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About COVID-19 & FAQs

About COVID-19

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) differs from the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold. COVID-19 is a new strain not previously been seen in humans.

Thought to spread mainly from person to person, primarily by droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus produces a variety of  symptoms, sometimes severe, including a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.

Frequently Asked Questions

UPDATED April 5: What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, a new virus first identified in 2019 that has caused a worldwide pandemic. It belongs to a larger family of viruses called coronaviruses, some of which normally circulate and can cause illnesses like the common cold. It spreads mainly from person to person from droplets when an infected person talks, coughs, sneezes or breathes. It is diagnosed with a laboratory test.

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure and may include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle aches, runny nose or congestion, headache, new loss of smell or taste, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. COVID-19 disease may be mild and without symptoms, or it may be severe resulting in death. There are an increasing number of vaccines being made available to help prevent this disease.

Anyone can get severely ill with COVID-19, especially older adults and people with underlying medical conditions.

Test your knowledge and learn more about the virus and how to prevent it.

UPDATED April 5: How does the virus spread?

The coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 most commonly spreads person to person via respiratory droplets during close physical contact (within 6 feet). Droplets are produced when an infected person talks, coughs, sings, sneezes or breathes, and someone who inhales these may get infected.

The virus can also sometimes spread between people by droplets or viral particles that may linger in the air for minutes to hours. This is why the virus spreads more easily between people indoors where the concentration of viral particles in the air can be higher, especially in buildings without adequate ventilation.

It is also possible (but thought to be less common) for the virus to spread when someone touches their eyes, nose or mouth after touching a surface that has virus particles on it. The best ways keep from catching or spreading the virus are wearing a well-fitting face mask, physical distancing, handwashing, staying home when sick, and getting a vaccine when it is available to you.

For more on how to keep yourself and others safe, visit the Pima County Health Department’s COVID-19 information and resources page.

UPDATED APR. 15: How long can the virus survive on surfaces?

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, can survive on surfaces anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the surface, according to NIH researchers.  Although it is possible to catch the virus from touching a surface with viral particles on it and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth, this is thought to be far less common way of getting infected than person to person contact.

Avoid potential infection from surfaces, by cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects often, such as counters, tabletops, door knobs, bathroom fixtures, phones, and bedside tables, and practice frequent handwashing.

The CDC has more information on cleaning and disinfecting your home. The CDC’s Science Brief offers detailed information on SARS-CoV-2 surface transmission and survival.

UPDATED APRIL 5: Who is at greater risk for serious illness from COVID-19?

Risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults at greatest risk. More than 95% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in people older than 45. Adults of any age with certain medical conditions including cancer, diabetes, kidney, heart and lung diseases, and immunocompromised states, may be at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The CDC maintains a list of conditions they have identified as potentially increasing risk, and update it as knowledge develops. People with any underlying medical conditions are encouraged to speak with their healthcare provider regarding their own personal risk and additional precautions they might need to take.

People from many racial and ethnic minority groups have also been put at higher risk of severe illness due to long-standing health and social inequities. People in minority groups have been dying from COVID-19 at younger ages.

What about the virus in animals and pets?

Please see the FAQs from Pima Animal Care Center regarding animals, pets and COVID-19.


UPDATED MAR. 26: What is a virus variant?

Variants are like new versions of a virus. They result whenever a virus's genetic material changes (mutates). Viral evolution is anticipated over time - this is why you get a flu shot every year to protect you against new variants of influenza.

Because the ultimate goal of all viruses is to get to the next host and make more copies of itself, mutations resulting in genetic changes that confer adaptation advantages (i.e. increased transmissibility, faster replication, or escape from immunity) often are the ones which increase in frequency and are retained in new variants

The more new people a virus is able to infect, the more opportunities it has to adapt and undergo additional mutations which can then result in new variants, some of which may be more contagious or may cause more severe disease. This is the reason that preventing additional viral spread via strategies such as vaccination, masking, handwashing and physical distancing is critical as we work to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

UPDATED MAR. 26: Are any of the known variants more dangerous?

