Coronavirus news: What does community spread of COVID-19 mean?

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Health officials are using the term "community spread" as they describe the efforts being taken to slow the rate of novel coronavirus infection.

The term came to the forefront in our area on Wednesday when New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said COVID-19 may already be spreading in the Garden State.

"Community spread indicates that the coronavirus is amongst us. We have an expectation that that may be the case," Persichilli said.


Public health officials say 'community spread' is a term used when multiple people have been infected with a contagious disease and health officials are not sure how those people became infected.

When releasing the updated number of coronavirus infections in the area, health officials have tried to trace back any contact to an infected person, or travel to an area where community spread already is occurring.

However, that is already becoming more difficult, and that's why public events are being canceled or postponed.

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Along with person-to-person contact, the virus could also potentially spread when an uninfected person touches a surface that was in contact with an infected person.

"If a virus spread is sustained, it is spreading continuously without stopping. This virus, COVID-19, seems to be doing just that," Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said. She noted there is no indication yet of community spread in Pennsylvania.


The cancellation of public events and gatherings is one tactic used to prevent or slow down community spread. This is known as "community mitigation."

According to Levine, those efforts include:

-Putting off large public gatherings
-Using technology to hold events instead
-Allowing employees to work from home
-Schools and universities holding classes online
-Social distancing: staying away from close contact with other people in public spaces

What the World Health Organization's COVID-19 pandemic declaration actually means

There are also steps individuals can take to help stop the spread of COVID-19:

-Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds

-If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer

-Cover coughs and sneezes with elbows, not hands

-Try not to touch your face regularly

-Clean surfaces on a regular basis

-If you are sick, stay home until you are feeling better

What to do if you think you have COVID-19 coronavirus symptoms


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.

The following symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure.



-Shortness of breath
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