for each patient to ensure accurate results. The lab is not structured, physically and otherwise, to scale to commercial-volume testing. As a result, the current focus of the public health laboratory testing is to ensure that hospitalized patients get tested, as well as people who live or work in high risk settings, such as long-term care facilities, healthcare professionals, and first responders.

Testing Occurring Outside the Public Health Laboratory

Large commercial laboratories have begun testing and have provided testing for patients of many different private and public healthcare delivery systems and at many different test collection sites. Some companies operate specimen collection sites but do not run their own tests; instead, they send those specimens to commercial labs for testing.

A new regional order issued on March 24, 2020 requires all laboratories that test for the novel coronavirus to report all positive, negative, and inconclusive results to local and state health officials. Prior to this order, only positive test results were mandated to be reported to the County Public Health Department. This limited our ability to know the total number of people living in Santa Clara County who are being tested. This order ensures public health officials locally, regionally, and across the state have access to the information needed to understand, predict, and combat the spread of COVID-19.

Laboratories were ordered to comply with these requirements starting March 25, 2020, with direction to report all results of any novel coronavirus testing. We are currently compiling and analyzing this new data being reported by laboratories, with a goal of sharing this information regularly with the public, through the Santa Clara County COVID-19 Data Dashboard on our website.

Other Testing and Specimen Collection Sites

Project Baseline and the state of California are collaborating to expand access to COVID-19 screening and testing in certain geographic areas, including in Santa Clara County. Visit their screening tool to determine if you are eligible for these services.

What do we know about the extent of spread of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County?

The increase in confirmed cases over time, as well as several other data points, indicate that the virus is now widespread in our county. Because of limited testing capacity, the Public Health laboratory has focused on testing patients with more severe illness and in high-risk, critical roles like healthcare workers and first responders. Because of this, and because we are not testing people without any symptoms, the number of cases that we detect through testing are only a small portion of the total number of people infected in the county. In addition, because we are primarily testing hospitalized patients, the cases we detect are more likely to be seriously ill and hospitalized.

Why isn't the Public Health Department reporting the location of people who test positive?

Our current data indicate that the virus is widespread in the county and, therefore, everyone in the county has a risk of exposure to the virus regardless of where in the county they live. Every hospital in the county is caring for patients who have COVID-19. Providing information on individual cases does not provide any benefit to the public, and may instead mislead those not living in a neighborhood with many confirmed cases to falsely think that they are at lower risk.

As noted above, the Public Health Department is asking laboratories who are running COVID-19 tests to report both positive and negative results, along with other key information, so that we can better understand whether there are areas of the community that are experiencing more intense transmission.

How much time does it take to get a result?

This varies by laboratory and the number of specimens awaiting testing. The Public Health Laboratory usually has results within 24 hours of receiving a sample.


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Who to Contact

General Questions

Santa Clara County residents can now call 2-1-1 for information on novel coronavirus and COVID-19 thanks to a new partnership between the County of Santa Clara and 2-1-1. Residents can also receive information on novel coronavirus by simply texting the word “coronavirus” to 211211 and following the prompts provided.

In addition to information about COVID-19, 2-1-1 connects callers with local community services such as food, shelter, counseling, employment assistance, quality childcare, senior services, and more.

Suspected Violations

The County of Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office has established a new phone number and email for individuals or businesses to report a non-essential business operating in violation of the Health Officer Order to Shelter in Place. Reports of businesses operating in violation of the order can be directed to A voicemail can be left by calling (408) 792-2300 in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese.​

Last updated: 4/6/2020 9:12 PM