Frequently Asked Questions

This page is updated as needed and reviewed monthly. (Updated 3/6/23)

If you have health-related questions or concerns, contact your healthcare provider.  For general questions about COVID-19, information about community resources, or if you are uninsured, call 2-1-1 San Diego .

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a trusted and valued source of information. Most of the information below comes from the CDC.

Overview and Symptoms

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  • What is the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Virus?

    A new (novel) coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2 virus, is responsible for the Coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19). The virus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness that was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in December of 2019.

  • What is COVID-19?

    On February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced COVID-19 as the official name of the disease responsible for causing the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak. The breakdown of the name COVID-19 is “CO” for corona, “VI” for virus, “D” for disease, and “-19” for 2019.

  • What is the source of the COVID-19 virus?

    Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others that circulate among animal species, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. On rare occasions, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread between people. Genetic analysis of this virus suggests it originated in bats, but whether the virus jumped directly from bats to humans or whether there was an intermediary animal host is not yet known.

    Learn More

  • What are the symptoms?

    Not everyone with COVID-19 develops symptoms. Among those with COVID-19,  a wide range of symptoms have been reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness.

    Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with any of the following 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 is not an all-inclusive list. Visit the CDC website for the most up-to-date list of symptoms.

  • How does the COVID-19 virus spread?

    Person-to-person spread. Occurs through respiratory droplets produced when a person sneezes, coughs, or talks. It is believed to be the main way the COVID-19 virus is spreading – between people who are in close contact with one another (6 feet/2 meters or less for a cumulative total of 15 minutes over a 24-hour period). 

    Airborne transmission of COVID-19. Also, may also be possible under certain conditions. There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away. These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation. Sometimes the infected person was breathing heavily, for example while singing or exercising.

    Contact with infected surfaces or objects. It may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching one’s mouth, nose, or eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. This route of transmission is less common. 

    Learn more about COVID-19 transmission or read more about airborne transmission

  • Can someone catch COVID-19 twice (recover from COVID-19 and then catch it again)?

    Recent evidence suggests that reinfection is possible, but is not common.

    Learn more

  • If you are asymptomatic for COVID-19, can you still spread the disease?

    Yes, if you tested positive for COVID-19 and have no symptoms (asymptomatic), you can still spread the virus to others. This includes both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. That is why non-pharmaceutical interventions (e.g., face coverings, distancing, hand hygiene) are important even after getting vaccinated.

  • What are variants and why should we be concerned?

    Viruses with one or more mutations or changes in genetic code are variants of the original virus. As a virus spreads, it has new opportunities to change and can become more difficult to stop. Variants can be more easily spread or become resistant to treatments or vaccines.

    Variants are evaluated for the risk that they pose to the population, including proportions, resistance to treatment, severity of disease, and ability to spread from person-to-person. Variants are then classified in one of four categories:

    • Variant being monitored (VBM),
    • Variant of interest (VOI),
    • Variant of concern (VOC), and
    • Variant of high consequence (VOHC).

    Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the COVID-19 Omicron variant as a variant of concern (VOC). Omicron is also the dominant strain nationwide, including San Diego County.

    By getting the COVID-19 vaccine, wearing a face covering, maintaining a 6-feet distance, avoiding crowds, and washing your hands often, you can help to slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the COVID-19 infection. 

  • What is an outbreak of COVID-19?

    Outbreaks of contagious disease (such as COVID-19) generally consist of multiple cases of the disease in the same setting over a certain period of time. The precise definition of an outbreak depends on the disease involved and other factors. Below are definitions of COVID-19 outbreaks in the three common categories: skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), Non-SNF residential congregate facilities, and community (non-residential congregate) settings.    


    • A Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) outbreak occurs when there is at least one case of facility-acquired laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection in a resident.
    • There are 86 SNFs in San Diego County.


    • This category includes long-term care facilities retirement homes, senior care centers, homeless shelters, overnight camps, group homes, dormitories, detention facilities, jails/prisons, and other residential facilities.
    • A non-SNF congregate setting outbreak is defined as at least three probable or confirmed COVID-19 cases within a 14-day period in epidemiologically-linked4 residents and/or staff.


    • Community settings include all non-residential congregate settings, e.g., all workplaces, including adult and child daycare facilities, K-12 schools and colleges/universities, restaurants and bars, gyms, social clubs, etc.:
    • At least three probable or confirmed COVID-19 cases within a 14-day period in people who are epidemiologically linked in the setting, are from different households, and are not identified as close contacts of each other in any other case investigation.
  • How are outbreaks identified?

    County staff interview all cases about their activities during the two weeks prior to their illness onset. They may mention places they worked, shopped, visited, went to church, attended a gathering, etc.  They also let us know about any known contact they may have had with an individual who is ill. Sometimes a common location is very easy to identify, such as when a person states that several other people at the workplace are sick are known close contacts and we confirm if these people/coworkers also have COVID and are from different households. 

