Novel Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Updated February 13, 2020

January 30, 2020


The 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19, 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.

Yes. The new coronavirus disease that was first identified in Wuhan has received an official name from the World Health Organization: "COVID-19."

"COVI" comes from coronavirus. The "D" stands for disease. The 19 represents 2019, the year the virus was first identified, in December.

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.

Symptoms of the COVID-19 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

No. There is currently no vaccine to prevent the COVID-19. 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.

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.

Yes. The first confirmed case of the COVID-19 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. To date, there have been no cases of the COVID-19 in the District of Columbia or the surrounding metro area. At this time, the D.C. 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 February 13, 2020, the United States has confirmed 15 cases of the COVID-19 in 5 states. The current case count in the U.S. is available on the CDC website.

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.

The COVID-19 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 COVID-19.

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.

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 COVID-19and 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!

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 COVID-19 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.

News reporting about emerging illnesses can be upsetting for many to hear. If you are experiencing increased anxiety or stress related to the COVID-19, 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 COVID-19 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. 

No, if you suspect mold in your area, submit a FixIt ticket online to file a maintenance request.

If you are concerned about a peer’s well-being, please submit a CARE Report, call the Colonial Health Center 202-994-5300, and/or call another healthcare provider to provide details of the situation.

At this point, there is no indication that the COVID-19 is transmitted efficiently through heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems or over long distances through the air. The virus is spread by respiratory droplets, such as in coughs or sneezes, in close proximity to infected individuals. 

Alcohol-based, antimicrobial hand sanitizer will kill the virus, though regular handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the preferred method to protect yourself and reduce the spread of the virus. You’ll see dispensers with hand sanitizer and wipes around campus for this purpose.

There is currently no recommendation for the use of masks by the general population in the United States. As a result, the university is not providing masks. Individuals may choose to wear a mask as a personal preference for various reasons, for example if they have allergies or a compromised immune system. If someone is wearing a mask, this is not necessarily an indication that they are sick.

While this virus seems to have emerged from an animal source, it is now spreading from person to person. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people traveling to China avoid animals both live and dead, but there is no reason to think that any animals or pets in the United States might be a source of infection with this new coronavirus.

No. While there is an outbreak in China, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and our own public health experts assure us that there is no reason to suspect any on-campus community member is at a higher risk to contract COVID-19. All community members should continue to feel welcome on campus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not currently have evidence to suggest that animals or animal products imported from China pose a risk for spreading the COVID-19 in the United States.

Yes. COVID-19 is very low risk in the United States at this time (Feb 13, 2020). Still, frequent hand washing, not touching your face, cleaning surfaces, and eating fresh, healthful foods all help.

No, the flu shot will reduce your chance of getting the flu. It will also help reduce the number of people with flu-like symptoms that healthcare professionals need to treat.

COVID-19 is the newest type of coronavirus, and emerged at the end of 2019. Scientists are working on a vaccine, but it takes months to develop and test it and to make sure it is safe and effective for people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not recommended that those in the general public use face masks. However, it is recommended that you help protect yourself from illness by washing your hands avoiding touching your face. The CDC recommends face masks only if you have symptoms, and provides guidance to U.S. healthcare providers about mask use.

In general, flu season can start anytime in late fall, peak in mid-to-late winter (usually January or February), and continue through early spring. Flu shots are still available, though, and it's appropriate to get the flu shot even now. 

According to the World Health Organization, there is no concern about packages from China or the transmission of COVID-19 through the mail.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that travelers avoid all non-essential travel to the People's Republic of China, which is the only country listed at this time. Check back with the CDC before making travel plans. 

There are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in DC (Feb 12, 2020). Check for updates about DC-specific cases on the DC Health Department website