The new coronavirus (officially named SARS-CoV-2) mainly spreads through the air in respiratory droplets or aerosolized particles released when a person with the virus coughs, sneezes, sings, talks or breathes. People can transmit the virus even if they do not have symptoms.

The coronavirus potentially can also spread when it lands on surfaces and a person transfers it to their mouth, nose or eyes, although this is not a common route of transmission.

SARS-CoV-2 transmission happens most often indoors, especially within households, in institutional settings such as nursing homes and prisons, and in crowded workplaces and social settings such as bars and parties. A growing body of evidence shows that transmission is not common outdoors, as moving air dilutes the concentration of the virus and sunlight rapidly kills it.

Some studies have found genetic material from the coronavirus in semen. SARS-CoV-2 is not thought to be directly sexually transmitted; however, intimate contact during sex— such as kissing—can spread the virus. The coronavirus is detectable in the stool, but fecal transmission appears to be rare.

It is not yet clear whether the coronavirus can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery or breastfeeding, although there have been some reports that suggest perinatal transmission is possible.

Last Reviewed: August 26, 2020