Frequently Asked Questions

Novel Coronavirus FAQ Header

What is Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some coronaviruses cause cold-like illnesses in people. Others cause illness in certain types of animals, such as cattle, camels and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can spread to people. This happened with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The virus that causes COVID-19 likely also originated in an animal and spread to humans. The coronavirus most similar to the virus causing COVID-19 is SARS. There are ongoing investigations to learn more. COVID-19 was first identified when it caused an outbreak of respiratory illness in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in 2019.

How severe is COVID-19?

Coronaviruses cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). As with any newly emerging infectious disease, knowledge about COVID-19 is evolving with time. At this point, it is clear that the virus can pass person-to-person and cause severe disease.

How does COVID-19 spread?

Current knowledge of how COVID-19 spreads is largely based on what is known about similar coronaviruses, such as MERS and SARS. Most often, spread of these viruses from person- to-person happens among close contact (within about 6 feet for a prolonged period). Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. It is currently unclear if a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. With most respiratory viruses, people are thought to be most contagious when they are the sickest. Research to clarify the transmissibility, severity, and other features associated with COVID-19 is ongoing. This information will further inform the risk assessment.

How concerned should people in Orange County, CA be about COVID-19?

There is now epidemiological evidence of community transmission in Orange County, indicating that COVID-19 is spreading in the community. People aged 65 and older, and those with chronic health conditions (heart disease, diabetes and lung disease) should stay home. All residents should practice good health hygiene which includes washing your hands, staying home if you are sick, avoiding close contact with people who are sick and covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve (not hands).

What should I do if I feel sick with a fever, cough, or have difficulty breathing?

  • Seek medical care. Before you go to a doctor's office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
  • Avoid contact with others.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to avoid spreading the virus to others. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

How can I help protect myself?

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infection, although scientists at the National Institute of Health reported they are going to take steps towards the development of a vaccine. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

  • 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.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

What are the treatments for COVID-19?

There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19 infection. People infected with COVID-19 should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms.

How do I get tested for COVID-19?

The OC Health Care Agency (HCA) has activated the OC COVID-19 Testing Network through partnerships with existing community health centers.

This network currently has multiple test sites and will to add site locations as needed. An updated list of test sites with information on scheduling and the appointment process can be found at or by calling the HCA's Health Referral line at 800-564-8448.

The Testing Network offers an FDA-emergency authorized diagnostic test that identifies if a person is currently infected with virus that causes COVID-19. The test is a PCR test, recognized as one of the most reliable tests used for people with symptoms of the virus.

The partner health centers in the Testing Network will provide the test FREE to OC residents that meet the following criteria: (1) must be COVID-19 symptomatic; and (2) do not have a personal healthcare provider or the individual's healthcare provider does not provide COVID-19 testing.

Currently, the Testing Network has the capacity and equipment to test approximately 3,750 residents weekly across all sites.

How Does a Resident Schedule a Test Within the Network?

  1. If a resident has COVID-19 symptoms – fever, cough, shortness of breath, among other possible symptoms as identified by the CDC – they should call their medical provider first.
  2. If the resident does not have a medical provider or their medical provider is unable to provide testing, they can call the nearest Testing Network found at or by calling the HCA's Health Referral line at 800-564-8448.
  3. Residents MUST make an appointment for testing with one of the clinics listed on the website to assure that they are eligible and that the test is available at that site. The County, like jurisdictions nationwide, is still facing challenges in obtaining testing supplies and personal protection equipment.
  4. The resident will receive a medical assessment before being tested and will be tested if they have symptoms of the disease.
  5. There is no out-of-pocket cost to the resident. If they have insurance, it may be billed but they will not have any copay. If they do not have insurance, there is no charge.

How Is a PCR Diagnostic Test Administered?

This test uses a sample taken with a thin swab inserted into the back of the nose or throat. It identifies the virus' genetic material if it is present. This material is detectable when a person has active infection. It is NOT a blood test and it does not test for antibodies or identify a past infection.