    Other times, it may be that a person mentions a place and two other people unknown to that person mention having visited the same place within a 14-day period. Staff members then further exams that location to see if it could be possible that transmission could occur at the site. This involves looking at a business plan, possibly a site visit, further interviews, or evaluating other sources of information. If the setting is possible as a transmission location, we work with those at the site to minimize any ongoing risk and will list the location as a confirmed outbreak site.  If it is deemed that there is an on-going, active threat to public health and there is an action the public needs to take to protect themselves, we will make public the location of outbreaks.

    Another example might be the identification of a primary case, identification of close contacts at a site, and secondary cases occurring. County staff is able to draw a direct line between the cases;  and if they are not in the same household and the connection is a specific site, the County would identify that site as a community outbreak location.

    Being included on the outbreak list as the site of an outbreak does not necessarily mean any one person actually contracted illness at the site, only that our surveillance definition of an outbreak location has been met.

  • Why does the County not disclose the location of outbreaks?

    The County will only identify a specific location if there is an ongoing risk to the public’s health and there are specific actions that the public can take. For example, in the past, there have been instances of E. coli contamination and cases of tuberculosis where the public’s health was threatened, and the Public Health Officer identified the specific location. In the instance of COVID-19 outbreaks, none have been determined to be an ongoing threat to the public health. If it is deemed that there is an on-going, active threat to the public’s health and there is an action the public needs to take to protect themselves, we will make public the location of outbreaks.  This has occurred in many prior situations, such as tuberculosis identified in a school or worksite.

    Another consideration is that we don’t want businesses and others to be reluctant to come forward to report. If businesses are called out in a manner that they feel is punitive, other businesses are less likely to be upfront about concerns related to potential outbreaks in the future, thereby impacting both the ability to trace and efforts to combat COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

    Moreover, while State licensing agencies have been able to provide this specific type of data, the County’s Public Health Officer is not able to do so. Information publicly disclosed by the Public Health Officer regarding communicable disease investigations must be de-identified to prevent it from being linked to a particular individual (Title 17, Section 2502 (f)(3) of the California Code of Regulations). Providing this sort of information has the potential to lead to either the identification of physical residential or work addresses of people who have contracted a disease, which would too closely link the disclosure to particular individuals.  Under Government Code section 6254 (k), the Public Health Officer may not provide these addresses in response to a Public Records Act request.

Risk of Infection and Serious Illness

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Testing and Treatment

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  • How is COVID-19 diagnosed?

    There are two types of tests – diagnostic tests and antibody tests.

    For the diagnostic test, there are two types of viral tests to determine if a person has a current or active infection: 

    • Molecular test (also known as a nucleic acid amplification (NAAT) test) and
    • Antigen tests

    These diagnostic tests show if you have an active coronavirus infection.

    Molecular tests (like PCR tests) and antigen tests are both diagnostic tests.

    An antigen test may require a confirmatory molecular test depending on the result.

    Antibody tests look for the antibodies your immune system produced in response to a past infection.

    • These tests do not tell you when you had the infection, and therefore cannot be used to diagnose coronavirus.
    • A positive antibody test also does not necessarily mean you can’t be infected.
    • An antibody test (also known as a serology test) might tell you if you had a past infection.
    • Antibody tests should not be used to diagnose a current infection.

    For more information visit the CDC and FDA websites:

  • Do I need to get tested?

    Please see our flowchart about COVID-19 Symptoms Requiring Testing.

    Call your healthcare provider to determine if you have signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and if you should get tested—If you do not have a healthcare provider or are uninsured, call 2-1-1 for assistance or to be referred to a free County of San Diego testing site.  

    Learn more

  • Where can I get tested for COVID-19?

    Health plans are required to cover COVID-19 tests at no cost to the enrollee. It is recommended that you first contact your healthcare provider for a COVID-19 test.

    If you are unable to get a test from your healthcare provider, the County of San Diego (County) has over 50 free COVID-19 testing sites throughout the region. Results generally come back in approximately 3 days. Find a free testing site or call 2-1-1.

    Learn more

  • Can my child get tested for COVID-19?

    Most children, youth, and their caregivers can receive testing through the COVID-19 Collaborative for Children in partnership with Rady Children's Hospital. Contact your Rady pediatrician or e-mail for more information. 

    Children, youth and caregivers covered by Kaiser Permanente should consult with their pediatrician or physician provider directly, or through

    If you are unable to get a test for your child or youth from your healthcare provider, children 6 months old and older are able to be tested at any County test site. Find a free testing site or call 2-1-1.

  • What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?

    If you are feeling sick with COVID-19 symptoms, stay home and call your healthcare provider for medical advice. Testing is widely available and often recommended.

    Stay home except to get medical care and/or testing.

    Read the Home Isolation Instructions for COVID-19 and Health Officer Isolation Order to help protect other people in your home and community.

    Please see our flowchart about COVID-19 Symptoms Requiring Testing.

    If you do not have a healthcare provider or health insurance, call 2-1-1 to for assistance or to be referred to a County of San Diego testing site.

