Coronavirus Information and Updates
March 3, 2020
By Ana V. Diez Roux, MD, PhD, MPH
I am writing with a few updates on the global outbreak of a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes a respiratory illness now called COVID-19. As I am sure you know by now, the virus emerged in December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China where it has infected more than 80,000 people. The virus has now spread to multiple continents, and community transmission has been reported in several countries, including South Korea, Japan, Italy, and Iran. Cases related both to travel as well as local exposures are now appearing in the United States.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a public health emergency of international concern and the situation globally, as well as locally, is changing rapidly. At the moment, there are no recognized cases of COVID-19 in the Philadelphia metropolitan area.
What You Should Know About COVID-19
Fever and dry cough are the major symptoms, although it is estimated that about 80 percent of cases (perhaps more) have only mild symptoms. The virus is very contagious and individuals with even mild symptoms may spread it to others.
Transmission occurs primarily from person to person (through respiratory droplets or close contact) but may also occur through contaminated surfaces (perhaps to a lesser extent).
The case fatality rate is about 2 percent although, this is difficult to reliably estimate given the possible presence of undetected cases. However, older adults and people with underlying diseases are at the highest risk for severe illness and the case fatality in these groups can be significantly higher.
How to Protect Yourself
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects
- If you’re sick: stay home (to protect others) and cover your cough/sneezes with a tissue, then wash your hands
If you think you may have COVID-19, contact the Office of Student Health or your health care provider to be sure you receive the right care and diagnostic testing and minimize exposure to others.
How Our School is Helping
Several experts from our School have been responding to media requests to help ensure accurate information reaches the public. Faculty members at our School also serve on the Board of Health of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
We will also be providing input to the University as it develops plans in response to any cases that develop in our area. Also, we have organized an informational event for our School on Tuesday, March 10: Looking Beyond Fear: A Public Health Approach to Coronavirus.
Our goal is to provide accurate public health information about risks and strategies to reduce transmission while minimizing fear and stigmatization.
What the School/University is Doing to Prepare
In the absence of effective medical therapy or a vaccine, control measures include isolating people who are infected and quarantine of close contacts. When transmission is unrecognized in communities, social distancing measures can minimize person to person contact and reduce spread.
In a higher education setting, we may need to plan for the cancellation of in-person classes, forums, and events. The Dornsife School of Public Health is working closely with the Office of the Provost and partners across the University to ensure that we are able to do this if it is necessary to control the coronavirus in our community.
At present, we are monitoring the situation closely with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and developing contingency plans in case classes need to be moved online. The situation is very fluid, and we will keep you updated as plans evolve.
Epidemics of emerging, unfamiliar diseases may cause fear and lead to stigmatization of affected individuals and communities. As a community, we must support each other and counter misinformation about this virus. These are challenging times.
Our School must lead by sharing facts, using our public health expertise to guide and support the best strategies, taking care of each other, and working together to face this new threat. We will share new developments as we learn of them.
Additional Information About COVID-19
Thank you in advance for serving as ambassadors of the rational public health approach.
Ana V. Diez Roux, MD, PhD, MPH
Dean and Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology
Dornsife School of Public Health