Many of the sites are drive-through and the resident does not need to leave their car. When the resident calls the testing location for an appointment, they are reminded to ask about the testing process for that specific site.

When Does a Person Get the Test Results?

When the resident has finished being tested, they should ask the medical personnel administering the test for an approximate timeframe for results, and how they will be notified.

Timeframes can range from two to four days depending on the workload at the lab where the sample is sent. Currently, timeframes are about one to two days.

While awaiting results, individuals should self-isolate to avoid the potential risk of spreading the virus to others. The HCA's "Guidance for Home Isolation of Patients with Suspected/Confirmed COVID-19" is available at HERE

What If the Test Results are Positive for COVID-19?

If the resident tests positive, they should continue to self-isolate and follow guidance by their doctor or the original test site medical staff regarding their care and duration of isolation.

They should also alert people that they have been in close contact with that they could be infected as well. People in close contact with them should quarantine for 14 days in case they have been infected.

The PCR test properly identifies about 85-90% of infections in people with symptoms, meaning 10% to 15% of people who are infected will get a "false negative." People without symptoms have a much higher chance of getting a false negative, making the tests much less valuable (and potentially misleading) for people who are asymptomatic.

What If the Test Results are Negative for COVID-19?

If the resident tests negative for the virus, he or she was probably not infected at the time the swab/sample was collected. It is also possible that their body has not yet produced enough detectable virus or the test was a false negative. It does not mean they will not get sick. The test results only mean that the resident likely did not have COVID-19 at the time of the test.

Where are the Testing Network Sites Located?

Current OC COVID-19Testing Network locations can be found at or by calling the HCA's Health Referral line at 800-564-8448. Appointments are required

What are the CA State OptumServe Testing Sites?

The State of California and the COVID-19 Testing Task Force have joined OptumServe in a partnership to expand COVID-19 testing services in California. On Wednesday, May 13, four sites began taking appointments for testing services in Orange County located in the cities of Buena Park, Orange, Santa Ana and San Juan Capistrano, Mon-Fri, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The testing offered is FDA-authorized PCR testing that identifies current infection (not past) through collection of a specimen using a nasal-pharyngeal swab. PCR testing is still imperfect and, particularly with asymptomatic people, the test may falsely identify someone as negative. Therefore, results should be interpreted cautiously.

If an individual has medical insurance, OptumServe will bill the patient's medical insurance company. Uninsured individuals may also use the community test site, and their tests will be paid for by the state. Individuals receiving tests will not be charged.

In Orange County, prioritization at this time is given to "...asymptomatic healthcare workers, first responders, and social service employees" who do not have access to testing through their employer or healthcare provider. That priority group is defined on the California Department of Public Health's guidance to local health jurisdictions dated May 1.

There is no medical assessment offered at the OptumServe Test Sites; so it is recommended that people with symptoms should contact their medical provider or, if they do not have a provider, go to a clinic listed on the OC COVID-19 Testing Network at

If you fit the testing criteria and are interested in getting a test, it is important to know that tests are by appointment only. Appointments can be made and location details confirmed, by visiting or calling 1 (888) 634-1123. Please note that phone registration will only be used for people without internet access.

What is a Serology Test?

A serology (or antibody) test is a blood test that looks for antibodies to the coronavirus. The body produces these antibodies in response to an infectious agent, in this case SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. They generally arise from four days to more than a week after infection.

A serology test is NOT used to diagnose COVID-19 because it DOES NOT show whether a person is currently infected.

Recommendation from OC Health Care Agency re: Serology Testing

There is currently no recommendation from federal, state or local health experts that individuals should get serology tests. Serology testing has limited application because the testing itself is being developed and refined and experts do not yet know if people with antibodies are immune to future reinfection. At this time, it is primarily a tool to study the prevalence (i.e. the percentage of people who have been exposed to the virus) of COVID-19 disease in the community.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that those interested in testing should consult with their healthcare provider to assure they access a FDA authorized test and they fully understand the meaning of the results. (Please see for details.)

Commercially available rapid blood tests are now flooding the marketplace. They resemble home pregnancy tests and uses a finger-stick blood sample. They are not recommended because reliability is uncertain.