    Learn more

  • I feel sick, but don't have health insurance. How can I get help?

    If you need help finding medical care, call 2-1-1, which is available 24/7 to refer you to your closest community health clinic.

    If you are having difficulty breathing or keeping fluids down, go to an emergency room or call 911 right away.

  • What should I do if I am unable to work after being exposed to COVID-19?

    If a medical professional certifies that you are unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19, you can file a disability insurance claim. More information

    If you are a Californian and a medical professional certifies you are unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19, you can file a paid family leave claim.

    Paid family leave provides up to six weeks of benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages because they need time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. Benefit amounts are approximately 60 to 70% of wages depending on income and range from $50 to $1,300 a week.

    For more information related to resources for California's Employers and Workers, visit this Labor and Workforce Development Agency webpage.

  • What will happen if I get sick?

    Call your healthcare provider for guidance and get tested as soon as symptoms develop. Many people have mild to moderate illness and are able to isolate and recover at home, however some individuals may need a higher level of care in the hospital.

    If you are feeling sick and think you have COVID-19, follow the guidance below, and see our Home Isolation Instructions for more information.

    More resources for people who are sick or caring for someone who is sick with COVID-19 can be found on the CDC website.

    Learn more

  • How is COVID-19 treated?

    Treatment for COVID-19 has evolved since the early days of the pandemic. Treatments used for COVID-19 should be prescribed by your healthcare provider.

    People have been seriously harmed and even died after taking products not approved for COVID-19, even products approved or prescribed for other uses. Your healthcare provider will help you to decide what medications are best to take for your treatment.

    The scientific and medical community are researching and developing products that can be used to treat or prevent COVID-19 infection. While no single treatment can be considered a “cure” for COVID-19, some medications can be helpful.

    Please talk to your doctor first to find out if you qualify for COVID-19 treatments.

    The FDA is also allowing approved products to be used for emergency use to treat patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, in the outpatient setting. 

    • Antiviral treatments can also be used to treat COVID-19. Please contact your doctor for more information.
      • Pfizer's Paxlovid and Merck's molnupiravir have received emergency use authorization to treat the virus that causes COVID-19. 

    People who are infected should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. In severe cases, treatment may require hospital-level care to support vital organ function.

    People who are not sick enough to be hospitalized and who are only mildly ill may be advised by their healthcare provider to isolate and care for themselves at home. In some cases, the emergency department may send them home with oxygen. See Home Isolation Instructions for COVID-19.

    People at higher risk for serious illness, if infected with the COVID-19 virus, should contact their healthcare provider early to seek treatment, even if their illness is mild.

    Please do not go to the emergency department just to seek, antiviral treatment or COVID-19 testing.

    For more information about treatments for COVID-19, please see the County of San Diego's Treatment webpage.

    Learn more

  • What is the difference between Diagnostic Testing and Diagnostic Screening Testing?

    Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is used to diagnose an individual with COVID-19.

    Diagnostic screening testing is recurrent testing of individuals without symptoms to identify COVID-19 early, stop transmission, and prevent outbreaks.

    The goal of diagnostic screening testing is to detect COVID-19 early, isolate infected people as soon a possible, and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Quarantine and Isolation

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  • What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

    Isolation and quarantine are used to protect the public by preventing exposure to infected people or to people who may be infected by separating those individuals from others to limit the spread of an infectious disease.

    Isolation is for  people, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, who have or may have COVID-19. They should isolate themselves (i.e., stay home and away from others until recovered) and get tested. For further information, please see the Home Isolation Instructions and the What To Do If You Have COVID-19 webpage.

    Quarantine is for who have had close contact with a person with COVID-19, but may not have symptoms yet. People should self-quarantine (i.e., restrict their movement and separate themselves from others) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and see if symptoms develop. Currently, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is not recommending quarantine for close contacts in the general public, but recommends those in high-risk settings and exposures to quarantine for at least 5 days. For further information, please see the Home Quarantine Guidance and the What To Do If You Are In Close Contact With COVID-19 webpage.

    Learn more

  • How is it decided whether a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19 can self-isolate at home or must go to a hospital or special facility?

    The CDC, California Department of Public Health, and the County of San Diego provide general guidance that mild-moderately sick individuals should stay home and call their doctor for guidance. Ultimately, it is the clinical decision of the healthcare provider as to if their patient can recover at home or needs further, in-person medical evaluation, care, and possible testing. Many of these mildly sick individuals are advised to stay home to decrease potential spread of the virus. If someone is advised to stay home and symptoms worsen, they should call their healthcare provider again to re-evaluate.

  • What do I need to know about ending self-isolation and home quarantine? What if I have been vaccinated, do I still need to quarantine?

    As of April 6, 2022, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has updated their guidance on Isolation and Quarantine for COVID-19.

    People who test positive for COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, should follow CDPH isolation guidelines.

    People who have been exposed to COVID-19 and do not have symptoms, regardless of vaccination status, do not need to quarantine. Please follow CDPH recommended actions for close contact in the general public .

