Novel Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Novel Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the 2019 Novel Coronavirus?

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, is a new respiratory virus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. It is part of a larger family of viruses called coronavirus, some of which are in circulation normally and can cause illnesses like the common cold. This Novel Coronavirus is not the same strain coronavirus as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). You can learn more about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

How does the virus spread?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus is thought to have originated from an animal but is now spreading from person to person. Coronaviruses, including this new one, are thought to spread via exposure to an infected person’s respiratory droplets—such as those produced when a person coughs or sneezes.

According to the CDC, there is more to learn about how this virus is transmitted but, in the meantime, everyday habits such as washing your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds, can help prevent the spread of viruses.

What are the symptoms of infection with this virus?

Symptoms of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus can include fever, cough or sore throat, headache, runny nose, muscle pain, and shortness of breath. Public health officials say the symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Learn more at the CDC’s website

Is there a vaccine to protect against 2019 Novel Coronavirus?

No. There is currently no vaccine to prevent the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. To read more about U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) tips on the best way to prevent exposure to this virus and others visit the CDC’s website. Additionally, the World Health Organization has developed an online course to provide general introduction to emerging respiratory viruses, including novel coronaviruses.

What is the best way to prevent infection with this virus?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend some simple steps to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based sanitizer;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands;
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick;
  • Stay home when you are sick;
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash;
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Have there been cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the U.S.?

Yes. The first confirmed case of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the United States was reported in January 2020 and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring the situation. As of January 30, 2020, there have been no cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the District of Columbia or the surrounding metro area. At this time, the DC Department of Health is actively engaged, working closely with local, state, and federal health officials to identify people who may have been exposed.

As of January 30, 2020, the United States has confirmed 6 cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus: 2 in California, 2 in Illinois; 1 in Arizona, and 1 in Washington State. The current case count in the U.S. is available on the CDC website.

Are faculty, staff, and students at GW at risk of infection with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus?

According to public health officials, the risk right now of infection in the United States is considered low. At the same time, if you have traveled to China recently or have come in close contact with someone who has and are now showing symptoms, you should avoid contact with others and call ahead to the Colonial Health Center at 202-994-5300.

Who is at risk for infection with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus?

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. If you develop a fever and symptoms of a respiratory illness, such as a cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days of travel to China, you should call ahead to your doctor and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms. GW students should follow the above advice and call the Colonial Health Center at 202-994-5300 and explain their travel history and symptoms.

People with compromised immune systems, such as pregnant women, children, and the elderly, can be at a higher risk for developing complications related to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

I think I might have the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. What do I do?

If you are a student who has recently been to areas with widespread transmission, such as Wuhan, Hubei Province, China where the virus was first identified, or who has possibly come in contact with an infected individual AND you exhibit any of the following symptoms, please contact the Colonial Health Center at 202-994-5300:

  • Fever
  • Cough or sore throat
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle pain
  • Shortness of breath

Students, staff and faculty who are ill—no matter the cause—are encouraged to stay home and to communicate by phone or email to relevant parties (professors, supervisor, etc.) to let them know they are sick. If you live on the Mount Vernon Campus and you are feeling ill, call the Colonial Health Center at 202-994-5300 and they will provide further direction.

What is the University doing to proactively address the situation?

The health and safety of the GW community is a top priority for the University. GW will continue working with local, state, and federal public health officials to monitor the situation and respond appropriately. Please rely on the resources below to learn more about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus and any updates on its spread or how to stay healthy.

At this time, GW is following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel advisory and recommends against all nonessential travel to China, where the 2019 Novel Coronavirus originated. To check the current CDC travel recommendations visit the CDC website.

Additionally, the University is taking the following actions:

  • Students visiting the Colonial Health Center are being screened for recent international travel and will be asked about their health and travel history. 
  • Increased cleaning of high-touch surfaces and restrooms in university buildings, university housing, and shuttle buses.
  • Daily collaboration and coordination among university, including experts from the Milken Institute School of Public Health, GW Hospital, and Medical Faculty Associates leadership group.
  • The Provost, Brian Blake, has provided additional guidance to faculty and professors regarding sensitivities around those who have been impacted by this situation. 

Also, influenza activity is high in the U.S. and expected to continue for weeks. Anyone who has not yet received a flu vaccine this season should strongly consider getting the vaccine. Flu vaccines are available at the Colonial Health Center or your local pharmacy. Getting the flu vaccine is easy and takes about 15 minutes!

Should I still go to class/my activities?

At this time there are no restrictions on academic, operational, or extracurricular activities at GW. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health departments deem the risk of 2019 Novel Coronavirus to the American public to be low; however, there are precautions we can take to prevent the spread of all communicable diseases at GW. The University is maintaining normal operations, all classes and events will be held as scheduled. If you are feeling ill, please communicate with your professors who have been advised to maintain flexibility when excusing students from class for medical reasons.

I am experiencing increased stress and anxiety related to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. Where should I seek help?

News reporting about emerging illnesses can be upsetting for many to hear. If you are experiencing increased anxiety or stress related to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or concerns for friends/family, please contact GW Counseling and Psychological Services to speak with a counselor. You can set up an appointment through calling the Colonial Health Center at 202-994-5300, or see a counselor during their walk-in hours on the Foggy Bottom campus, Monday-Friday, 1- 4 p.m. If you are concerned about a student’s well-being, please submit a CARE  Report. We’re here to help.

As a reminder, please remember that diversity is part of our strength at GW. We know that the 2019 Novel Coronavirus originated from Wuhan, Hubei Province, China and as a result, members of the GW community from China may be experiencing increased stress at this time. Students, faculty, and staff who are from China or of Chinese descent or others from a diverse background are valued members of our community. The GW Colonial Health Center also offers counseling for any student who has family or friends in China and who is experiencing stress or anxiety about the outbreak there.