Coronavirus FAQ

2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19

Frequently Asked Questions

How do we protect ourselves from Coronavirus?

  • Keep your immune system healthy by getting plenty of SLEEP, nutrition, stress-relief, and exercise. 
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Wash your hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds, and certainly after sneezing or before/after touching your face or a sick person.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing, if you are ill
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Avoid contact with others who are sick
  • Do not travel while sick.  
  • Follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and U.S. Department of State recommendations for travel. CDC currently advises against non-essential travel to China, and the U.S.Department of State advises against ANY travel to the area and is actively evacuating some groups. Aside from any risk from coronavirus itself, transportation bans and infrastructure disruption are significant.

Is there a vaccine for the coronavirus? Does the flu shot help prevent Coronavirus?    

A vaccine for this coronavirus is not available at this time, although a lot of labs are working on it. The seasonal flu vaccine does not prevent the coronavirus, however it does prevent the flu - which is very common right now, and if you don’t get sick, you won’t need to worry about what else it could be. CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months of age get the seasonal flu vaccine because it will help protect you for the most common strains of the flu prevalent now.  You have a much greater chance of catching the seasonal flu than of catching the coronavirus at this time. 

If influenza currently remains more of a threat in the US than the Coronavirus, why is everyone so worried about it?

Many strains of coronaviruses are ubiquitous and are often responsible for symptoms attributed to the “common cold.” Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a concern because it is NEW and at least some people get quite ill.  Not enough is known yet about this virus to know exactly how worried to be; there have been early signs of concern and it is best to be prepared.  In the meantime, yes, we need to remain vigilant regarding seasonal influenza and get ourselves vaccinated. CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 15 million flu illnesses in the U.S., 140,000 hospitalizations, and 8,200 deaths from flu. In the U.S., flu is currently a far bigger threat than coronavirus. 

If we are having cold symptoms and wish to visit Tang for a diagnosis, what procedures should we follow? 

  • Please don't come in for routine cold or flu symptoms - it won't help and will just expose others.  

  • Please see our influenza handout for a summary of our advice; the only exception to this is that we DO want folks to call if they have fever AND cough or have difficulty breathing and were in China within the past 2 weeks. For routine appointments, go to eTang as usual.  If you are not sure whether you need to come in, call the Nurse Advice Line (24/7) at (510) 643-7197.

What about students, faculty, or staff who have recently returned from an affected area?

Students, faculty, and staff returning from mainland China* after 2/2/20 will, per recent CDPH (California Dept of Public Health) guidance, be screened and quarantined for 14 days after their return with close monitoring by their local public health department.

CDC and CDPH do NOT recommend quarantine of asymptomatic individuals who returned from affected areas before 2/3/20.  It is important to be mindful that most people in those areas are not ill, and there is a significant impact (professional, psychological, and potentially financial) on people who are excluded from their usual activities.  We encourage their participation, with one important caveat: 

People who develop a cough or shortness of breath AND fever (>100.3F) within 2 weeks of returning from an affected area should stay home, put on a (paper) mask if available, and call their healthcare provider for advice or go to the nearest emergency room.  Students should call the UHS Nurse Advice Line immediately at (510) 643-7197 for further guidance. 

People with milder, nonspecific symptoms such as nasal congestion or mild cough without fever should, as always, practice good hand hygiene and self-care, avoid close contact with other people, consider wearing a paper mask, and watch for worsening symptoms.

We have heard that people can spread the disease even if they do not have symptoms!  Why not test everyone returning from affected areas?

It remains unclear how infectious COVID-19 is before people become symptomatic.  With any virus, it is possible that an individual may harbor the virus in their nose and mouth before feeling ill but the chances of spreading it at that stage are very low given that they would not be spreading these secretions by sneezing or coughing.  In addition, it is unclear how helpful testing these individuals would be, even if rapid tests were available locally (which they are not): a negative test before symptoms develop does not mean they could not test positive when they do.  Most lab tests for infectious diseases are not able to pick up an early infection.

What is quarantine, and how is that happening here on campus? 

Quarantine in general means the separation of a person or group of people not known to HAVE, but reasonably believed to have been exposed to a communicable disease, from others who have not been so exposed, to prevent possible spread.  It is not the same as isolating symptomatic people suspected to have an infection, which is what we routinely do when we are in the process of testing someone for COVID-19 or any other potentially serious communicable disease.  

Effective 2/2/20, strict control measures were put in place at U.S. borders that quarantine U.S. nationals returning from Hubei province, and screen others arriving from mainland China; citizens from other countries who have traveled to or passed through China within 2 weeks are not being allowed in, with rare exceptions.  People quarantined at the border are transferred to designated settings nationwide for close monitoring, in coordination with public health.

See the CDC's website for more detailed information regarding: 

How many UC Berkeley faculty, staff, and students have recently returned from affected areas?  Are we tracking? 

Because it is now more than 2 weeks since the start of the spring semester, there are now very few people on campus who have recently returned from an affected area.  However, with our diverse and internationally engaged students, faculty, and staff there will inevitably be people coming and going on a limited basis. We have no ability to track or count people travelling on their own, however UC President Janet Napolitano issued a directive on 1/30/20 that limits all nonessential travel to China and also requires anyone travelling abroad on UC business to register their international travel with the UC International Travel Registry before their expected departure and update this information as changes occur before and during travel.  This will enable UC to support their health and safety as the situation evolves.

If there's a need to wear a mask, what type of mask would be helpful? 

"Surgical masks" (the paper kind) may help limit transmission of YOUR COLD to others if you are sick; they are not recommended in this country for protecting a healthy person.  Any value they do have may be by stopping people from directly touching their mouth and nose, which is a common way that viruses and germs enter the body. But washing hands and avoiding touching your face work just as well.  Properly fitted N95 respirators (the ones discussed during air quality events) are recommended for healthcare providers caring for those with this virus but not for the general population. 

Can students pick up free masks at Tang? 

The Tang Center has a limited supply of paper masks for students seen for respiratory symptoms, but we cannot supply the general student population.  Surgical masks can be purchased online or at any pharmacy, for those interested, however again they won't protect much against catching viruses from others.


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