    Those in high-risk exposures* and settings** AND unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated OR have not tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days, should follow CDPH guidance on work exclusion and quarantine.

    High-Risk Exposures* – Exposures that are deemed higher risk for transmission such as longer periods of exposure or performing unmasked activities with increased exertion and/or voice projection or during prolonged close face-to-face contact.

    High-Risk Settings* – Place in which transmission risk is high (i.e., setting with people who are immunocompromised or at risk of more serious COVID-19 disease consequences).

    Please visit the CDPH website to see more details about the latest guidance.



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  • I never get sick. Why do I need the vaccine?

    You can feel healthy and still spread the virus that causes COVID-19.

    Vaccination helps your body fight the virus, making you much less likely to get COVID-19 and spread it to others. People who are up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccines and booster(s) help protect those who cannot get the vaccine and individuals who are at high risk for complications from COVID-19 infection.

  • If I already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need the vaccine?

    Yes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you get vaccinated, even if you had COVID-19.

    The CDC recommends vaccination even if you have recovered from COVID-19 infection because it provides added protection against COVID-19 infection. Current evidence suggests that the risk of getting infected again is low in the months after initial infection but may increase with time due to decreasing immunity.

  • How much do COVID-19 vaccinations cost?

    COVID-19 vaccines are provided at no cost through all County-hosted sites.

    Check first to see if you can receive the vaccine from your healthcare provider. If you do not have access to a computer or someone to assist you, you can call 2-1-1 to connect with your health care provider or make a vaccination appointment at a County of San Diego site. You can drop in or schedule a vaccination through the County website. Insurance is not required to receive the vaccine at County-hosted sites.

  • How do I find out if I am eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine?

    Check the COVID-19 vaccine webpage:

    As of June 18, 2022, everyone 6 months and older are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Those 6 months and older are eligible for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Novavax vaccine is available for those 12 and up. In addition, everyone 6 months and older is eligible for a booster vaccine administered at least 2 months after completing the first two doses. Check the vaccine webpage for the latest information. 

  • What is the difference between monovalent and bivalent vaccines?

    Monovalent vaccines offer protection against one strain of a virus. A bivalent vaccine offers protection against two strains or variations of a virus.

    The COVID-19 bivalent vaccine, also referred to as “updated boosters,” contains two messenger RNA (mRNA) components of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The vaccine has one original strain and one common strain between BA.4 and BA.5 omicron sub-variants. Effective December 9, 2022, Pfizer and Moderna booster doses for those 6 months of age and older, will be bivalent. Primary series for those 6 months of age to 4 and 5 years of age, respectively, will continue to be the original monovalent vaccine.*

    According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), children 6 months through 5 years of age who received the original (monovalent) Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine are now eligible to receive a single booster of the updated (bivalent) Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine two months after completing a primary series with the monovalent Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine.

    Children 6 months through 4 years of age who have not yet begun their three-dose primary series of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine or have not yet received the third dose of their primary series will now receive the updated (bivalent) Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as the third dose in their primary series following two doses of the original (monovalent) Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.

    Children 6 months through 4 years of age who have already completed their three-dose primary series with the original (monovalent) Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine will not be eligible for a booster dose of an updated bivalent vaccine at this time. Children in this age group who already completed their primary series would still be expected to have protection against the most serious outcomes from the currently circulating omicron variant. 

    *The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for use as a single, monovalent booster dose in individuals 18 years of age and older, if they have not previously received a COVID-19 booster.

  • If I am immunocompromised, should I get an additional primary dose and booster?

    For people who are moderately or severely immunocompromised, the CDC recommends getting an “additional” primary dose and a “booster.” For more information and vaccination schedule, please refer to the COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility webpage.

  • What does it mean to have a "Completed Primary Vaccine Series" and "up-to-date" vaccine series for COVID-19?

    Primary Vaccine Series

    You have a “Completed Primary Vaccine Series” for COVID-19 when you have received:

    • Two doses of mRNA vaccine (i.e., Pfizer or Moderna); OR
    • Two doses of Novavax; OR
    • One dose of Johnson and Johnson (J&J)/Janssen; OR
    • One dose of a single-dose vaccine, or two doses of a two-dose vaccine, that are authorized by the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use; OR
    • Two doses (or any combination) of a two-dose vaccine that are U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved, FDA-authorized, or WHO emergency use listed. 

