Frequently Asked Questions
Updated as of 8/13/2021
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way for all Chicagoans to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 is to stay home as much as possible and practice good hand hygiene and social distancing when going out in public.
Without social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, the number of cases can increase so quickly that hospitals will not have nearly enough beds and equipment to care for all patients. Together, we can flatten the curve and help keep our family, friends, neighbors, and those most vulnerable safe.
How to Protect Yourself and Others (CDC Guidance)
Know how COVID-19 spreads. The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Some recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
- Do not touch your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Do not shake hands. Try alternatives like an elbow bump or wave.
Say home as much as possible.
- Put at least 6ft distance between yourself and other people when going out in public.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick, especially if you are at higher risk for serious illness.
- Follow CDC recommendations on how to run essential errands.
If you’re sick, stay home except to get medical care. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. If surfaces are dirty, clean them using detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection. See CDC’s recommendations for household cleaning and disinfection.
Wear a cloth face covering in the grocery store, pharmacy or other public settings where it’s difficult to maintain social distancing. If you’re sick, wear a cloth covering over your nose and mouth if you must be around other people even at home. See CDPH guidance on the use of face coverings.
Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy foods, and manage your stress to keep your immunity strong. If you need mental or emotional support, check out these free mental health resources available to all Chicago residents.
If you have recently returned from a country with ongoing spread of COVID-19, monitor your health and follow the instructions of public health officials. See CDC guidance for travelers returning from international travel.
People of all ages can get sick with COVID-19 and it’s important for everyone to take special precautions. Most cases of COVID-19 result in mild illness. To date, children also seem less likely to become ill. But people who are older or those who have other health conditions are more likely to have serious illness. Those at higher risk include:
- People over 60 years of age. The risk increases significantly thereafter and escalates with age, with persons over age 80 in the highest risk category.
- People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
- People, regardless of age, with underlying health conditions including cardiovascular (heart) disease, diabetes, or chronic lung diseases like COPD, as well as those with severely weakened immune systems.
If you're at higher risk, you need to take extra precautions. Seek medical care early, even if your illness is mild.
For more information, see CDC guidance for people who are at higher risk.
If you think you might be sick with COVID-19, call your doctor and ask if you need to be tested. Your doctor will either perform the test at their office or will refer you to a testing site. Please note that some offices might be overwhelmed and not have enough tests. In that case, they’ll need to prioritize high priority groups such as hospitalized patients, healthcare workers, first responders, and residents and workers in nursing homes.
If you don’t have a health care provider or medical insurance, there are approximately 165 community health centers throughout Chicago, so find one that is close to you at findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov. Call ahead and they will work with you to coordinate appropriate care.
Chi COVID Coach
When you register with our Chi COVID Coach, we will alert you when COVID-19 approved antibody testing - and down the line, vaccination - is available. If you think you've already had COVID-19, but were not tested while you were sick, antibody testing will eventually help answer the question of whether you had COVID-19 in the past and now have some protection. Learn more at covidcoach.chicago.gov.
COVID-19 Testing Sites in Chicago
You can also visit the Illinois Department of Public Health website for a list of testing sites. Here you'll find locations, hours of operation, and requirements.
Call the health care provider who performed your test. If your test was performed at a drive-thru clinic, then you should receive a phone call with your results, but you may also be able to check them through the laboratory's patient portal. Please note that turnaround times for testing results can be as long as 3-10 days.
The most common types of COVID-19 test are a molecular (PCR) test and serology (antibody) test. A PCR test shows whether the virus is present in the body and is typically done through nasal or throat swab. A serology test is a blood antibody test that shows if you have antibodies against COVID-19 and if you’re immune to the virus, whether you developed any symptoms or not. At this time, the FDA has issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for three COVID-19 antibody test and none have been validated for diagnosis. Antibody tests currently on the market might not be reliable and test results must be interpreted with caution.
Molecular (PCR) test:
A PCR test is the most reliable way to determine whether you have COVID-19 or not.
- If you test positive for COVID-19, see What to do if you’re sick.
- If you test negative for COVID-19, you probably were not infected at the time the test was performed. However, that does not mean you will not get sick. It is possible that you could test positive later, or you could be exposed later and then develop illness.
Serology (antibody) test:
Please note that, at this time, the FDA has issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for three COVID-19 antibody test and none have been validated for diagnosis. Antibody tests currently on the market might not be reliable and test results must be interpreted with caution.
- A positive antibody test might indicate past infection with COVID-19, but the result may also be because of past or present infection with other (non-COVID-19) coronavirus strains. The virus that causes COVID-19 is just one of a family of coronaviruses, and a positive antibody test may just show that someone had one of the other coronavirus strains, like the ones that can cause the common cold.