Several variants are concerning to scientists, most notably:
  • The UK variant, B.1.1.7, was reported in the United Kingdom in the fall of 2020.This variant spreads more quickly and easily than others, and evidence also suggests that it may be associated with an increased risk of death. It was first detected in the US in December 2020, and in Pima County in March of 2021.
  • In South Africa variant B.1.351 was first reported in in October 2020, and is also associated with greater transmissibility. It was detected in the US in January 2021.
  • In Brazil, variant P.1 emerged and was first detected in January 2021 at a Japanese airport in travelers from Brazil. It has increased transmissibility and features a set of mutations that may affect its ability to be recognized by antibodies. It was detected in the US in January 2021.
Studies thus far suggest the vaccines currently authorized in the US generate antibodies which recognize these variants. Knowledge is evolving rapidly as scientists at the CDC gain more understanding of the impact these variants might have on vaccines and therapeutics.

Because of how much more quickly and easily these variants all spread, public health experts warn they may lead to increased numbers of COVID-19 cases, further straining our health care resources with increased hospitalizations and deaths.

Protect yourself by continuing to wear a well-fitted mask, handwashing, physically distancing, staying home when sick, and getting vaccinated when eligible. Once you have been fully vaccinated, taking steps to protect yourself and others will help reduce the spread of these variants and more quickly end the pandemic.

UPDATED MAR. 26: How are variants monitored?

The CDC uses genomic surveillance to track emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants in the US through several approaches.

Since November 2020, state health departments and public agencies send samples to the CDC’s National SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance (NS3) system for genetic sequencing and evaluation. The CDC also partners with commercial diagnostic labs, collaborates with universities, and supports state, local and tribal health departments. More details are available on the SARS-CoV-2 variant genomic surveillance page.

Pima County randomly sends 5% of positive COVID-19 PCR test samples to the state and/or the laboratory TGen in Flagstaff for genomic sequencing. It takes about 10-21 days for the sequencing results to be reported to Pima County. Variants identified in Pima County and throughout the state are reported on the Arizona SARS-CoV-2 Sequencing Dashboard.

UPDATED MAR. 11: Has the "UK Variant" been found in Pima County?

Yes. The UK variant has been found in Pima County.

UPDATED MAR. 26: Do the COVID-19 PCR or serology tests detect if someone has one of the variants?

No, the tests only detect whether or not someone has or has had COVID-19, and not whether someone is/was infected with one of the variants.


UPDATED APR. 15: How can I protect myself and others?

  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth.
  • Stay 6 feet apart from people you don't live with.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • If you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, throw the used tissue into a trashcan and immediately wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The Pima County Health Department and the CDC provide additional details on slowing the spread and keeping yourself and others safe.

UPDATED MAR 26: Which vaccines are authorized in the US?

Currently 3 vaccines are authorized for emergency use in the United States to prevent COVID-19:

  • Pfizer's vaccine is a mRNA vaccine given in 2 separate doses. It can be given to people age 16 and older.
  • Moderna's vaccine is an mRNA vaccine given in 2 separate doses. It can be given to people age 18 and older.
  • Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is a viral vector vaccine given in 1 dose. It can be given to people age 18 and older.
Find answers to more vaccine questions at our Vaccine FAQs page. Follow updates about general vaccine information at our Vaccine Registration & Information page

UPDATED APR. 15: Where can I find more information about masks and masking requirements?

The CDC recommends that people 2 years of age and older wear masks in public settings, at events and gatherings, and anywhere they will be around other people. Masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

In December of 2020, the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved a Resolution requiring everyone to wear face masks when in public and unable to easily maintain a continuous distance of at least six feet from others. Please visit our Face Coverings page to read the resolution and get information specific to Pima County including where to obtain and how to care for masks.

Masks work best when everyone wears them, but masks vary in how much protection they offer the wearer and others around them. When choosing a mask, it is important to consider how well it fits, how many layers it has, and how well it filters the air. To learn more about how to use masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19, the CDC has guidance for wearing masks and things you can do to improve how well your mask protects you



Who can get a COVID test?

Anybody in Pima County can get a free COVID test at one of several established Pima County testing sites, or at a pop-up testing locations. Private providers are also offering testing, though eligibility and cost may vary.

Should I be tested for COVID-19?

Anybody can be tested for COVID. COVID can spread before people feel sick, or be spread by people who never develop symptoms. If you have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, you should get tested and isolate for two weeks after the last exposure to that person while they were symptomatic.

Where can I get tested?

Pima County offers a variety of locations for free COVID-19 testing.

Need more information about how to schedule the test, including what actually happens when you arrive for your test? The Sonora Environmental Research Institute, El Rio Health and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman School of Public Health have created a guide to help you know what to expect which you can read or watch.