    Up-to-Date Vaccines Series

    You are considered "up-to-date" for COVID-19 vaccines when:

    • You have completed a COVID-19 vaccine primary series and got the most recent booster dose recommended for you by CDC.
    • If you have completed your primary series - but are not yet eligible for a booster - you are also considered up-to-date.
    • As of December 9, 2022, the CDC recommends that the bivalent booster vaccine is administered at least 2 months after the completion of the primary series. It has been at least 2 weeks since you received your second dose in a 2-dose series (Pfizer, Moderna, or Novavax) or after a single-dose vaccine (Johnson and Johnson/Janssen), AND
    • It has been more than 5 months since you received your second dose in a 2-dose series (Pfizer or Moderna), and 4 months after your first booster, or more than 2 months from a single-dose vaccine (Johnson and Johnson/Janssen), and a booster shot has been administered. At this time, one booster is required to be considered up-to-date
    • If you become ill with COVID-19 after you received all COVID-19 vaccine doses recommended for you, you are also considered up-to-date. You do not need to be revaccinated or receive an additional booster.
    • There is no booster recommendation for children aged 6 months - 4 years who got the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 primary series.
    • People 18 years and older are eligible to receive the Novavax monovalent COVID-19 booster instead of Pfizer or Moderna bivalent booster.

    For more information, please refer to the COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility webpage.

  • Do I still have to wear a mask in public after I receive the vaccine?

    You should follow all COVID-19 public health safety recommendations.

    Vaccines provide strong protection against infection. It is recommended that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people continue to wear a mask indoors in public settings to maximize protection. Face coverings are required for everyone in certain settings and may vary by COVID-19’s level of impact on local hospital systems, regardless of vaccination status. Visit the Face Coverings page for an up-to-date list of settings where face coverings are required.

  • What is a SMART Health Card and what do I do if the information is incorrect?

    The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and California Department of Technology launched a Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record for Californians. The SMART® Health Card Framework, developed by coalition, is a convenient tool to help people access their COVID-19 vaccinations from the state’s Immunization Information System (IIS), also known as the California Immunization Registry (CAIR2).

    If the information on your Smart Health Card is incorrect (e.g., missing dose, wrong dates, incorrect brand), you may submit a request through the State of California’s Virtual Assistant to update their record. Please visit the Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record FAQs page for more answers to other commonly asked questions.

  • What should I do if I lose my COVID-19 vaccination card?
    1. Contact the healthcare provider that administered your vaccination. Providers will keep records of those vaccinated and can help you get a new card.

    2. Contact the San Diego Immunization Information System (IIS) Help Desk at 619-692-5656 or email:

    3. Visit the CA Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record (DCVR) portal to get a digital copy of your vaccination card. Vaccination providers are required by law to report COVID-19 vaccinations to the CAIR2 registry or another system. If you are getting a booster dose, you can provide this information or the information may be looked up at any vaccination site for a replacement card.
  • Who are the best sources of information if I have more questions?

    Your healthcare provider or healthcare team is the best source to address questions you have about the vaccine and your own health risks.

    You may hear different ideas about the vaccine in the community and on social media. It is natural to turn to close friends and family when we have concerns. However, it is best to ask  healthcare professionals if you have questions, so you are getting answers based on evidence. You can learn about types of incorrect information, accessing credible sources, claims and facts, and frequently asked questions on the County of San Diego Evaluating COVID-19 Information webpage. You can also go to trusted sources, such as the County of San Diego, the California Department of Public Health, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updates to guidance and information are made on all these web resources as they become available.


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  • How were COVID-19 vaccines developed so quickly?

    Vaccine makers had the resources they needed very quickly.

    The global health community came together to fight this pandemic. Early funding was given to vaccine makers, which helped scientists transform years of research into safe and effective vaccines. They shared data as they worked. They used new technologies. All of these factors helped scientists to quickly produce safe and effective vaccines. To learn more about when the COVID-19 vaccine was developed and distributed, view the timeline of the COVID-19 vaccine development. 

  • How do the COVID-19 vaccines work?

    The vaccines teach your body to recognize COVID-19, so it is prepared to fight the virus. Currently, there are three different types of COVID-19 vaccines available. They are as follows:

    1. Messenger RNA vaccines (mRNA), like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, provide instructions for your body to build a small protein that looks like a piece of COVID-19. This protein helps your body recognize the virus if you become infected. 
    2. Viral vector vaccines, like Johnson & Johnson/Janssen, provide instructions to build the spike protein found on the surface of COVID-19. This type of vaccine uses a harmless strand of another virus to deliver the instructions.
    3. Protein subunit vaccines, such as Novavax, include harmless proteins of the virus that causes COVID-19. This helps your body recognize the virus if you become infected.
  • Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?

    Yes. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

    Millions of people in the United States (U.S.) have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you get a COVID-19 vaccine and booster(s) as soon as you are eligible. If you have a history of allergic reactions to vaccines, ask your doctor to help you decide about the COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Are there side effects to the COVID-19 vaccine?

    When you are vaccinated, there may be some mild side effects that go away in a day or two. Side effects are a sign that the vaccine is working.

    Side effects could include:

    • Pain, redness, or swelling in the arm where you received the vaccine. You can apply a cool, wet washcloth to reduce pain.
    • Mild flu-like symptoms, like tiredness, nausea, muscle aches, chills, headache, or fever.  Drink plenty of fluids and rest to feel more comfortable.

    If you experience cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell, these are not normal post-vaccination symptoms. These symptoms would require exclusion from work or school, self-isolation, and getting tested. Consult with your healthcare provider if you experience these symptoms, if your side effects worry you, or if they do not seem to be going away.

