(This page is part of a series. For information on other illnesses that can affect NPS employees, volunteers, commercial use providers, and visitors, please see the NPS A–Z Health Topics index.)
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19

Credit: CDC/Alissa Eckert, Dan Higgins

Humans: COVID-19 is caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2 and spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and very small particles that contain the virus. These droplets and particles can be breathed in by other people or land on their eyes, noses, or mouth. Symptoms may appear 2–14 days after exposure to the virus. COVID-19 most often causes respiratory symptoms and, in some cases, can cause severe disease. Older adults and people with certain underlying conditions are at increased risk of developing severe disease. In some people, certain symptoms can last a long time (“long COVID”). The virus was first discovered in December 2019 and has infected millions of people and caused over 1 million deaths in the United States alone.

Animals: SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread from people to animals during close contact but rarely causes serious illness in animals. There are a few reports of infected animals spreading the virus to people during close contact, but this is rare. SARS-CoV-2 infection has been documented in companion animals (e.g., cats and dogs), animals in zoos (e.g., large cats, gorillas, otters), farmed mink, and free-ranging wildlife (e.g., deer). Invertebrates, birds, reptiles, and amphibians are unlikely to be susceptible hosts to the virus.

Environment: The SARS-CoV-2 virus can survive for hours to days on some surfaces contaminated with droplets, but the risk of getting COVID-19 from contaminated surfaces is low. Standard cleaning and disinfection are recommended. There is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 can spread through handling or consuming food or drinking water. There is no information to date that anyone has become sick because of direct exposure to treated or untreated wastewater.

  • To prevent general human to human transmission: CDC recommends that you:
    • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines.
    • Improve ventilation and spend time outdoors.
    • Get tested for COVID-19 if you have symptoms or have been exposed.
    • Stay home if you are sick.
    • Avoid contact with people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
    • Consider wearing masks and physical distancing.
    • NPS employees should adhere to operational guidance in the DOI Workplace Safety Plan 7.0.
  • To prevent zoonotic (between human and animals) transmission: CDC recommends that you:
    • Minimize contact with your pets if you are sick.
    • Keep your family, including pets, a safe distance from wildlife and their droppings.
    • Do not feed wildlife.
    • Consult your state wildlife agency’s guidance if you are preparing or consuming legally harvested game meat.
    • For hunters: Although there is currently no evidence that you can get COVID-19 by preparing or eating food, CDC provides “Considerations for Hunters” to prevent sickness generally.
    • For wildlife handlers: Apply the Hierarchy of Controls to minimize exposure and other direction from the CDC in its section on “Wildlife Research and Management/Control Activities” as well as USGS’s “Safe Work Practices for Working with Wildlife.”
  • If you were exposed to COVID-19, you should take precautions. If you are sick or have been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should isolate. The CDC Isolation and Exposure Calculator can help you determine if you need to isolate or take other steps to prevent spreading COVID-19.
  • If you test positive for COVID-19 and are more likely to get very sick, talk to your healthcare provider about potential treatment options. The Administration for Strategic Preparedness & Response (ASPR) treatment locator can help you find a location that offers testing and treatment or a pharmacy where you can fill your prescription.
  • Avoid contact with your pets and other animals (including wildlife) if you are sick with COVID-19. Contact your veterinarian if you think your pet might have COVID-19. Report concerns about sick or dead wildlife to the park resource manager and the Wildlife Health Branch (e-mail us).
  • NPS employees should adhere to operational guidance in the DOI Workplace Safety Plan 7.0.
Last updated: 5/30/2023

Last updated: July 20, 2023