Coronavirus Health 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 alcohol-based hand sanitizer (contains at least 60% alcohol) 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 disposable 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

  • At this time, in alignment with public health guidelines, we strongly recommend that practicing social distancing and in particular around those - or if you are one of those - who are at higher risk for developing severe disease: individuals over age 60 is quoted but for those in their 70s and 80s is significantly higher) and people with significant underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, heart or lung disease, or suppressed immune systems.  

  • The CDC website has excellent resources available to guide both personal protection and household preparation.

  • Do not travel while sick.  Follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and U.S. Department of State for travel recommendations for travel and restrictions.

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 still circulating in our community, and prevention of those infections of which we have a better chance is more important now than ever. 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.  

I am worried I have coronavirus -- what do I do?  How can I get tested?

  • First: take a deep breath, gently.  We continue to see other viruses circulating in the community, including influenza - COVID doesn’t have a monopoly.   That said: it is very hard not knowing, especially given how frightening it is to be ill in these times.
  • Second: think hard about your home setting and isolate yourself as best you can from others, especially anyone who is at higher risk for complications (elderly, heart or lung disease, diabetes, cancer, immunocompromised, maybe pregnancy).  If you have a mask, put it on. And wash your hands.
  • Third: call your healthcare provider for advice.  Students: call the Nurse Advice Line (24/7) at (510) 643-7197. 
  • Fourth: as everyone knows, testing capacity is VERY limited currently in the United States, and is being prioritized for those most at risk.  We may not recommend testing, but we can still help by providing needed medical care, answering your questions, telling you when you should call or come in, and assist in decisions re: isolation and quarantine.

Finally: testing capacity is expected to improve over the next few weeks.  There are already several drive/walk through facilities in the community and more are popping up every few days.  Stay tuned.  Please don't just walk in to your healthcare provider for routine cold or flu symptoms - it won't help you recover faster and may just expose others.  We can likely help on the phone, and if we can’t, we can bring you in safely, or tell you where to go.

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.  Only the public health officer has the legal authority to order quarantine; if students are quarantined they may do so at home or, if needed, on campus in designated quarantine spaces.  Public health, and by delegation, UHS personnel, support and monitor quarantined individuals closely to ensure they and others remain safe.

For more detailed information regarding quarantine and isolation, see this link.

What is the campus doing for infection control?

Transmission of coronavirus occurs much more commonly through respiratory droplets than through contact with inanimate objects contaminated with the virus. However, current evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces of these inanimate objects. Routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces with soap and water followed by disinfection with an EPA-registered disinfectant is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings. Wear disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting if possible. Use unexpired diluted household bleach solutions (1/3rd cup bleach per gallon of water or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water), alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants. Be sure to use all products according to the directions on the label. Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily in household common areas such as tables, chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, counters, desks, toilets, and sinks. Remember to wash your hands immediately after removing gloves.

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 still circulating in our community (as of March 20), and prevention of those infections of which we have a better chance is more important now than ever. 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. 

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 RESPIRATORY INFECTION to others if you are sick; they are not recommended in this country for protecting healthy members of the general public.  Any value they do have maybe 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. *Supplies are short nationally: please preserve them for healthcare providers providing face: face care of infectious patients and stay home instead*

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.  *Supplies are short nationally: please preserve them for healthcare providers providing face:face care of infectious patients and stay home instead*

What are the symptoms of COVID-19

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.  While much remains unclear, and epidemiology may vary depending on location, strain, and access to medical care, a pattern is emerging that:

  • Early symptoms may be nonspecific, such as fever, body aches or chills, scratchy throat, and or/mild stomach upset (diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea, loss of smell)

  • A few days later a dry cough may emerge, that can worse to start including shortness of breath over several days

  • Upper respiratory symptoms like nasal congestion or sneezing are less common

In addition, it remains true that 80% of people will have mild disease, and most - but not all - with more severe disease are older or have underlying medical conditions. And: we still don’t know how many people have no symptoms at all.

Is COVID-19 spreading on campus or in the Berkeley community

There is now evidence of community transmission of COVID-19 in the Bay Area. The focus now is mitigation of potential exposure. 

Health experts advise that COVID-19 has been circulating widely in the Bay Area for some weeks and it is highly likely that many of us have come into contact with an infected individual. Also, testing is not widely available in the Bay Area, or in the U.S. as a whole. 

The primary public health strategy now is mitigation: reducing exposure by rigorous compliance with social distancing recommendations, regular handwashing and extra care to avoid unnecessary contact with our most vulnerable populations. This is most effective when followed by all of us as individuals. While local public health authorities are still tracing contacts of people who have tested positive, that capacity is unlikely to last much longer.  While this sounds frightening, it really doesn’t change the recommendation that anyone who has any flu-like symptoms may have COVID-19 -- or something else -- and should avoid contact with others until 1-3 days after resolution of fever and either stay home or wear a mask and wash hands when out and about for as long as any symptoms last.

Is COVID-19 worse than the flu?