  • Is it possible to be allergic to the vaccine?

    Allergic reactions are extremely rare, but they are possible. After you receive the vaccine, you will stay at the vaccination site for a brief time in case you have an immediate reaction.

    • People with a history of severe allergic reactions or who meet other criteria will be monitored for at least 30 minutes.
    • All other people will be monitored for at least 15 minutes after getting the vaccine.

    You will be told to pay attention to signs of an allergic reaction such as a swollen tongue or throat or difficulty breathing during this time. Vaccination providers will have medications and equipment on-site to treat reactions. 

Pregnant People and Children

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Other Types of Prevention

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  • What can I do to prevent getting COVID-19? VACCINES AND MORE.

    The best way to prevent getting COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to the virus and to be vaccinated. Vaccines offer the most protection if you are exposed to the virus.  County health officials recommend that everyone, who is eligible, get vaccinated to protect against the COVID-19 disease

    For local information on COVID-19 vaccines, please visit the County of San Diego's COVID-19 Vaccine website. For information on the different vaccines, visit COVID-19 Vaccine Resources and Links

    Here are more steps everyone can take to protect themselves and others:

    • Practice social distancing where required 
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds—If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
    • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes with unwashed hands.
    • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces often.
    • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
    • Stay home and isolate yourself away from others if you are sick.
    • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, or your elbow, then throw the tissue in the trash.
    • Wear a face covering anytime you are in a setting where masks are required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Public Health officials strongly recommend wearing a face covering in indoor public settings, regardless of vaccination status. Read more about state-wide guidance for the use of face coverings at CDPH’s Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings. 
    • Everyone is encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves and those around them. The more San Diegans who are vaccinated, the sooner the pandemic will be behind us.

    Learn more

  • What can I do to ensure myself and my family are prepared to deal with COVID-19?
    • Below are steps you should follow at home. Some steps will be the same as preparing for other emergencies. You can find guidance for specific groups like businesses, schools, and others on our Community Sector Support pages.

    Get your household ready:

    • Store a two-week supply of food, beverages, and medications for all those living in your home, including pets. 
    • Create an emergency contact list of family, friends, and neighbors.
    • Make a plan to care for family members or loved ones who may get sick, especially those who are at greater risk for serious complications if infected and discuss how they would like to be cared for if they got sick, or what would be needed to care for them in your home.
    • Periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure you have a continuous supply in your home.
    • Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
    • Identify a room or area of your home, separated from the rest of the family, where a sick household member could stay if they got sick. If possible, a separate bathroom should be used as well. If this is not possible, call 2-1-1 San Diego for assistance.  

    During the COVID-19 Pandemic:

    • Follow the Public Health Orders and current face covering guidelines.
    • Stay informed but limit the amount of news you take in if it becomes too stressful.
    • Stay in touch with family, neighbors, and friends. For resources to help you stay fit and feel socially connected, visit our Live Well @ Home page.
    • Take care of your mental health. Tips to Maintain Mental Health and Wellness
    • Take care of your overall health by eating healthy, getting adequate physical activity, and staying on schedule for your routine, age-appropriate preventive health maintenance examinations. 
  • What is currently open?

    California fully reopened the economy on June 15, 2021. Please visit the County’s Safe Reopening website as well as the State’s Safely Reopening California for more information.

  • Why should I wear a face covering or mask?
    • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) strongly recommend everyone wear a mask in indoor public settings.
    • An individual infected with COVID-19 can spread the virus even if they do not feel sick. Wearing a mask reduces respiratory droplets from being released into the air when someone coughs, sneezes, speaks, or breathes. Because these droplets can travel within about six feet before settling on the ground or other surfaces, social distancing may not be enough to ensure people are protected. 
    • The CDC COVID-19 Science Briefs page provides summaries of scientific evidence showing how wearing a face covering reduces the ability of airborne diseases, including COVID-19, to spread via respiratory droplets to infect others. While infections happen in only a small proportion of fully vaccinated people, masks are strongly recommended for vaccinated individuals in indoor public settings. Learn more about CDC guidance for fully vaccinated individuals.
    • As Omicron remains the dominant variant, wearing a face covering helps slow the spread of COVID-19.
    • Effective September 23, 2022, in alignment with the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) announcement. San Diego County has low community levels for COVID-19. As such, the following is recommended:
      • People may choose to mask at any time. People can wear a mask based on personal preference, informed by their own personal level of risk (also, aligns with CDC guidance for COVID-19 low community levels). See San Diego County Face Covering page.
      • People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask. 
    • CDC recommends indoor face coverings for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in areas with “high” or “substantial” transmission. View County-specific data and transmission.
    • Businesses may implement stricter mask policies if desired. 
    • Lastly, the County is maintaining the masking requirements in specified high-risk settings, consistent with CDPH and CDC recommendations. Face coverings are required for everyone in these settings over the age of two, whether you have been vaccinated or not.
      • All healthcare settings, including long-term care settings and adult and senior care facilities.

