COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.

Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment.  Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.

The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is be well informed about the COVID-19 virus, the disease it causes and how it spreads. Protect yourself and others from infection by washing your hands or using an alcohol based hand sanitizer frequently, don’t touch your face, socially distance from others (6 feet), and wear a face mask when socially distancing is not possible. 

The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette (for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow).

  • How do I know if I should get tested?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and want to get tested, call your healthcare provider first. Most people will have mild illness and can recover at home without medical care and may not need to be tested.

People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. 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

It is possible to get tested without symptoms. In order to track the disease through a community, many health departments, including Webster County, offer periodic testing for anyone, with or without symptoms. Contact your local health department for more information.

  • What is the difference between antibody testing and PCR testing?

Serology (antibody testing) looks for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in the blood to determine if there was a past infection. In most cases, a blood sample is taken and sent to a lab for testing. A positive antibody test means that the person being tested was infected with COVID-19 in the past and that their immune system developed antibodies to try to fight it off. A negative antibody test means that the person may not have had COVID-19 in the past. However, they could still have a current infection, and the antibody test was collected too soon to give a positive result.

PCR tests look for pieces of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the nose, throat, or other areas in the respiratory tract to determine if the person has an active infection. In most cases, a nasal or throat swab is taken by a healthcare provider and tested. Sometimes the test can be run while you wait, and sometimes the swab needs to be sent to a lab for testing. A positive PCR test means that the person being tested has an active COVID-19 infection. A negative PCR test means that person was probably not infected at the time their sample was collected. However, it doesn’t mean they won’t get sick – it only means that they didn’t have COVID-19 at the time of testing.

  • Why don’t we give more information on the location of positive cases?

The difficult decision regarding releasing location information is made based upon epidemiological guidelines and recommendations. Although some counties can release more details regarding what town the individual resides, those are counties with large populations and towns with much larger populations than that found in Webster County. You will notice that in fact, some of the counties surrounding Webster do not release any identifying information unless a public exposure has occurred, and only update the total of positive cases. This again is based upon population size and the desire to respect the rights of citizen confidentiality. In order to both respect privacy and provide tracking information, the Webster County Health Unit has divided the county into four geographic regions, and cases are reported based on the region in which they reside. In addition, regarding potential exposure, it is most useful to know where the individual has potentially been in contact with the public, as opposed to where the location of the home in which they isolate. We provide this information through the results of contact tracing.

Where do the numbers come from? Could someone be counted as a positive or negative more than once?

Results of COVID-19 testing are reported to the Health Unit in a number of ways. They can come directly from the laboratory performing the test, from a doctor’s office where the test was performed, and can also be reported by the state Department of Health and Senior Services if the test was performed by state staff. While it is possible that results could be reported on the same patient from different sources, the Health Unit epidemiology team goes to great lengths to confirm the identity of each and every person tested, to ensure that they are counted only once. This remains true when an individual is tested multiple times. For example, if you are required to have three negative tests before returning to work, and all three are negative, it will only be counted one time, as you are one person.

  • What is contact tracing and why does it take so long?

Contact tracing is used by health departments to track and identify the spread of infectious diseases. In general, contact tracing involves identifying people who have an infectious disease (called a case) and gathering information about their contacts (people who may have been exposed). From that point, the process involves working with the identified case and their contacts to interrupt further disease transmission.

For the health department, contact tracing for COVID-19 typically involves

  • Interviewing people with COVID-19 and asking them to  identify everyone with whom they had close contact during the time they may have been infectious and gathering information about where they have been during that time.
  • We then notify identified contacts of their potential exposure, as well as publicize potential public sources of spread.
  • Identified contacts are educated, reassured, and referred for testing as appropriate.
  • To prevent the further spread of COVID-19, contacts are encouraged to stay home and maintain social distance (at least 6 feet) from others until 14 days after their last exposure to a person with COVID-19. Contacts should monitor themselves by checking their temperature twice daily and watching for symptoms of COVID-19 and report those to the contact tracer.
  • Our tracers and nurses continue to monitoring contacts for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and continue to check in and monitor symptoms and condition of identified cases.

When needed, we then connect contacts with services. The process is long and arduous but is done in the interest of serving our citizens and taking care of Webster County. Due to the unfortunate increase in cases, we are adding contact tracers to our team to meet the needs for services and will continue to do so if the demand increases further.

  • How do we get notified of positive cases?

The Webster County Health Unit receives confirmation of positive cases for county residents no matter where the test was performed. Results may be sent to the health unit by the lab who processed the sample, by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, or by the provider who obtained the sample. Even if received from multiple sources, it is counted as only one case. Once the notice of a positive result is received in the Health Unit, it is referred to our epidemiological team, who contacts the patient to begin their contact tracing work.