Now that we have COVID-19 vaccines, is testing still necessary?

Yes, testing still remains a critical tool for keeping track of the virus and to ensure continued progress against the pandemic. Testing helps identify and isolate new cases, screen for asymptomatic infections, and to detect emerging new variants. Vaccines offer a path out of this pandemic, but only as a part of other mitigation strategies including testing.

Even after you have been vaccinated, it is still very important that you get tested if you develop symptoms of COVID-19.

Confirmed Cases

UPDATED APR. 15: What is isolation?

Isolation keeps someone who is infected with a contagious disease away from people who are not infected, even away from those inside their own home. It is recommended for anyone testing positive for COVID-19 whether they have symptoms or not.

Fully vaccinated people are at low risk for infection with COVID-19, however fully vaccinated people with symptoms should still isolate from others, and be evaluated for COVID-19, including testing if needed. They should also tell the healthcare provider about their vaccination status.

The CDC recommends people in isolation stay home except to get medical care and take the following steps:

  • Monitor your symptoms. If you have an emergency warning signs (including difficulty getting enough air, chest pain, change in alertness or responsiveness, bluish lips or face, or rapid breathing), seek emergency medical care immediately
  • Stay in a separate room from other household members, if possible
  • Use a separate bathroom, if possible
  • Avoid contact with other members of the household and pets
  • Don’t share personal household items, like cups, towels, and utensils
  • Wear a mask when around other people, if you are able to.

UPDATED APR.15: How long after isolating may I return to my normal activities?

When you can discontinue isolation depends upon a number of factors. These include whether or not you had symptoms, were hospitalized, or have a weakened immune system. See the CDC’s isolation recommendations

UPDATED APR. 15: What is quarantine?

Quarantine keeps someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others. It helps to reduce the risk that someone might unknowingly transmit the disease to others before they even know they are ill or if they are ill but may have no symptoms. The CDC recommends people in quarantine stay home, separate themselves from others, monitor their health, and follow directions from their state or local health department.
The CDC advises that fully vaccinated people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 do not need to be quarantined or tested, because their risk of infection is low. They should still watch for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days after a potential exposure. If they develop symptoms, they should isolate from others, and be evaluated for COVID-19, including testing if needed. They should also tell the healthcare provider about their vaccination status.

UPDATED APR. 15: What is the estimated wait period before someone is no longer considered contagious?

CDC guidance indicates this depends upon a number of factors, including how sick someone was and whether they have a weakened immune system.

Where can I get information about the COVID-19 status in Arizona and Pima County?

View the latest data reports on COVID-19 cases, deaths, hospitalizations, and current progress.

What level of information can we disclose regarding positive cases in Pima County?

For all positive cases of COVID-19, we are disclosing the age range of the person and their recovering status, meaning if they are recovering in or out a hospital. Where someone lives, works, got infected, and traveled are all very different. Trying to memorialize “where” the risk was is very difficult and could actually end up misleading. We recognize that people are concerned about areas where they should be cautious. With a virus as contagious as this is proving to be, we recommend that people take precautions everywhere they go. The best thing people can do is practice those prevention and social distancing recommendations they are hearing so much about.

What is the definition of a recovered patient?

Someone who has been released from care and considered a “recovered patient” means the person is no longer sick, has no complications from the illness and is no longer considered contagious.

UPDATED DEC. 22: Can I have long-term effects even after recovering from COVID-19?

The CDC suggests that while most persons with COVID-19 recover and return to normal health, some patients can have both short- and long-term symptoms that can last for weeks or even months after recovery from acute illness. The most common long-term symptoms observed have included fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, and joint and chest pain.

The CDC is conducting multi-year studies to determine how common these symptoms are, who is most likely to get them, and whether these symptoms eventually resolve.

Long-Term Effects of COVID-19 CDC, 11/13/20.


Where can parents, school administrators, educators and child care providers find guidance and assistance?

Pima County has gathered the information, tools and answers to all of your questions.


UPDATED DEC. 22: Where can business owners and workers find the current best practices and requirements during this pandemic?

We have plenty of resources and guidance to help you navigate the latest standards and requirements whether you are business owner or an employee.

How do I report a business safety standard violation?

