Occidental and Coronavirus: What you need to know

Occidental has been closely monitoring the emerging public health crisis out of China known as the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), commonly referred to as the “coronavirus.”

Dear community members:

Occidental College has been closely monitoring the emerging public health crisis out of China known as the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), commonly referred to as the “coronavirus.” The COVID-19 is a flu-like pneumonia derived from exposure to large seafood from a live animal market in Wuhan, China. There is now evidence that the virus can be transmitted via human-to-human contact and is spreading to regions outside of Asia. This past week there have been five confirmed cases in the United States, including two in Southern California that were identified on Sunday, January 26. Public health officials expect that number to increase, despite extensive efforts to screen travellers in major U.S. airports with flights from China, including LAX.

It is important to know that in most cases the coronavirus poses no greater risk than the common flu virus. For the vast majority of people who have had the illness, symptoms are mild (like a cold or flu) and they resolved after several days. Most of the deaths in China caused by the virus were people at least 50 years old with pre-existing medical problems or compromised immune systems. Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the California Department of Public Health, has said that the immediate health risk to the general public in California is low, based on current information. We will continue to keep the community informed of important new developments.

What to Know

  • There are currently no identified cases in the Occidental community. We have scores of students, faculty and staff who are from or frequently travel to China; as far as we know, only one travelled near Wuhan during the break. That individual recently reported flu-like symptoms, was tested and found not to be infected with coronavirus.

  • Currently, there are no Oxy students studying in China. The spring overseas study program in Shanghai doesn’t begin until February 26. The International Programs Office has been in touch with the Council on International Educational Exchange and will continue to monitor the situation.

  • Emmons Wellness Center staff are working closely with local and state health officials to monitor the situation at Oxy and protect the health and well-being of the Occidental community.

  • We encourage members of the Occidental community who may have recently traveled from the Wuhan area to seek medical care immediately if they start exhibiting any symptoms (listed below).

  • Consistent with the recommendations of U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Chinese health authorities, Oxy community members are advised not to travel to the Wuhan area of China and avoid nonessential travel to China for the time being.

  • The World Health Organization continues to meet and provide public updates on this situation. We will relay this information to the Occidental community as it becomes available.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a coronavirus?
    Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, and more severe illnesses such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).  Coronaviruses commonly circulate in animals and sometimes infect humans. The coronavirus under investigation, Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is believed to have originated from animals, while the mode of transmission remains unclear, person-to person transmission is occurring.

  • What are the symptoms of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
    For the vast majority of people who have had the illness, symptoms are mild (like a cold or flu) and they resolved after several days. Flu-like symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and sore throat. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia and other complications, especially in infants, older individuals and those with underlying health conditions.

  • I’m sick, how do I know if it is COVID-19 or something else, like the flu?
    Coronavirus symptoms and flu symptoms are similar. The majority of the cases of the illness have occurred in and around the Chinese city of Wuhan.  If you have not been to the area of the outbreak, chances are you might have the flu. If you have symptoms of fever, cough and body aches and are feeling concerned, call Emmons Wellness Center at (323) 259-2657 or the Oxy Confidential Helpline at (800) 341-4141. 

  • What should I do if I think I have the coronavirus?
    Emmons Wellness Center does not have the resources to test for the coronavirus. Please call Emmons for assistance locating the best hospital, emergency room, or urgent care to visit based on your insurance plan and transportation needs (Emmons can provide taxi vouchers). To avoid risking further exposure to other students and community members, please call Emmons (323-259-2657) or the Oxy Confidential Helpline (800-341-4141) first before coming in for services.

  • How will Occidental respond if there is a confirmed case of coronavirus on campus?
    If a COVID-19 virus is confirmed, then Centers for Disease Control protocols will be followed. Working with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, we will research whom the individual has had contact with and monitor those individuals for symptoms, particularly during the incubation period (typically 2-5 days but up to 14 days) and have them tested if and when symptoms appear. If warranted, and based on growing information and instruction from the CDC, quarantine or relocation would be considered only in extreme cases.

  • What if I recently travelled in or near Wuhan, China and have concerns that I’ve been exposed to COVID-19?
    Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office, urgent care, emergency room, or the Emmons Wellness Center, please call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms so that they may make the appropriate arrangements. Occidental College community members may call Emmons Wellness Center at (323) 259-2657 or the Oxy Confidential Helpline at (800) 341-4141 and ask to speak to a nurse.*

*Please note that hospital staff will not ask you about your immigration status and, in cases concerning the COVID-19, you will be seen regardless of ability to pay.

How do I prevent COVID-19?

While there is still much that is unknown about this virus, we know what we can do to reduce our risk for infection is similar to that of the flu:

  • Wash your hands often, especially after you’ve touched someone who is sick, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

  • If you have cold and cough symptoms, make sure to cover your coughs and sneezes by using the crook of your arm or using disposable tissues and disposing of them in the trash. 

  • Stay home, except when seeking medical care, and avoid contact with others.

  • Avoid further travel until the illness resolves.

  • Wear a mask if you need to leave your home when sick.

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

  • Wash hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

For more information, news and updates on the virus, please visit the following organizations pages:

Centers for Disease Control:  cdc.gov/wuhan
World Health Organization: who.int/health-topics/coronavirus.grd
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/Coronavirus/

Sara Semal, LPCC
Senior Director, Emmons Wellness Center