  • Do masks work? How do they work?

We recognize that information seems to change frequently, and much mixed information is available. However, based upon the most recent data and CDC statements, the consensus is that a cloth face covering may not protect the wearer, but it may keep the wearer from spreading the virus to others.

COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice (e.g., while shouting, chanting, or singing). These droplets can land in the mouths, noses, or eyes of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Recent studies show that a significant portion of individuals with COVID-19 lack symptoms (are “asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (are “pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, CDC recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

  • Why is it important to wear a cloth face covering?

Cloth face coverings may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others. Wearing a cloth face covering will help protect people around you, including those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and workers who frequently come into close contact with other people (e.g., in stores and restaurants). Cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings. The spread of COVID-19 can be reduced when cloth face coverings are used along with other preventive measures, including social distancing, frequent hand-washing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

The cloth face coverings recommended here are not surgical masks or respirators. Currently, those are critical supplies that should be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders. Cloth face coverings are not personal protective equipment (PPE). They are not appropriate substitutes for PPE such as respirators (like N95 respirators) or medical facemasks (like surgical masks) in workplaces where respirators or facemasks are recommended or required to protect the wearer.

Much more information can be found at

  • The term ‘epidemiology’ is used an awful lot. What exactly is epidemiology?

At the Health Unit, we talk frequently about epidemiology and our epidemiological team, but have never really explained what these folks do Epidemiology is the method used to find the causes of health outcomes and diseases in populations. In epidemiology, the patient is the community, and individuals are viewed collectively. By definition, epidemiology is the study (scientific, systematic, and data-driven) of the distribution (frequency, pattern) and determinants (causes, risk factors) of health-related states and events (not just diseases) in specified populations (neighborhood, school, city, state, country, global). It is also the application of this study to the control of health problems (Source: Principles of Epidemiology, 3rd Edition).

Epidemiologists look at things from a broad population-based view, and study things such as:

  • Environmental exposures like air pollution,
  • Infectious diseases like COVID-19 and sexually transmitted infections,
  • Trends in injuries like traffic accidents,
  • Non-infections diseases like cancer or birth defects,
  • Natural disasters like tornados or hurricanes, and/or
  • Terrorism such as the nationwide release of anthrax in 2001.

How do you test for Covid-19?

This video does a great job showing the procedure. After the sample is obtained, the swab is sent to a lab for processing. Every lab is different, and it can take from a day to several days to get results back. As medical science evolves, we look to see this time get shorter and shorter.

COVID-19 Myth Busting: There’s a lot of information circulating about COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, so it’s important to know what’s true and what’s not.

TRUE of FALSE? You can get a face mask exemption card so you don’t need to wear a mask.

The answer is false.

Fake cards and flyers, claiming that the bearer is exempt from mask-wearing regulations, have shown up in some areas. The cards, which some people have purchased online, may have official-looking logos or government insignias on them. They claim that the person carrying them has a physical or mental condition covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that makes them unable to wear a face mask or covering.

The United States Department of Justice has issued a statement about these fake mask exemptions, explaining that these cards and flyers are fraudulent.

People have tried to use the fake cards to avoid having to wear a mask in public places that require them, such as some stores and restaurants. The cards are not issued by the U.S. government and are not backed by the ADA.

TRUE or FALSE? You can protect yourself from COVID-19 by injecting, swallowing, bathing in, or rubbing onto your body; bleach, disinfectants, or rubbing alcohols.

The answer is false.

These products are highly toxic and should never be swallowed or injected into the body. Call 911 if this occurs.

Disinfectants, bleach and soap and water may be used to clean surfaces, an important prevention step in stopping the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus that’s led to the global pandemic. Never attempt to self-treat or prevent COVID-19 by rubbing or bathing with bleach, disinfectants or rubbing alcohol anywhere on your body. Effective hand sanitizers do have alcohol, but they are formulated to be safe for use on hands.

TRUE or FALSE? A vaccine to cure COVID-19 is available.

The answer is false.

There is no vaccine for the new coronavirus right now. Scientists have already begun working on one, but developing a vaccine that is safe and effective in human beings will take many months. 

TRUE or FALSE? The new coronavirus was deliberately created or released by people.

The answer is false.

Viruses can change over time. Occasionally, a disease outbreak happens when a virus that is common in an animal such as a pig, bat or bird undergoes changes and passes to humans. This is likely how the new coronavirus came to be.

TRUE or FALSE? Ordering or buying products shipped from overseas will make a person sick.

The answer is false.

Researchers are studying the new coronavirus to learn more about how it infects people. As of this writing, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that the likelihood of becoming infected with COVID-19 from a commercial package is low since it has likely traveled over several days and been exposed to different temperatures and conditions during transit.