- A positive antibody test alone, without an understanding of symptoms, exposure, and molecular (PCR) test results, is not sufficient to determine if someone has COVID-19 at this time.
- A positive antibody result should also not be used at this time to assess that a person “is immune to COVID-19”; with current technology, even if the test were fully validated, it would show that an individual has some degree of immunity. It is not known whether that is full or partial immunity, or how long immunity may last.
- If your antibody test is negative, it does not necessarily mean that you don’t have COVID-19. Your doctor may recommend that you also have a PCR test.
If you have a fever or cough, you might have COVID-19. Even if your symptoms are mild, by law in Chicago, you must stay home, except to get medical care. Most people have mild illness and are able to recover at home.
If you’re sick, follow the steps below to care for yourself and to help protect other people in your home and community. If you’re in one of the high risk groups (over 60 or with underlying medical conditions), call your doctor. They may decide to monitor your health or test you for COVID-19. You can also use this self-checker from the CDC to decide when you should seek appropriate medical care.
Prevent the spread of COVID-19 if you are sick PDF ( Amharic | Arabic | Burmese | Dari | English | Farsi | French | Haitian Creole | Nepali| Pashto | Russian | Simplified Chinese | Somali | Spanish | Swahili | Tigryna | Ukrainian | Vietnamese)
Stay home and away from others until:
- at least 7 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared; and,
- at least 3 days (72 hours) have passed since your fever has resolved (i.e. no fever without the use of fever reducing medications) and your other symptoms are improving.
For example, if you have a fever and coughing for 4 days, you need to stay home 3 more days with no fever for a total of 7 days. Or, if you have a fever and coughing for 5 days, you need to stay home 3 more days with no fever for a total of 8 days.
Stay away from other people in your home
If possible, stay in a specific “sick room” and use a separate bathroom. See COVID-19 and Animals if you have questions about pets.
Clean your hands often
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This is especially important after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, covering all surfaces of your hands and rubbing them together until they feel dry. Soap and water is are the best option, especially if hands are visibly dirty.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Cover your coughs and sneezes
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in a lined trash can. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Wear a cloth covering
Wear a cloth face covering over your nose and mouth if you must be around other people (even at home). You don’t need to wear the cloth face covering if you are alone. If you can’t put on a cloth face covering (because of trouble breathing for example), cover your coughs and sneezes in some other way. Try to stay at least 6 feet away from other people. This will help protect the people around you.
Please save medical masks, including N95s and surgical masks, for our healthcare workers and first responders who truly need them. Use a scarf or bandana instead.
Avoid sharing personal household items
You should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people in your home. Wash these items thoroughly after using them with soap and water or put in the dishwasher.
Clean all “high-touch” surfaces every day
Routinely clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in your “sick room” and bathroom. Let someone else clean and disinfect surfaces in common areas, but not your bedroom and bathroom. High-touch surfaces include phones, remote controls, counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables.
If a caregiver or other person needs to clean and disinfect a sick person’s bedroom or bathroom, they should do so on an as-needed basis. The caregiver/other person should wear a mask and wait as long as possible after the sick person has used the bathroom.
Clean the area or item with soap and water or another detergent if it is dirty. Then, use a household disinfectant. For more information, see CDC Complete Disinfection Guidance.
Monitor your symptoms
Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever and cough. If you develop any of these emergency warning signs get medical attention immediately:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
Call ahead before visiting your doctor
Call ahead and tell your doctor about your symptoms. This will help the office protect themselves and other patients. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, notify the operator that you have or think you might have COVID-19. If possible, put on a facemask before medical help arrives.
If you do not have a medical provider, are uninsured, or have limited or no income and believe you need non-emergency medical services, you can contact your nearest community health center (CHC) by phone and inform them of your need. They will work with you to coordinate appropriate care. In cases of emergency, please call 911.
There are approximately 165 CHCs throughout the city of Chicago, so find one that is close to you at findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov.
If you’re living with someone who is sick or have been exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace or another public setting, you should not go to work or school, and should avoid public places for 14 days.
- If you have any conditions that may increase your risk for a serious infection, contact your healthcare provider and tell them you were exposed to someone with COVID-19.
- Monitor your health for fever, cough and difficulty breathing during the 14 days after the last day you were in close contact with the sick person.
- Practice enhanced hand hygiene and social distancing.
- Minimize close contact to other household members as best you can. Stay in another room, use a separate bathroom, avoid sharing dishes, glasses, towels, or other household items, and clean high touch surfaces and shared spaces every day.