Why is the County Not Offering Serology Tests to the Public?

The County/HCA is providing testing consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California Department of Public Health, and the Federal Drug Administration guidance. As described above, there is currently no recommendation to conduct antibody/serology testing for individuals. The County's Public Health priority is to identify people currently infected with the virus using PCR testing and slow the transmission of disease.

Serology/antibody testing can assist in telling us the percentage of people that have had COVID-19. This may help us determine when we have reached "herd immunity" in the future. The HCA is working with academic institutions to conduct well-designed studies to determine that percentage.

Researchers at some of the top academic, public, and private institutions are working on validating serology/antibody tests. More time and more data are required to find out whether these test(s) are reliable and valid, and whether the antibodies can/will protect a person from reinfection.

What does the federal declaration of COVID-19 as a public health emergency mean?

On Friday, January 31, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared the COVID-19 a public health emergency in the United States. The declaration went into effect at 2 p.m. PST on Sunday, February 2, 2020. As part of the emergency declaration, persons returning to the United States through select airports and considered to be at highest risk are being quarantined and monitored by public health officials. Locally, it's important to note that John Wayne Airport is not among this predetermined list of airports. All other returning travelers from China will face a health screening and face up to two weeks of monitored self-quarantine to ensure they pose no health risk.

What does the County Health Officer's order on gatherings mean?

On May 23, 2020, the County Health Officer put into effect orders and strong recommendations to help slow the spread of COVID-19 as more business move toward re-opening. Community members are encouraged to read the orders and strong recommendations in their entirety here as well as the related frequently asked questions. The County Health Officer’s Order contains specific legal requirements that all Orange County residents and visitors must follow related to cloth face-coverings, appropriate self-quarantining and isolation related to a COVID-19 diagnosis or potential exposure, and actions that business owners must take prior to re-opening under Stage Two of California’s Resiliency Roadmap.

Read more:

What does Governor Newsom and California Department of Public Health's guidance mean?

On March 19, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom and the State Public Health Officer ordered all individuals to stay home except to get food, care for a relative or friend, get necessary health care, or go to an essential job. The order also dictated individuals employ social distancing practices by maintaining 6 feet of distance from others.

On May 4, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an Executive Order that informed local health jurisdictions and industry sectors that they may gradually reopen under new modifications and guidance provided by the state per the May 7, 2020 Public Health Order.

On May 23, 2020, our County Health Officer put into effect orders and strong recommendations to help slow the spread of COVID-19 as more business move toward re-opening. Community members are encouraged to read the orders and strong recommendations in their entirety here as well as the related frequently asked questions. The County Health Officer’s Order contains specific legal requirements that all Orange County residents and visitors must follow related to cloth face-coverings, appropriate self-quarantining and isolation related to a COVID-19 diagnosis or potential exposure, and actions that business owners must take prior to re-opening under Stage Two of California’s Resiliency Roadmap.

Read more:

What is the current case count?

Cases in the U.S. can be found on the CDC's website, which are being updated at noon Mondays through Fridays. Please visit

Local case count information for Orange County are being updated by 2 p.m., seven days a week at

What is a cloth face covering?

A cloth face-covering is a material that covers the nose and mouth; it can be secured to the head with ties or straps or simply wrapped around the lower face; it can be made of a variety of materials, such as cotton, silk, or linen; and a face covering may be factory-made or sewn by hand, or can be improvised from household items such as scarfs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.

Where do I have to wear a face covering?

Anywhere you come within 6 feet of others who do not live in your household. That includes:

  • Waiting in line to go inside a store
  • Shopping in a store
  • Picking up food at a restaurant
  • Waiting for or riding on public transportation
  • Riding in a taxi or other ride service vehicle
  • Seeking health care
  • Going into facilities that are allowed to stay open
  • While at work
  • When at the beach or an outdoor museum

Read more:

Who is not required to wear a face covering?

