COVID-19: Frequently asked questions
Updated May 11, 2023
Having reliable information is key to staying safe from — and slowing the spread of — COVID-19. On this page, you’ll find the latest updates and a list of frequently asked questions to help you understand the facts about the virus.
What are coronaviruses and COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are a large family of diverse, common viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from a common cold to a severe lower respiratory tract infection, like pneumonia. COVID is a respiratory illness that usually includes not only an upper respiratory tract infection, but also a lower respiratory tract infection, which can lead to pneumonia and breathing issues.
Should I be worried about COVID-19 variants?
It’s common to have multiple strains of the same virus spreading at the same time, like what we’ve seen with the delta and omicron variants.
These variants may:
- Spread from person to person more easily
- Cause more severe illness
- Be harder to prevent with vaccines or treat with medications
The good news? Studies show that the available COVID-19 vaccines and boosters offer substantial protection against severe disease and hospitalization from COVID, including its variants.
So, if you haven’t received your COVID vaccine or booster yet, there’s no better time than now. Schedule your COVID vaccine appointment.
And to maximize your protection against COVID, the CDC also recommends wearing a mask in public indoor spaces if you live in an area of substantial or high transmission.
How is COVID-19 spread?
The virus that causes COVID spreads like many respiratory viruses, including the flu or a cold:
- Close contact with others (within 6 feet)
- Droplets traveling through the air by talking, coughing or sneezing
- Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your nose, mouth or eyes
What symptoms should I be on the lookout for?
Symptoms can appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. People with the following symptoms may have COVID:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Most people have manageable symptoms and fully recover. Those with certain underlying health conditions and who are over age 60 are at a higher risk of infection and related complications. However, don’t assume that you’re safe from COVID or its complications if you’re young and healthy. Anyone can get very sick from the virus.
What should I do if I have flu-like symptoms?
If you aren’t feeling well, stay home, rest and drink lots of fluids. Keep an eye on your symptoms and call your doctor if they worsen.
If you’re having COVID symptoms, before you visit a doctor’s office, clinic or emergency room, use our self-screening tool or call your doctor for care guidance or to talk with a nurse.
We ask that you do this before heading to the ER or seeking care at your doctor’s office, unless your symptoms worsen, and you have no other options for care. The ER is often a crowded place, and the risk of infection to you and others is higher there.
What can people do to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
The best ways to slow the spread of COVID are to:
- Get the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Wear a mask to protect yourself and others, especially in indoor public places.
- Practice physical distancing. Don’t shake hands, avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet away from others, especially if you aren’t vaccinated.
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after coughing, sneezing and visiting public areas. Alcohol-based sanitizers and wipes with at least 60% alcohol are also good options for hand hygiene.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your mouth, nose and eyes.
- Keep surfaces clean at your home, workplace and school.
Most importantly, if you’re feeling sick or showing signs of an illness, be very cautious about going into public spaces. It’s best to stay home and isolate yourself from others.
What should I do about upcoming international and domestic travel?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regularly updates travel recommendations during the pandemic. Visit the CDC website to get the most up-to-date information.
Should I self-quarantine if I’m feeling ill or returning from international travel?
It’s a good idea to stay home when feeling sick to prevent the spread of any virus or other disease. The CDC COVID-19 website has full recommendations for people returning from international travel.
Where can I find information about the COVID-19 vaccine?
To learn more about the COVID vaccine, including third doses and booster shots, visit our vaccine FAQ page.
Will my flu shot protect me from COVID-19?
No. However, getting a flu shot can help you avoid influenza, which could be confused with COVID-19 due to similar symptoms. And you can get the flu and COVID at the same time.
Should I get tested for COVID-19?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has outlined guidelines for COVID testing. You should get tested if you:
- Have COVID symptoms, such as a cough, fever or difficulty breathing
- Have been in close contact with someone who is suspected to have COVID or who has had a laboratory-confirmed positive test
Learn more about COVID-19 testing at Geisinger.
What should I do if I would like to get tested?
Have COVID symptoms? First, contact your primary care physician. They can advise you on proper treatment — and if necessary, recommend further testing. Geisinger patients can also screen themselves and schedule a COVID-19 test in MyGeisinger.
Note: Unless you have severe symptoms and no other options for care, don’t go to the emergency room (ER) for COVID testing. The ER is often a crowded place, so the risk of infection to you and others is higher there.
If you need a test for upcoming vacation travel, we offer self-pay testing at our ConvenientCare clinics (by appointment only). Learn more about COVID travel testing.
Does Geisinger have a supply of oral antiviral medications for treating COVID-19?
The FDA authorized the use of two oral antiviral medications for the treatment of COVID: molnupiravir and Paxlovid. These medications are only available with a prescription to people who meet certain criteria.
These medications are only available at a few pharmacies — and right now, Geisinger Pharmacy doesn’t have a supply.
To learn more about eligibility and pharmacies that carry these medications, visit the PA DOH website.
Should I cancel my upcoming appointments?
There’s no need to avoid our clinics or hospitals when seeking scheduled or emergency care.
Can I see a provider virtually during the pandemic?
If you’d prefer to see a healthcare provider from the comfort of home, we offer telemedicine visits for routine and specialty care. We also offer same-day video visits for your urgent care needs. Learn about virtual urgent care.
Is Geisinger restricting visitation in its hospitals?
Visitation policies are subject to change. Before traveling to visit a patient, check our updated hospital visitation policy.
How will Geisinger Health Plan cover the cost of COVID-19 tests or treatments?
Geisinger Health Plan (GHP) wants to be sure that cost is not a barrier to testing for COVID. That's why we're waiving the cost of COVID testing through the end of the federal public health emergency on Thursday, May 11.
To address the spread of COVID, GHP is doing the following for its members:
- Diagnostic tests: Members currently do not pay for a diagnostic COVID-19 test. Members also do not pay a visit fee to a PCP, urgent care center or ER if they are tested for COVID-19. These cost waivers will remain in effect until May 11, when the member PHE ends, and cost-sharing goes into effect.
- Surveillance testing: GHP does not cover population surveillance testing or other screening testing performed for non-diagnostic purposes or without suspicion of infection and individual clinical assessment.
- At-home tests: At-home tests are covered through the end of PHE.
- Effective Friday, May 12, 2023, Geisinger Health Plan will no longer cover at-home COVID-19 tests.
- Geisinger Health Plan will continue to cover at-home tests with no cost-share for GHP Family and GHP Kids through Sept. 30, 2024.
- Prescription refills: The early refill allowance for 30- or 90-day prescriptions at retail and mail-order pharmacies will also end May 11. Members are encouraged to ask about and use home delivery, when available, for their prescriptions. Early refills are available for controlled substances but will not apply for prescriptions containing opioids outside of certain conditions.
- Telehealth: We’re working with our clinical teams and Teladoc to expand telehealth offerings for our GHP members. GHP members can use telehealth services without any cost sharing through April 30, 2023.