- If you develop any symptoms, see What To Do If You’re Sick.
If you’re a critical infrastructure worker, you may continue to work, as long as you don’t develop any COVID-19 symptoms. For more information, see CDPH Guidance for Critical Infrastructure Workers.
Monitor the person for worsening symptoms. Know the emergency warning signs.
- Have their healthcare provider’s contact information on hand.
- If they are getting sicker, call their healthcare provider. For medical emergencies, call 911 and notify the dispatch personnel that they have or are suspected to have COVID-19.
Prevent the spread of germs
- Have the person stay in one room, away from other people, including yourself, as much as possible.
- If possible, have them use a separate bathroom.
- Avoid sharing personal household items, like dishes, towels, and bedding
- Have them wear a cloth face covering when they are around people, including you. It the sick person can’t wear a cloth face covering, you should wear one while in the same room with them.
- Clean your hands often.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Every day, clean all surfaces that are touched often, like counters, tabletops, and doorknobs
- Wash laundry thoroughly.
- Avoid having any unnecessary visitors.
- For any additional questions about their care, contact their healthcare provider.
Provide symptom treatment
- Make sure the sick person drinks a lot of fluids to stay hydrated and rests at home.
- Over-the-counter medicines may help with symptoms.
- For most people, symptoms last a few days and get better after a week.
Chicago’s 911 center is available to provide emergency assistance. Call 911 if you develop symptoms requiring emergency assistance such as:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
Notify the operator if you think you have COVID-19 and be prepared to answer a few questions about your symptoms, so the responders know how to take care of you and protect themselves from exposure.
You can also sign up for Smart911 and create a safety profile for yourself and your family. In the event of an emergency, your Safety Profile is made available to call takers the moment your phone or one associated with your account dials 9-1-1. The service is free and sign up can be completed in minutes.
Under Chicago’s March 18 2020 Public Health Order, residents exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 are required to stay at home, even if they work at an essential business. Employers that require sick employees to work, or discipline them for taking sick leave under the Order, could be in violation of Chicago’s Paid Sick Leave law. Employees can call 3-1-1 to submit a complaint.
COVID-19 Guidance for Businesses and Employers PDF (English)
If someone in the workplace is confirmed to have COVID-19 infection and they self-report, interview them by telephone. Questions to ask include:
- The last day they were at work.
- The first day of their symptoms, and importantly, whether they were symptomatic while at work. (If they were not symptomatic while at work, the risk of transmission to others is low.)
- Individuals at work or school with whom they had prolonged close contact (within 6 feet for more than 10 minutes, for example sharing a desk or workspace, riding and sitting closely within a vehicle) while symptomatic.
Ensure the employee is aware that they should stay home and away from others for at least 7 days since their symptoms first appeared and at least 3 days (72 hours) with no fever (without using fever-reducing medications) and improving symptoms. Refer them to this CDPH FAQ on what to do if diagnosed with COVID-19.
Ensure the employee advises members of their immediate household to self-quarantine for 14 days. Refer them to this CDPH FAQ on what to do if you have been exposed.
Test results do not need to be confirmed by CDPH. It is advised that during your interview with the individual that you verbally confirm that they were in fact tested for COVID-19 and had a positive result.
Inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The fellow employees should then self-monitor for symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, or difficulty breathing).
- Direct close contacts of the employee to stay home and monitor their health for 14 days. Refer them to this CDPH FAQ on what to do if you have been exposed. Do not require close contacts to have negative test results prior to returning to work.
- Critical infrastructure workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 can continue to work as long as they don’t develop any COVID-19 symptoms. See CDPH Guidance for Critical Infrastructure Workers.
Determine if workplace closure is warranted based on factors such as workplace setting, number of employees affected, or clients you serve.
- Develop communication plans for workplace closure to include outreach to staff, clients, and the community.
- Provide guidance to staff reminding them of the importance of community social distancing measures while workplace is closed.
Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection after persons suspected/confirmed to have COVID-19 have been in the facility. Follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
Ensure staffs’ privacy to help prevent discrimination.
Refer employees in need of mental health support to the NAMI Chicago helpline at 833-NAMI-CHI (833-626-4244) for a listening ear, mental health information or referrals.
Contact the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection or visit chicago.gov/coronavirus to see what resources are available to businesses, consumers and employees impacted by the COVID-19 Outbreak.
*These guidelines do not apply to higher-risk settings like residential congregate settings, healthcare facilities, or agencies with first responders. For more information, see CDPH's Guidance for Congregate Settings.