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2019 Novel Coronavirus Updates

Updated - February 4, 2020

On Friday, January 31, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency for the entire United States, and reiterated that the risk to the U.S. public remains low. The new guidance issued at that time instituted the following temporary measures as of Sunday, February 2 at 5pm EST to increase the government’s ability to detect and contain the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.

  • Any returning U.S. citizens who have been to Hubei Province in China within the previous two weeks will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure they are provided proper medical care and health screening.
  • Any returning U.S. citizens who have been to other parts of China within the previous two weeks will undergo proactive health screening at the airport and up to 14 days of monitored self-quarantine to insure they have not contracted the virus and do not pose a public health risk.
  • A Presidential proclamation was signed to temporarily suspend entry of foreign nationals who present with risk of infection. Foreign nationals other than immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have traveled in China in the previous two weeks will be denied entry to the United States.

On February 3, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued updated interim guidance that expanded upon the information from Secretary Azar. These guidelines more clearly state that measures such as self-quarantine (effective as of February 3) “do not apply retrospectively to people who have been in China during the previous 14 days and are already in the United States.” However, they also stated that “state and local jurisdictions may make risk management decisions that differ from those recommended here.”

The university is following the government’s guidance and providing support to students who may be affected. While this matter can be unsettling, it is important to remember that as of February 3, there are only 11 confirmed cases of 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the United States, with no confirmed cases in the DC region. There are 3 suspected cases in the greater Washington area, and it is conceivable that this number will increase over the next 2 weeks and could include members of the AU community. Remember, we all have many interactions with other individuals both on and off campus, from public transportations to business meetings to social gatherings.

Most people with 2019 Novel Coronavirus will have cold symptoms and nothing more. Further, because there are no commercially available ways to test for this virus, we will not be able to differentiate students or other community members with 2019 Novel Coronavirus from those with many of the other common winter respiratory viruses. The only difference that we emphasize is the importance of going to the emergency room if a person starts developing shortness of breath.

You can find updated information about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the DC Department of Health on their websites. A list of frequently asked questions is below.

What is the 2019 Novel Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses comprise a group of extremely common upper respiratory infections. It is likely that most young adults have had a coronavirus infection in the past, since they are one of the most common causes of a “head cold.”  The viruses frequently cause cough, congestion, runny nose, a sore throat and occasional fever. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus is a new strain of this virus which can, in some instances, cause more severe cough and even shortness of breath in the form of a pneumonia.  As of today’s reports, the vast majority of 2019 Novel Coronavirus cases have not been severe and almost all people who have contracted the virus have recovered without complication.

Since last week, the virus has spread throughout the world and almost every continent has presumed cases. Again, most of these cases are benign and present as cold symptoms. Most experts suspect that this virus is going to be transmitted from person to person through contact with respiratory droplets of another person. It is extremely contagious and spread in much the same way as influenza or the common cold.

Are there signs or symptoms I should be looking for?

Symptoms of this virus include cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, low grade fever and shortness of breath. These symptoms are also seen in a common cold, influenza and a myriad of other viruses. However, just because a person has these symptoms does not mean that they have 2019 Novel Coronavirus, even if they came from an area of the world where this is an epidemic. It is important to follow the guidance from health authorities and not make independent conclusions.

News reports say the number of cases and deaths from the 2019 Novel Coronavirus are rising in China. What is the risk?

While the WHO has confirmed 425 deaths in China related to Coronavirus, there have been only 11 cases confirmed in the US (and none in DC) as of February 2, with no associated deaths. The university will be monitoring CDC and DC Health for any updated information and guidance on the severity and/or complications from the coronavirus.

Is AU prepared to handle 2019 Novel coronavirus?

Yes, the Office of Campus Life, the Student Health Center, the Provost’s Office, Human Resources, and the Office of Risk Management have a cross functional working group that is monitoring the situation and guidance from U.S. health authorities, taking appropriate actions to protect the health and well-being of the community, and providing support to the students who returned from study abroad in China. The university is following the guidance from U.S. health agencies and will update its response as needed based on new information or developments. Any changes to the response will be communicated to the community.

Is American University planning to quarantine students, faculty, or staff who have returned from China and are not exhibiting symptoms?

AU is following the updated guidance from the CDC that measures such as self-quarantine (effective as of February 3) “do not apply retrospectively to people who have been in China during the previous 14 days and are already in the United States.” Any community member who was in China during the past week is considered to be “medium risk” by the CDC definition.  If you start developing any symptoms of fever, cold, cough, or shortness of breath before your 14th day in the US after returning from China, please contact Dr. Reitman immediately (shc@american.edu).  Also, please remember that the latest update from CDC are interim guidelines.  They could change again at any time

Are there confirmed cases of 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the DC area or at AU?

No, there are no confirmed cases in the Washington, DC region or at AU. There are only 11 confirmed cases in the United States as of February 3.

Where can I get more information on 2019 Novel Coronavirus? 

