Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

Please check this page often for updated information. 

1. What is SARs-CoV-2 (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. Most people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms, but some people can become severely ill. Although most people with COVID-19 get better within weeks of illness, some people experience post-COVID conditions. Post-COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience more than four weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

2. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

3. How does COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 is spread in three main ways:

  • Breathing in the air when close to an infected person who is exhaling small droplets and particles that contain the virus.
  • Having these small droplets and particles that contain viruses land on the eyes, nose, or mouth, especially through splashes and sprays like a cough or sneeze.
  • Touching eyes, nose, or mouth with hands that have the virus on them.

Visit the CDC How COVID-19 Spreads page to learn how COVID-19 spreads and how to protect yourself.

4. How can I help protect myself?

The best way to prevent infection is by getting vaccinated. Getting vaccinated prevents severe illness, hospitalizations, and death. Unvaccinated people should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated. With the Delta variant, this is more urgent than ever. CDC has updated guidance for fully vaccinated people based on new evidence on the Delta variant. To find vaccines near you, click

Following these everyday actions can also help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses:

  • Wash your hands often and correctly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 
  • Watch this excellent video, share these great materials, and safely use hand sanitizer 
  • Practicing Social Distancing is the most effective measure for preventing the spread. Please refer to question number 10 for recommendations and guidelines.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, and wash your hands with soap and running water after touching the tissue. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow not your hands. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.  Consider wearing a face covering.

See the CDC Checklist for Individuals and Families - Have a plan and know what to do if someone in your household becomes ill with COVID-19 symptoms

5. Should I wear a face covering?

6. What should I do if I think I have been exposed to someone with COVID-19?

See CDC Guidance 

 7. What should I do if I get symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever (100°F/38.7°C or higher) and cough or shortness of breath?

If you develop symptoms:

  • Most people with COVID-19 have mild illness and are able to recover at home.
  • Remain at home and away from others in your household. Do not leave your home, except to get medical care. Do not visit public areas.
  • Call your physician and describe your symptoms. Do not go directly to their office or to an emergency department/urgent care center without calling first. If you feel you are having a medical emergency, call 911 immediately and let them know your symptoms.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, and wash your hands with soap and running water after touching the tissue. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items
  • Steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 if you are sick (CDC)

8. Who is at the highest risk for getting very sick from COVID-19?

9. How do I get tested for COVID-19 ?

The Health Department does not have the ability to test for COVID-19. Testing is ordered through Health Care Providers in the community.

Cortland County residents who are experiencing coronavirus symptoms need to call their doctor, who will coordinate any necessary testing. If you are instructed by a medical professional to get tested, follow their instructions for a sample collection and then go directly to your home and DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOME, and isolate yourself from your household to the extent possible until you receive results from your provider. The provider who orders the test will be who contacts you with the result; it could take up to a week or more to get results.

COVID-19 Testing Options:

Governor Hochul Announces 13 New State Testing Sites Across New York Amid Recent Surge in COVID-19 Cases.  Sites Open on Wednesday, December 29 -- Appointments Can Be Made Here Starting on Monday, December 27th: 

  • Guthrie Drive-through testing site Alvena Ave, Cortland  (parking lot across from the front entrance of the Guthrie Medical Center). Patients must schedule an appointment.  Call (607) 299-7676.

For people who don’t have a primary-care physician: 

  • Guthrie Cortland Walk-In Care (4077 West Road in Cortland). To schedule an appointment, call (607) 299-7676.
  • Upstate Medical University Water Street Drive Through Site (800 Water Street, Syracuse, 13210). To schedule an appointment, call 315-464-2778, press 0 and follow the prompts.
  • Cayuga Health Sampling Sites Register at or call (607) 319-5708.
  • Or Visit, Find a Test Site Near You.

10. Can I test for COVID-19 at home? What about buying a test online?

There are currently over-the-counter tests for COVID-19 approved by the FDA. The FDA has a consumer hotline for general information and complaints about fraudulent COVID-19 products at 1-888-INFO-FDA. For more information, visit CDC Self Testing.

11. Is there a vaccine?

Currently, there are three vaccines that have been approved for use through a EUA.

