Cold, Flu, or COVID-19?

Click on chart for printable PDF. Data is accurate as of date shown per CDC and MDH.

With “standard” flu season upon us, how can you tell the difference between Flu vs. COVID vs. Cold?

The common cold, flu, and COVID-19 share many symptoms.

  • Common cold symptoms appear gradually and are usually milder than the flu. Unlike the flu and COVID-19, sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, and sore throats are common, while fevers and headaches are rare.
  • Influenza (flu) symptoms appear suddenly; 1–4 days after infection. Common symptoms include fever, chills, dry cough, headache, severe body aches, and fatigue. Complications from the flu can be serious. Those who are six months of age and older should get a flu shot every year to reduce the risk.
  • COVID-19 symptoms generally appear 5 days after exposure; the range is between 2–14 days. Unlike the flu, symptoms can include shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, and loss of taste or smell.

Although COVID-19 and flu share symptoms, testing, treatment, and the amount of time you’re contagious differs significantly.

What can you do?

Wearing a mask will not protect you from getting sick, but it will prevent you from spreading illnesses to others and vice versa. In addition to wearing a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands often, and get a flu shot. Receiving essential care such as child immunizations, adult booster vaccines, and chronic disease management is also important to stay healthy.

If you’re feeling sick or experiencing symptoms, it’s best to avoid public spaces and stay home. Take care of yourself by staying hydrated, getting rest, and contacting your healthcare provider.

If you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or you have COVID-19 symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends isolating yourself from family and pets to reduce exposing them to the virus. This means staying in a separate bedroom and using a separate bathroom if you can and avoid sharing items while you’re sick. It’s also a good idea to clean commonly touched surfaces daily and wash your hands frequently. Call the Glacial Ridge Health System COVID-19 hotline at 320-334-5481 to be screened and given further instructions.

Glacial Ridge Health System provides COVID-19 testing for individuals who meet current Minnesota Department of Health and CDC testing criteria (available at