The Pima County Health Department is encouraging through its inspection process all area restaurants, pools, gyms, fitness centers, hotels and resorts and other business covered by the Pima County Board of Supervisors Proclamation to adopt minimum public health safety standards during the pandemic. The new rules revise, amend and delete some of the rules passed May 13. You can see all of the standards by type of regulated business here. If a business that should be following these standards is not, you can report it using the COVID-19 Safety Standards Business & Community Reporting form and our Consumer Health Food Safety team will contact the business and provide education and guidance. 

Can Pima County force other non-social gathering businesses to close?

Governor Ducey's Executive Order 2020-36 prohibits local municipalities like cities and counties from making any policies that are in conflict with his order, including ordering businesses to close. 

UPDATED DEC. 4: Where should the food industry go for guidance about business operations?

The Pima County Board of Supervisors on December 4, 2020 revised rules for protective measures some businesses should follow during a pandemic. The changes built on those implemented after extensive feedback gathered from the business community, primarily restaurants. Read the December 4 Proclamation for more details on the temporary measures applicable to all restaurants and other dine-in establishments.

We have additional resources and guidance for restaurants and businesses.

Are adult care facilities still open?

Yes, at this time there is no directive at this time to close this type of center. Adult day centers are being instructed to practice the same prevention measures as the general community and other facilities by practicing social distancing as much as possible, screening participants for symptoms, practicing good hygiene and cleaning and disinfecting. Adult Day Care Centers are asked to not allow any visitors or non-critical staff.

Are workers in the human and animal food and feed sector considered part of the essential critical infrastructure workforce?

Yes, in a guidance issued by Department of Homeland Security on March 19 Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure workforce: Ensuring Community and National Resilience in COVID-19, workers in the Food and Agriculture sector – agricultural production, food processing, distribution, retail and food service and allied industries – are named as essential critical infrastructure workers. Promoting the ability of our workers within the food and agriculture industry to continue to work during periods of community restrictions, social distances, and closure orders, among others, is crucial to community continuity and community resilience.

Volunteer and Donation Info

What can I do to help my community during the COVID-19 outbreak?

If you are a healthcare provider with an active license, a public health professional, member of a medical disaster response team, or non-health community volunteer willing to be on-call to support Arizona in the event of a disaster, you can help support public health emergency preparedness. Find more info and a registration link at

Additionally, the American Red Cross has reported a shortage in blood donations. So, if you’re in a position to give blood, you might consider donating as another option. To schedule an appointment, visit

You can also write a note to somebody who is physically-distanced in a long term care facility with the Pima Love Notes project.

Lastly, follow the social distancing recommendations and wear a cloth face covering when in public around others. Health professionals agree that the COVID-19 outbreak is going to take several months to resolve, which means it’s up to us to protect our community.

Glossary of Terms

UPDATED JAN. 25: Contingency and crisis standards of care

Normally, hospitals operate under conventional standards of care, in which care is provided to patients without any changes in daily practice. During demand surges like those seen annually during cold and flu season, hospitals might alter their staffing by having physicians cover different departments, or temporarily divert ambulances to other hospitals, but staff all still work within their scope of expertise and follow standard protocols regarding who gets care and what sorts of treatments or therapies patients might receive. Patients who show up needing care still receive it.

When demand starts to exceed space and staffing resources, hospitals transition to a contingency standard of care. They change their daily practices to do whatever possible to maintain their normal standard of care. Space gets used differently, so an operating room might become a makeshift intensive care unit. Non-emergency procedures or surgeries might get postponed or cancelled. Supplies are conserved, so providers make different decisions regarding who might receive a particular therapy and change their admission and discharge procedures. A person who would normally be admitted could instead be sent home, while someone already hospitalized might be sent home sooner. Patients may be transferred between hospitals in the same city, or even to another city via the ADHS Surge Line.

Arizona hospitals are currently operating under contingency standards of care.

When the demand for healthcare exceeds hospitals’ ability to provide that care, hospitals move into Crisis Standards of Care. This is a protocol adopted when the healthcare system is unable to provide the care that everyone needs because there are simply not enough resources or staff to take care of everyone who needs it. Hospitals are forced to make substantial changes to the way that they provide care. Providers often work outside their normal scope of practice, and supplies may need to be reused or may become completely unavailable. Supplies including medications or oxygen may become unavailable. Crisis Standards of Care also provide a protocol by which providers determine how limited care is to be rationed, and how decisions determining which patients receive treatment and which will not are to be made.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Arizona authorized Crisis Standards of Care for hospitals in early July of 2020. The best ways to help protect our hospitals and help avoid Crisis Standards of Care are continuance of the same steps we are already using to protect ourselves and our families. Wearing a mask, avoiding close contact with others, handwashing, staying home when sick, and getting vaccinated are our best tools for keeping our community safe.

