As Wisconsin braces for the spread of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), it’s important for residents to know what to do to prevent the disease. But people should also know what the symptoms are, how the disease is transmitted and when to call the doctor.

Symptoms of COVID-19 seem similar to a cold or the flu, but this virus is different. Our bodies do not have immunity to it, say officials with the Center for Disease Control.

Somewhere between 20 and 60 percent of adults could contract the virus and about a fifth of the people who get COVID-19 could need to be hospitalized, according to officials at the Harvard Global Health Institute. As a result, health officials have voiced concerns that the spread of the virus could mean larger numbers of people will need medical care. If that happens, hospitals will not be able to deal with a higher volume of patient care.

Not a cold, but not the plague either

Symptoms range from mild to severe. Still, about 80 percent of people who contract the virus are expected to experience mild symptoms. It can take from two to 14 days after someone is exposed to the virus to appear.

Officials with Ascension Wisconsin started drive-through testing on Monday for people who have appointments.

What may seem like a mild cold, could be COVID-19. The disease spreads through respiratory droplets when a sick person coughs, sneezes, or breaths. When that happens, those droplets can be airborne and live on surfaces for an extended period of time, according to DHS.

When people breathe in (inhale) the droplets, or touch surfaces that have been contaminated and then touch their mouth, face, or eyes, the virus can make them sick.

The CDC believes that symptoms of COVID-19 appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after contact with someone who has COVID-19.

COVID-19 Symptoms

People with confirmed infections have a range of symptoms, from little to no symptoms to people being severely sick and dying. 

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Not everyone with COVID-19 has all of these symptoms. For many, symptoms are mild, with no fever. It is important to know that you can still spread (transmit) the virus to others even if you have mild or no symptoms.

If you have any of these symptoms, see: If you think you are sick webpage.


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To test or not to test

There is a nationwide shortage of tests. But, not everyone needs to be tested, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Who gets tested for COVID-19 is based on the clinical judgment of the clinician. The state emphasized that providers should test hospitalized patients “for whom a timely diagnosis of COVID-19 is critical to inform management decisions.”

State lab testing sites will only test Tier 1 and Tier 2 specimens. Meanwhile, healthcare providers need to find alternative lab testing sites for lower priority specimens.

“It should be emphasized to patients and providers that there is no role for testing asymptomatic individuals. Testing should be reserved for making a diagnosis of COVID-19 in patients suspected of having the disease, in order to inform clinical management and infection control decisions,” according to the memo. “Testing is NOT recommended for patients with mild, upper respiratory symptoms, except in limited circumstances. Patients without significant comorbidities, and who are not health care workers, should not be tested if they have mild illnesses for which they would not normally seek medical care. “

CDC officials say here are some important things to note:

  • Most people have mild illness and are able to recover at home.
  • There is no treatment specifically approved for this virus.
  • Testing results may be helpful to inform decision-making about who you come in contact with.

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When to see emergency help

Emergency warning signs include*:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse (wake) a person
  • Bluish lips or face

SOURCE: Wisconsin Department of Health Services

*This list is not all-inclusive. Please consult your doctor or medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.

More can be found at CDC COVID-19, Symptoms webpage

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.