FRAUD ALERT: If you get an email, phone call, offer by mail, or other solicitation for COVID-19 tests or treatment, hang up and ignore them.

12. What cleaning products should I use?

See CDC’s Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Ventilation page for more information.

13. What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

First, Isolation and Quarantine are similar in that they are both imposed to limit the spread of communicable diseases. The differences are as follows.

Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.

Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.

14. What happens if a COVID-19 test comes back positive?

The individual who has a confirmed positive COVID-19 test will be put on Mandatory Isolation Order by the Cortland County Health Department. This person may or may not have symptoms, but is presumed to be contagious. The individual remains in isolation (away from others) until the Health Department releases them from isolation and the person is no longer contagious. A contact investigation begins to determine who may have been exposed.

15. What is a contact investigation or Contact Tracing?

A contact investigation is a process of identifying anyone who may have come into contact with the individual who tested positive for COVID-19. An individual who is a confirmed case (test results are positive for COVID-19) is interviewed by a public health staff member about places they have been and asked to list people who may have been in close contact. Close contact is within about six feet for longer than 15 minutes in a 24 hour period of someone with COVID-19 for a long period of time or direct contact with infectious secretions of an individual, via cough, sneeze, or speaking. The contacts are notified that they may have been exposed in a location with an individual who is positive for COVID-19. For more information, visit

16. What should I expect if I get a call from the NYS Contact Tracing?

Your caller ID will say “NYS Contact Tracing(518-387-9993). Please answer the phone so we can keep NY moving forward and stop the spread of COVID-19. A contact tracer will NEVER ask for your Social Security Number or private financial information (like a credit card number). All information collected by a tracer will be strictly confidential and treated as a private medical record.

People who have come in close contact with someone who is positive are asked to stay home and limit their contact with others. By staying home during this time, If you become sick yourself, you have not infected many others along the way. This is how we stop the spread!

17. Will the public be informed about specific individuals who have tested positive?

No. To protect the privacy of the individual, the Cortland County Health Department cannot release identifying information. Anyone who may have been exposed to the confirmed case will be directly contacted by a public health staff member as part of the contact investigation. The Health Department will continue to alert the community on the number of positive cases in Cortland County.

18. Where can I find information about COVID-19 and Pregnancy?

19. Where can I find information about COVID-19 and Animals?

See Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 and Animals

20. Are SUNY Cortland students be reported in the Daily COVID-19 Report?

CCHD numbers grid represents all people currently residing in Cortland County who are in isolation (positive test results) and in quarantine (contacts to a positive case). 

• These numbers include SUNY Cortland students who complete their isolation or quarantine in Cortland County and therefore will be monitored by CCHD

To view SUNY Cortland’s dashboard click on the link:

21. What does "Hospitalizations" mean on the Daily Grid?

CCHD monitors all Cortland County community residents who are in isolation and/or quarantine.  This includes those who are hospitalized for their illness even if not hospitalized in Cortland County.  Many local residents utilize hospitals in Binghamton, Syracuse, or Ithaca as well as Guthrie Cortland.  

22. What should I do if I have been fully Vaccinated but was exposed to COVID-19?

If you’ve had close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should get tested 3-5 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms. You should also wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until your test result is negative. You should isolate for 10 days if your test result is positive.

Please visit Guidance for Fully Vaccinated People and CDC's Summary of Recent Changes for Fully Vaccinated People to learn more.

23. Where can I find information about COVID-19 Variants?

This NYS website focuses on COVID-19 variants, providing public information on how we track variants, why we track variants, and updated data.

24. What is a "breakthrough case"?

Some people, who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, will still get sick because no vaccine is 100% effective—these are called breakthrough cases.  COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death. Most people who get COVID-19 are unvaccinated. However, since vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, some people who are fully vaccinated will still get COVID-19.  An infection of a fully vaccinated person is referred to as a “vaccine breakthrough infection.”

25 Where can I find information about "breakthrough cases" in New York State?

A NYS website that includes the COVID-19 Breakthrough Data Report, which displays COVID-19 breakthrough cases, hospitalizations, and in-depth data over time.

26.  Why are booster doses needed?

COVID-19 vaccines are working very well to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death, even against the widely circulating Delta variant. However, with new variants, public health experts are starting to see reduced protection against infection and mild disease. With a booster shot, vaccinated people maintain protection for an extended period of time.