Arizona Crisis Standards of Care Plan (PDF) AZDHS, 2020.
ADHS Surge Line ADHS
COVID-19 Addendum: Allocation of Scarce Resources in Acute Care Facilities (PDF) ADHS, 6/12/20.
Arizona Authorizes Crisis Standards of Care Patient Triage Protocol AZ Public Health Association, 07/6/20.

Close Contact

A close contact* for COVID-19 is defined as any of the following exposures to an individual during their infectious period:
  • Individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more during a 24-hour period**
  • Individual providing care in a household without using recommended infection control precautions.
  • Individual who has had direct physical contact (hugging or kissing)
  • Individual who has shared eating and/or drinking utensils, and 
  • Individuals who has been sneezed on, coughed on, or got respiratory droplets on them.
*Close contact does not include healthcare providers or EMS providers using appropriate PPE and implementing appropriate infection control practices.

**Individual exposures added together over a 24-hour period (e.g., three 5 minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes). Data are limited, making it difficult to precisely define “close contact;” however, 15 cumulative minutes of exposure at a distance of 6 feet or less can be used as an operational definition for contact investigation. Factors to consider when defining close contact include proximity (closer distance likely increases exposure risk), the duration of exposure (longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk), whether the infected individual has symptoms (the period around onset of symptoms is associated with the highest levels of viral shedding), if the infected person was likely to generate respiratory aerosols (e.g., was coughing, singing, shouting), and other environmental factors (crowding, adequacy of ventilation, whether exposure was indoors or outdoors). Because the general public has not received training on proper selection and use of respiratory PPE, such as an N95, the determination of close contact should generally be made irrespective of whether the contact was wearing respiratory PPE. At this time, differential determination of close contact for those using
fabric face coverings is not recommended.

Congregate setting

Any facility where people living in a group setting share living space (including bathroom or kitchen) AND those living there depend on the facility for:
  • Completion of activities of daily living; OR
  • Temporary shelter; OR
  • Medical services.
Congregate settings include, but are not limited to:
  • Long-term care facilities (LTCFs)
  • Hospice
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Shelters with dormitories
  • Jails, prisons, and detention centers (ICE and ORR)
  • Group homes (Division of Developmental Disabilities - DDD, Department of Child Safety -DCS)
  • Temporary shelters for people who are asylum-seeking/unaccompanied children
  • Inpatient physical rehabilitation facilities
  • Inpatient behavioral/addiction rehabilitation
Non-congregate settings include, but are not limited to:
  • Student or faculty housing (e.g., dormitories or residence halls)
  • Apartments
  • Independent living facilities
  • Shelters with apartment-style living arrangements (own bathroom and kitchen)
  • Outpatient behavioral/addiction rehabilitation
  • Multi-generational or multi-family homes

Infectious Period

Is the timeframe an individual can transmit disease to others. For COVID-19, this starts from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to positive specimen collection) until the time the individual discontinues isolation.


Separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.

Non-pharmaceutical interventions

That can be practiced by individuals include the following:
  • Correct and consistent mask use
  • Physical distancing
  • Hand and cough hygiene
  • Environmental cleaning and disinfection
  • Avoiding crowds
  • Ensuring adequate indoor ventilation
  • Self-monitoring for symptoms


Separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick. For COVID-19, this means staying home or in a private room with a private bathroom for 14 days after last contact with a person who has COVID-19. However, individuals may be eligible for the acceptable options to shorten quarantine outlined in the "If you had close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case" dropdown option in the Quarantine Section of the Sick/Exposed page

Severe/critical illness

Illness due to COVID-19 that required any intensive care during hospitalization. 

Severely immunocompromised

Means you have:
  • Been taking chemotherapy for cancer recently;
  • HIV and a CD4 t-cell count <200;
  • An immunodeficiency disorder;
  • Been taking high-dose steroids (such as prednisone 20mg/day for >14 days); OR
  • Another condition that a healthcare provider has told them makes them severely immunocompromised.


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
This list does not include all possible symptoms. Public health will continue to update this list as we learn more about COVID-19.
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