    Read more about the state-wide guidance for the use of face coverings at CDPH’s Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings, and CDC's Your Guide to Masks. Learn more about CDC guidance for staying up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccines.

  • What are the most effective types of face coverings?

    Choose a mask that:

    • Is a surgical mask or higher-level respirator (N95s, KN95s, KF94s are highly recommended), OR 
    • Has two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric,
    • Completely covers your nose and mouth,
    • Fits snugly against your face without gaps, and
    • Has a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out the top of the nose.

    Avoid a mask that:

    • Is made of materials that make it hard to breathe, like vinyl, AND
    • Has exhalation vents, which allow virus particles to escape.

    The CDC does not recommend the use of neck gaiters, unless they have two layers (or can be folded to make two layers). Evaluation as to the effectiveness of face shields are on-going. CDPH has recently conducted a study to look at mask effectiveness.

    For more information regarding face coverings, please visit the CDC’s Your Guide to Masks and Respirators and Improve How Your Mask Protects You

  • Should I disinfect my groceries? If so, how?

    COVID-19 is spread mainly from close contact from person-to-person in respiratory droplets from a person who is infected. While it can be spread from contact with contaminated surfaces, this is NOT  the main way the virus is spread. When grocery shopping, individuals should most importantly cover their face, social distance, and wash their hands after coming home, after unpacking groceries, and before eating. Individuals should also wash reusable bags (if washable) or wipe them down with an EPA-approved disinfectant.

    Currently there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.  Like other viruses, it is possible that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on surfaces or objects. 

    If you are concerned about contamination of food or food packaging, wash your hands after handling food packaging, after removing food from the packaging, before you prepare food for eating and before you eat. Consumers can follow CDC guidelines on frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; and frequently clean and disinfect surfaces.

    It is always important to follow the 4 key steps of food safety—clean, separate, cook, and chill.

    If you would like to be extra cautious, you can wipe down the outside of food packaging such as cans, boxes, or other food containers.

    People should already be in the habit of and continue to wash fruits, vegetables, and other produce with cold water using friction—soap should not be used to wash edible foods because soap is not intended to be eaten.

    Learn more

  • Should I spray myself or my children with disinfectant?

    No. Disinfectant products are made to work on surfaces but can be dangerous for people. There are some chemical disinfectants, including bleach, 75% ethanol, peracetic acid and chloroform, that may kill the virus on surfaces, but if the virus is already in your body, putting those substances on your skin or under your nose won’t kill it and can harm you.  These chemical disinfectants should also not be ingested.

    Learn more

  • Can I get coronavirus from a packages or mail?

    It is not believed that the virus can be transmitted through goods received through the mail. Even though the virus can survive for a short period of time on some surfaces, the virus cannot persist on a surface after being shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures.  

    Learn more

  • I heard that someone I know tested positive for COVID-19. How do I know if I or a member of my family was exposed to someone who has COVID-19?

    If you or someone in your family was in close contact (within 6 feet or less, for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24 hour period) with anyone who is a known or suspected to have COVID-19, you and/or your family member(s) should self-quarantine for a minimum of 10 days and up to 14 days from the last time you had contact with that individual, unless you/ your family member are fully vaccinated and have no symptoms.

    You may be contacted by County Contact Tracers after the person with a positive test is interviewed, if it is determined that you were in close contact with them. See our Home Quarantine Guidance for COVID-19 Close Contacts for more information.

    Learn more

  • If I cannot wash my hands, can I use hand sanitizer?

    Washing your hands with soap and water is the preferred method for hand hygiene. This practice is more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs like norovirus,  Cryptosporidium, and Clostridioides difficile, as well as chemicals and dirt. However, if soap and water are not readily available, using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be effective at quickly reducing germs. DO NOT use hand sanitizer if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

    Closely supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer and keep it out of reach when not in use. Swallowing hand sanitizer can cause alcohol poisoning. Call Poison Control if swallowed: 800-222-1222. Hand sanitizer must be rubbed into children’s (and adult’s) hands until completely dry. Use of hand sanitizer is not recommended for children under 2 years of age.

    For more information, please refer to California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Child Care Guidance and California Poison Control Organization.


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  • What should I do if I need to visit a healthcare provider?

    If you are feeling sick with fever or cough or other symptoms, please call your healthcare provider, nurse hotline, or urgent care center first.

    If you need to go to the hospital, call ahead so they can prepare for your arrival. If you need to call 911, tell the 911 operator the exact symptoms you are experiencing so the ambulance provider can prepare to treat you safely.

    Learn more

  • What should I do about routine, elective, or non-urgent medical appointments I have scheduled?

    Visiting your doctor, dentist or hospital is still important!​

    It is important for you and your children to continue to see your doctor and dentist for ​routine medical visits ​(e.g. checkups, immunizations) and ​to visit an Emergency Department when there might be a medical emergency.​

    Healthcare systems are working hard to provide necessary services while minimizing risks to patients and healthcare personnel.