For up-to-date information, please check the following websites:
US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
World Health Organization 
DC Department of Health

Where can I get information about the university’s response?

The latest updates from the university are posted on the Student Health Center website.

For medical questions about 2019 Novel Coronavirus, contact the Student Health Center at 202-885-3380 or shc@american.edu.

Faculty and staff members can contact Human Resources at 202-885-2591 or employeerelations@american.edu.

I am planning travel to China soon. What should I do?

AU has suspended all university-sponsored travel to mainland China until further notice.

I have students in my residence hall/floor/classes who have recently traveled from China. Is it safe? Do they need to check in with anyone?

With the start of classes over 14 days ago, most students who have traveled from China for the start of the semester are past the 14 days incubation period. The university is following the latest guidance from the U.S. government. Any student that recently returned from China and develops symptoms of fever, cold, cough, or shortness of breath before their 14th day in the US after returning should contact Dr. Reitman immediately (shc@american.edu).

I am planning travel to China soon. What should I do?

AU has suspended all university-sponsored travel to mainland China until further notice.

 The university strongly advises students from China to avoid any travel to that country until further notice, as under the current guidance from the U.S. government they will not be able to re-enter the United States. Chinese students with questions regarding travel should contact the International Student an Scholar Services Office (ISSS) at isss@american.edu or 202-885-3350.

I have a friend who is self-isolating because they are afraid of contracting the virus and do not plan on attending classes, internship, etc. How do they get excused absences?

We understand that the news about the 2019 Novel Coronavirus can make this a challenging time. However, students who decide on their own to self-isolate without symptoms of a medical condition or who did not recently return from the study abroad program in China will not be excused from classes. If a student is exhibiting symptoms as described in guidance issued by U.S. health agencies, they should visit the Student Health Center. They should also feel free to speak with their academic advisor or the Dean of Students Office at dos@american.edu or 202-885-3300.

Within the last 14 days, I have returned from China, but not an area of concern. I have not been in contact with anyone diagnosed with novel coronavirus. I do not have symptoms of coronavirus. Should I check in with anyone?

If you were not part of the AU Abroad program in China and returned to the U.S. from China within the last 14 days, please contact Dr. Reitman at the Student Health Center at shc@american.edu or 202-885-3380.

I have students in my class or visiting my office who have recently traveled from China. Is it safe for them to attend class or come to my office? Do they need to check in with anyone?

The university is following the U.S. government’s guidance that measures such as self-quarantine (effective as of February 3) “do not apply retrospectively to people who have been in China during the previous 14 days and are already in the United States.” Students who traveled from China more than 14 days ago are not subject to the new guidance from U.S. health agencies.

I have a student who returned from the study abroad in China and is self-isolating, and will not be attending my class. They want to attend virtually. What are my options?

Please try to accommodate virtual attendance for students who are self-isolating. Dean for Undergraduate Education Jessica Waters is assisting with academic support for the students who are in self-quarantine. Students can contact undergradstudies@american.edu or 202-885-2213. Faculty should please work with the associate dean for undergraduate studies in your school on specifics. The university is also working to make virtual academic coaching available, and the Academic Support and Access Center (asac@american.edu or 202-885-3360) can help with any exam administration.

If a student reports they are not well/cannot attend class and/or asks for consideration around assignments, what action should I take?

First, students concerned about their health can visit the Student Health Center located in McCabe Hall, email shc@american.edu, or contact the 24-hour nurse advice line at 833-381-8545. Faculty, students, staff who are having more significant symptoms of difficulty breathing or shortness of breath need to be seen in an emergency room. These cases will likely be rare but that could indicate a more severe infection (similar to influenza pneumonia).

Students, staff and faculty who are ill - no matter the cause - are encouraged to stay home and to communicate by email to relevant parties (professors, supervisor, etc.) to let them know they are sick. It is important to remember that it is flu season and students may be ill for a variety of reasons.

Students with medical concerns at this time should be supported in a manner consistent with our practices and procedures. If a student is ill for a short period of time, faculty are encouraged to work with them on an individual basis and students are expected to make up for any missed assignments. If a student is ill for an extended period, they should work with the Dean of Students office to submit the proper medical documentation and alert faculty members to their situation. Students needing assistance from the Dean of Students office should make an appointment online through YouCanBookMe.

How should I support students who may have family or friends in the affected areas in China?

If a student is experiencing difficulty (non-health related) with this situation, you can encourage them to contact the Dean of Students office or you can file a CARE report. It is important to recognize the emotional stress that situations like this can cause and to support members of our community.

What if students from China choose to return home? What about students who may be planning to travel to China for spring break activities? The Office of Campus Life, the Office of Risk Management, and other appropriate university offices will be addressing any individual situations like these that may arise. If a student asks you about these matters, please refer them to the Dean of Students office (dos@american.edu or 202-885-3300). Chinese students with questions regarding travel should contact the International Student an Scholar Services Office (ISSS) at isss@american.edu or 202-885-3350.