As of mid-March, per the CDC there have been 36 million flu illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths from flu so far, and it is still circulating widely as of mid-March -- so many more people in the United States have been affected by flu than by COVID-19 thus far, however the numbers are increasing and unfortunately the disease are are now overlapping.  While data is still very incomplete, is looks as if COVID-19 is more transmissible than influenza and likely slightly more dangerous, however true mortality remains unknown since we do not have a “denominator” (the total number of people infected).  While older populations and those with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe disease from both, COVID-19 seems to affect children much less than flu. And only a small percentage of COVID-19 patients have significant upper respiratory symptoms like nasal congestion.

How is UHS prepared for COVID-19?

For weeks now UHS have amended our triage processes (online and nurse-staffed) to enhance our ability to take care of as many people as possible while minimizing the risk of exposure to others

We have also adjusted our medical operations model changing our appointment model, separating patient flow, and screening for COVID-19 symptoms and taking temperatures of anyone coming in the building. We have in addition set up contracts with temporary agencies to provide additional staff and have been actively working on our supplies and equipment needs.  Lack of access to testing with any useful turnaround time remains our biggest challenge, like elsewhere in the nation. 

Our mental health staff has also adjusted their services and operations to be better able to support our students remotely, and our occupational health and employee assistance programs to do the same for faculty/staff. For additional mental health resources and self-care tipis, see our mental health resources page.

Is there a treatment for COVID-19?

No.  There is at this time no treatment for COVID-19 other than supportive care, meaning analgesia (Tylenol) if needed for fevers and body aches, hydration, and respiratory support through inhalers, oxygen, or respirators (intubation) in a hospital setting.  Scientists all over the world are racing to test existing medications and to identify new ones that might work, and several clinical trials are already ongoing.

Is UHS doing COVID-19 testing?

Yes, UHS is testing students for COVID-19 on a very limited basis, given swab/supply shortages and extremely limited commercial/public health capacity.  Turnaround time is at least 2 days and usually much longer so getting tested unfortunately has limited usefulness at this time. UHS is currently prioritizing testing for situations where having a result may influence clinical care decisions and/or guide prioritization of isolation housing. 

The GOOD news is that labs throughout the UC system are actively working on developing in-house testing capacity; we hope to have more information soon.

What happens when there are confirmed cases of COVID-19?  How will I know if I am at risk?

We work closely with the public health department to contact individuals who are close contacts of confirmed positive cases who have been infectious while on the UCB campus.  While many rumors are circulating about other possible cases, neither UHS nor public health has the capacity to investigate every report. Since COVID-19 is now circulating in the community and most cases will not be confirmed due to testing challenges, people should assume that anyone (especially anyone with symptoms) and any surface is potentially infectious and keep up the excellent work hand washing, covering coughs, and staying home as much as possible.

What about students, faculty, or staff who have returned from a country or area with widespread transmission of COVID-19?

All UC Berkeley faculty, staff, students, postdocs and other UC affiliates including visiting scholars are asked to call the University Health Services COVID-19 Travel Line at (510) 642-6622 upon arrival in the Bay Area for instructions and support.

If you are healthy and have no symptoms, take these steps to monitor your health and practice social distancing: 

  • Stay home and avoid contact with others. Do not go to work or school for this 14-day period. Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares during the time you are practicing social distancing. • Avoid crowded places (such as stores or movie theaters) and limit your activities in public as much as possible. 

  • Take your temperature with a thermometer two times a day and monitor for fever. Also watch for cough or trouble breathing. You can discontinue these procedures 2 weeks after leaving the COVID-19 affected area if you do not become ill. 

If you have any signs of illness, especially fever, chills, cough, have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath: 

  • Put on a surgical (paper) mask, if you have one, and stay in a private room

  • Call your healthcare provider immediately for further guidance (students only: call the the UHS Nurse Advice Line at (510) 643-7197). 

  • Don’t expose others. Please be sure to let your healthcare provider know the concern for COVID-19 as soon as you arrive.

Do students need to have SHIP insurance to be seen at Tang Center for COVID-19?

All registered UC Berkeley students can use all services at UHS whether or not they have the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). Copay for primary care and urgent care the same regardless of insurance.

What does SHIP cover related to COVID-19?

There is no cost to students for testing, regardless if you have SHIP or not. Testing is for those people that meet the CDC criteria for testing. 

Call the UHS Advice Line at 510-643-7197 if you believe you might have this illness, and we will help guide the next steps.

What if I have left campus, how do I use my SHIP insurance? 

For students with SHIP for the Spring 2020 semester, your benefits are still valid and remain in effect through July 31, 2020.  The Fall 2020 SHIP coverage period begins on August 1, 2020.

Given the unique situation that continues to evolve around the coronavirus, effective March 16, students with SHIP (Student Health Insurance Plan) are no longer required to seek a referral from University Health Services before accessing care. The referral exception will remain in place until further notice. For more information on how to use SHIP

Are you accepting mask donations?

UHS has enough PPE for our staff. Please consider donating to the City of Berkeley.