The County Health Officer’s orders states that the following groups are NOT required to wear face coverings:

  • children under the age of 2
  • anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without assistance
  • individuals with a medical condition, mental health condition or developmental disability that prevents wearing face coverings

Where am I not required to wear a face covering

In general, as long as you maintain a 6 feet of physical distance from others (excluding your household members), you are not required to wear a face covering. That means, you are not required to wear a face covering when:

  • At home
  • In the car alone or with members of the household
  • When swimming, walking, hiking, bicycling or running alone or with household members

Why is the OC Health Care Agency requiring face coverings?

Many people who test positive for COVID-19 have no symptoms and could be spreading the virus to others without knowing it. A face covering blocks droplets when a person coughs, sneezes, sings or breathes. Countries that advised or require their citizens to wear face coverings in public have been shown to be more successful in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. When compliance is high, spreading of the virus slows.

Read more:

Should children wear a face covering?

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children 2 years and older should wear a cloth face covering their nose and mouth when in the community setting. This is an additional public health measure people should take to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in addition to (not instead of) social distancing, frequent hand cleaning and other everyday preventive actions. A cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but may prevent the spread of virus from the wearer to others. This would be especially important in the event that someone is infected but does not have symptoms. Medical masks and N-95 respirators are still reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.

Read more:

Should employees at essential businesses be wearing a face covering?

All employees at Orange County essential businesses should wear a face covering while at work when interacting with the public or co-workers.  However, due to the scarcity of critical medical supplies, N95 respirators and surgical masks should not be used except by healthcare workers and first responders.

Read more:

What if I have questions about the self-quarantine or self-isolation components of the County Health Officer’s Order?

Please call the OC Health Care Agency’s Health Referral Line toll free at 1(800) 564-8448 or TTD (phone for the hearing impaired) at 1(800) 801-7100.

Are public swimming pools currently open?

Public swimming pools are not allowed to reopen as part of Stage 2 State Resilience Roadmap. Even if they are located in private neighborhoods, State has informed the HCA that they are not permitted to open in Stage 2. Public swimming pools are swimming pools operated for the use of the general public with or without charge, or for the use of the members and guests of a private club. Public swimming pools do not include a swimming pool located on the grounds of a private single-family home. Examples of public swimming pools include fitness gym pools, public or private school pools, homeowner association pools, condominium pools, and club pools. Environmental Health regulates public swimming pools and given State’s direction and State guidance, they may not re-open in Stage 2.

Workplace Investigation and Contact Tracing

Businesses and employers play an important part in slowing the spread of COVID-19. As part of California Connected, our state‘s contact tracing program, the Orange County (OC) Health Care Agency (HCA) will initiate COVID-19 workplace investigation and contact tracing, if necessary. The following are frequently asked questions (FAQs):

If an employee tests positive for COVID-19 and that test result is reported to the HCA:

Will the HCA do the contact tracing?

  • Yes, if the employee is an OC resident.
  • No, if the employee is a resident of another county. The employee’s county health department of residence will manage the case. The HCA may assist another county in their investigation when it involves an OC employer.

The HCA has established a Case and Contact Investigator (CCI) team. Information on the CCI team can be found at this link:

Will the HCA notify the employee's workplace?

Privacy laws require maintaining an employee’s confidentiality. The HCA will only notify the employer if there are exposures in the workplace and an investigation is necessary.

If an employee voluntarily notifies their employer of testing positive for COVID-19:

Does the employer have to notify the HCA?

No, all positive tests for COVID-19 are required to be reported to the HCA by the laboratory performing the test.

Does the employer have to perform the contact tracing?

No, the HCA CCI team will perform contact tracing if the employee is an OC resident or if assistance is requested from another county for a non-OC resident.

If an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19:

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has available FAQs for employers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 employees, which are available at the following link:

Please know the HCA does not perform case investigation and contact tracing based on serology (antibody) test results. Serology results alone are NOT used to diagnose a current COVID-19 infection.



For more information, please visit Asked Questions and Answers: Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19). Follow us on Facebook @ochealthinfo and on Twitter @ochealth. Call the HCA's Health Referral Line at (800) 564-8448.