    Healthcare systems may decide to perform non-emergent or elective surgeries or procedures based on the need and their supply capacity, and when it is consistent with California State Guidance. Call your healthcare provider to see what services they are currently providing.

    Many providers are maximizing the use of telehealth visits whenever appropriate for the patient and the condition.

  • Can I visit loved ones in a hospital, nursing home, skilled nursing facility, or other residential care facility?

    Yes, visitors are allowed in facilities.  Regardless of their vaccination status, all visitors must be 1) screened for fever and COVID-19 symptoms; 2) must wear a well-fitting face mask and perform hand hygiene upon entry and in all common areas in the facility; and 3) must follow physical distancing guidelines and maintain at least 6 feet distance from other visitors from different households, as well as from facility staff and other residents. There are circumstances when visitors are permitted to interact with residents following modified guidelines.  For indoor visitation, visitors need to either be fully vaccinated or have had a COVID-19 test within the previous 72 hours that is negative.  Please contact your facility or facility licensing entity for more specific guidance. 

    References: Order of the State Public Health Officer Requirements for Visitors in Acute Health Care and Long-Term Care SettingsAFL 20-22 ( and PIN 21-40-ASC for long-term care facilities; AFL 21-31 ( for acute care hospitals.

Congregate Living Facilities

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  • What protocols protect congregate living facilities against COVID-19?

    Infection control and prevention protocols such as screening staff, residents, vendors, and visitors and practicing hand hygiene, social distancing, and mask wearing help prevent and protect congregate living facilities against COVID-19.  Long-term care facilities, such as skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, have established protocols for investigating outbreaks of infectious disease. Those same protocols have been expanded to respond to possible cases of COVID-19 and need to comply with requirements from the California Department of Public Health, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, and/or the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), Community Care Licensing Division. These include working with staff and administrators to isolate possible sick individuals, conducting thorough contact investigations among both staff and residents, and routine testing.  In addition, the California Department of Public Health has issued State Public Health Orders mandating that all staff who provide services or work in certain facilities indicated in the Health Orders be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 unless exempted for qualifying medical reasons or for religious beliefs.  The facilities indicated in the Orders include Acute Care Hospitals, Skilled Nursing Facilities, facilities such as Adult Residential and Assisted Living facilities licensed under CDSS, Regional Centers, clinics and doctor’s offices. Please contact the facility regarding questions about their specific protocols.

    References: AFL 21-34 (
                          PIN 21-44-ASC     

Social Interaction

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County of San Diego Efforts

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  • What is the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) doing to monitor cases of COVID-19 in San Diego County?

    The County of San Diego is working closely with federal and state agencies, as well as the local healthcare community and community partners to monitor and test for the virus that causes COVID-19 infection in San Diego County.

    In addition, the County of San Diego provides a daily update on COVID-19 cases in San Diego County, releases weekly status updates and news story, and convenes press conferences, as needed. 

    For information on the current situation in San Diego county, visit our Coronavirus in San Diego County web page. 

  • Why doesn’t the County release the names of restaurant and markets that have employees confirmed with COVID-19?

    Releasing the names of the businesses would not change the action needed by the public. 

    During these challenging COVID-19 times, all individuals should wash their hands frequently (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and avoid touching their face with unwashed hands); watch your distance, especially in crowds of people who are not from your household; and use a face cover in appropriate situations.

    In addition, COVID-19 is not transmitted through food—restaurants, grocery stores, markets and other food facilities have very clear prevention and sanitation guidelines and have been diligent about following those guidelines as well, as CDC and CDPH guidelines and local Public Health Orders.

  • Where can I learn more about the County of San Diego’s COVID-19 Response Plan?

    The County of San Diego COVID-19 Response Plan provides information for the public about the novel coronavirus and guidance on the public health impact on our community. The response plan outlines the county’s efforts to respond to this global incident including information on what the public can do, and provides resources and references related to COVID-19.

  • What is CalScope?

    CalScope is a COVID-19 antibody study organized by the California Department of Public Health.  This study allows us to learn more about how many people in California may have antibodies to the COVID-19 virus.  Participation in the study includes two (2) parts:

    1. Taking an online survey
    2. Taking a finger-prick blood test

    The test for this study looks for antibodies in the blood.  If antibodies are found, it shows that a person has been infected with the COVID-19 virus before or has been vaccinated against COVID-19. By looking for antibodies, it will help us understand how many people in California may have been infected with COVID-19 or vaccinated up to this point and how it is impacting our community.

    Households are randomly selected to participate.  Invitations to participate are sent out through the mail and participation is voluntary.  If you are selected and want to participate, you should follow the instructions provided in your invitation letter.

    For more information about the CalScope study or to request or register your test kit, visit Information is available in Spanish, Tagalog, and Chinese.

State of Emergency Order

The COVID-19 State of Emergency for California ended on February 28, 2023.

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Frequently Asked Questions From Other Sources

Additional Resources

Where can I find more information about COVID-19?

Please see the following resources for more information about the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak: