Memorial Hermann Health System has been on the forefront of COVID-19 prevention and treatment throughout Greater Houston. Our affiliated physicians are dedicated to staying prepared for future spikes in transmission and treating patients with the most up-to-date antiviral measures.

Since the start of the pandemic, scientists and researchers have learned a great deal about how the virus mutates and spreads, but there is still work to be done. We are here to help you stay healthy through preventive measures including vaccines, and we are ready to treat your symptoms to help reduce the risk of severe illness if you contract the virus.

What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 is an infectious respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The virus was first reported in 2019 and spread around the world causing a pandemic.

A coronavirus is a type of virus that causes respiratory symptoms. This particular coronavirus, COVID-19, can result in mild, moderate or severe illness. Most people experience only mild to moderate illness, but COVID-19 can lead to hospitalization or death in some patients.

Virus Variants

Viruses change and mutate, creating new versions of the original disease. Sometimes a new variant disappears quickly, but other variants may be more widespread and last longer in the community. As we continue to navigate COVID-19, new variants will appear, and scientists cannot predict which ones will be mild and which will have a more significant impact.

The most widespread variants of COVID-19 have been delta and omicron.

Delta variant: Delta was first identified in the United States in early 2021 and was significantly more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19 and earlier variants.

Omicron variant: Omicron was first identified in the United States in late 2021 and is still the dominant variant in the community. It spreads more easily than the delta variant, but typically causes less severe symptoms. There are additional sub-variants of omicron that continue to spread.

How does COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 spreads from person to person through small droplets that contain the virus. Infectious disease specialists  believe you can be infected by COVID-19 in these ways:

  1. An infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes near you. The droplets are released from the infected person into the air, and you inhale them.
  2. You touch an infected person (example: shaking hands) and then touch your nose, mouth or eyes.

Once the virus enters your body through your nose, mouth or eyes, it multiplies and eventually reaches the lungs and other parts of the body. You can be infected with COVID-19 and spread it to others, even if you do not have symptoms. It often takes several days before symptoms appear, but you are still contagious during this time.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Different people experience different symptoms of COVID-19, and some people do not have any symptoms (asymptomatic). It can take between two days and 14 days after being exposed and infected before any symptoms appear; symptoms usually begin about three days to five days after being exposed. The vast majority of infections will present with symptoms within seven  days after exposure, although the full incubation period is 14 days.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and often include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches or body aches
  • Loss of taste or smell

How is COVID-19 diagnosed?

A simple laboratory test can diagnose COVID-19. Testing a sample of mucus from the nose or throat can identify the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

There are two main types of tests used to diagnose COVID-19: antigen tests and molecular tests.

Antigen Test

A nasal swab is used to collect mucus from one or both nostrils. Results are usually available within 30 minutes. Home tests that are self-administered are examples of rapid antigen tests. The antigen test is most reliable when symptoms are present, but it can also be used to test after being exposed to someone with an active infection.

Molecular Test (PCR or NAA)

A swab is used to collect mucus from one or both nostrils or saliva from the throat. The turnaround time for test results will depend on which specific test is used. Some are rapid tests with results available within an hour, while other versions require more time (up to three days) to process the results. This type of test is considered the “gold standard” and is more reliable than an antigen test.

If an individual is experiencing COVID-19 emergency warning signs such as trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake and/or pale, gray or blue colored skin, lips or nailbeds, they should seek emergency medical care immediately. If an individual does not have any of the above emergency warning signs and is just looking for a routine COVID-19 test, please visit any of the sites listed above for more information.

Treatment for COVID-19

The type of treatment needed for COVID-19 depends on the severity of symptoms. Patients who do not experience symptoms (asymptomatic), or experience only mild to moderate symptoms, usually do not need any treatment or can manage symptoms with over-the-counter medications.

Patients at risk for severe infection, or those who are already experiencing symptoms, may need antiviral medication, immunotherapy treatment or breathing assistance.

Antiviral Medications

Oral antiviral medications help improve symptoms and may reduce the risk of hospitalization and death for certain patients with COVID-19. Oral antivirals require a prescription from a health care provider and should begin within a few days of diagnosis in order to be effective.

Monoclonal Antibody Therapy

Patients who are not able to receive oral antiviral medication may be considered for monoclonal antibody therapy. This treatment helps support a patient’s immune response by giving them a boost of antibodies that are ready to go.

Monoclonal antibody therapy is helpful for patients who are not able to make their own antibodies effectively, or for those at risk of more severe infection. The antibodies in this treatment are created in a lab and designed to specifically target COVID-19 and help reduce the amount of virus in the body. Therapeutic antibodies are most often given as an injection. Therapy should begin within a few days of diagnosis in order to be effective.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization for monoclonal antibody treatment for high-risk or immunocompromised patients.

Learn more about Memorial Hermann’s monoclonal antibody therapy »

Breathing Assistance

If patients experience worsening respiratory symptoms, they should contact their health care provider for assistance. Patients with severe respiratory symptoms and decreased oxygen levels may need supplemental oxygen supplied through a tube in the nostrils. Other patients with a more severe infection may require mechanical ventilation (ventilator). This involves inserting a tube through the mouth and into the trachea to deliver supplemental oxygen.

How can you protect yourself against COVID-19?

The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone ages 5 years and older receive the primary series of COVID-19, and everyone ages 12 years and older also receive a booster. Moderately or severely immunocompromised people may be advised to follow a different vaccine schedule.

Vaccines train the body’s immune system to recognize and fight the virus. Based on clinical trials and observations following the administration of more than hundreds of millions of doses, we know the COVID-19 vaccines are extremely effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Vaccines from three pharmaceutical manufacturers are currently available in the United States:


  • FDA-approved for ages 16+
  • Available for children ages 5 to 15 under Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA


FDA-approved for ages 18+

Johnson & Johnson

Available for ages 18+ under Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccination »

In addition to being vaccinated, it is helpful to follow similar health guidelines that protect you from other viruses like the flu:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough.
  • Wear a mask while indoors in public areas where COVID-19 community transmission is high.
  • Maintain social distancing of 6 feet around people who are sick.
  • Avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces.

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