27. Who is eligible for a booster dose?

Following careful review by the CDC, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the FDA, the CDC endorsed the recommendation of a booster shot for those whose second dose of Pfizer or Moderna was at least 6 months ago, or whose Johnson & Johnson (J+J) vaccine was at least 2 months ago.

Pfizer or Moderna:

The following groups are eligible for a booster shot at 6 months or more after their initial series:

  • Age 65 years or older, OR
  • Age 18+ years and a resident of a long-term care facility OR
  • Age 18+ years with one or more underlying conditions
  • Age 18+ years and live or work in a high risk setting, including but not limited to the following:
    • Healthcare workers and first responders
    • Individuals who work in long-term care facilities and nursing homes
    • Education staff, including teachers, support staff, daycare workers
    • Individuals who live in certain settings, including health care, schools, correctional facilities, homeless shelters
    • Food and agricultural workers
    • Grocery store workers
    • Public transit workers

Johnson & Johnson (Janssen):

You are eligible for a booster if you got your J+J shot 2 or more months ago and are:

  • Age 18+ years old

28.  Does my booster have to be the same COVID-19 vaccine I got first?

No. Some people may have a preference for the vaccine type that they originally received, and others may prefer to get a different booster. CDC’s recommendations now allow for this type of “mix and match” dosing for booster shots.

29.  Where can I get a booster dose? 

If you are eligible to receive a booster dose, contact your health care provider or your local pharmacy.  You can visit to find locations near you.

30. Where can I find more information about 3rd dose and booster doses?

NYSDOH: Booster Doses: What You Need to Know

NYSDOH: Booster doses vs. additional doses 

CDC press release on expanding eligibility to include Moderna and J+J (10/21/21)

CDC: Who is eligible for a booster shot? (May not yet be updated to include Moderna and J+J)

CDC: People with certain medical conditions

CDC Third dose information page

31.  Where can I find guidance related to K-12 school updates?

School districts are responsible for their own district COVID planning.  Please contact your school for any questions.

32. How are PreK-12 contact tracing and close contacts determined?

There are many variables when making the decision to quarantine students and staff following potential COVID-19 exposures in school settings. During contact tracing (case investigation) we will make every effort to determine who was a close contact in a school setting following a confirmed positive COVID-19 case and outlines contact tracing and quarantine procedure.

When a positive case is identified in school, contact tracing begins with the case to identify who was exposed and therefore is now considered for quarantine.  Masks must be consistently and correctly worn to be effective.

A student may be quarantined if

  • In a classroom setting
    • Students were unmasked (or if the mask is not consistently or correctly worn) and in close contact (within 3 to 6 feet of the infected student for a total of 15 minutes or more). 
    • There is no reliable information about mask-wearing or distancing.
    • Exception: student is fully vaccinated and does not have any symptoms
  • In a non-classroom indoor setting, students were
    • Within 6 feet for over 15 minutes, regardless of mask-wearing
  • In a school setting outside of a classroom (cafeteria, gym class, etc.) students were
    • Lunch in a cafeteria setting: Within 6 feet of infected student for 15 minutes or more (this setting assumes masks are not consistently worn)
    • Gym (includes changing rooms): Within 6 feet for 15 or more minutes and not properly masked, unless fully vaccinated and asymptomatic
    • Transport: Within 6 feet of the COVID-19 positive case for 15+ minutes. If there is no reliable information about mask-wearing, then everyone may be considered for quarantine.
  • During outdoor sports and recess
    • The risk of exposure is minimized when outdoors, and close contacts will be identified on a case-to-case basis.

Contact Tracing Protocol:

  • CCHD Case Investigator will request lists from the school focal point (principal or super in coordination with the school nurse) with the following information regarding all close contacts
    • Legal name, address, and contact phone number
    • Date of Birth (DOB)
    • Parent/guardian name of student
    • Vaccination status
    • Last date of exposure to the positive
  • The Case Investigator will enter the information and send it to the Virtual Call Center who will place them in quarantine within 24 hours, usually within the same day.

Reference Documents: 

decision tree 1

decision tree 2