Coronavirus and Influenza Update

February 28, 2020
Leslie Lawrence, M.D., Executive Director for Health and Wellness

I am writing to provide you with an update on coronavirus (now called COVID-19) and influenza. 

Thank you for your efforts to help us respond to the coronavirus outbreak abroad. To date, there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus on our campus or in New York state. Unfortunately, the outbreak has reached several other countries in significant numbers and caused many deaths. This has caused the CDC to expand travel advisories to include several of these other countries. The U.S. continues to restrict entry to foreign nationals who have been to China in the past two weeks, with exceptions being made including for immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Because of the new guidance from the federal government, Rensselaer is still not sanctioning any travel to or from China for any reason and recommends not traveling outside of North America for the coming Spring Break March 9-13. International travel regulations are subject to change rapidly given the spread of the virus. If you are planning any travel abroad during Spring Break, you will need to notify the Rensselaer Health Center at (518) 276-6287 or via email if you are a student; or notify Louis Padula, Director of Benefits, Retirement and HRIS, at (518) 276-6164 or by email if you are faculty or a staff member. You should be ready to give departure and arrival dates before you leave campus. Any student, staff, or faculty traveling abroad will be subject to the guidelines and restrictions that are in place at the time you return from your trip, so it is important that you proactively stay abreast of travel regulation updates. It is possible that upon return you may have to stay in self-quarantine for 14 days depending on where you travel and the spread of the outbreak. If you do encounter difficulties while traveling, contact Public Safety at (518) 276-6656 for assistance. You may also call International SOS, which the university contracts with to provide access to global medicine and security assurance. Visit the International SOS website and enter the Rensselaer membership number 11BSGC000023 in the Member Login section.

Due to U.S. policies and our travel restrictions, the following Rensselaer protocols are still in place: 

  1. All students who are currently in China should immediately contact the Rensselaer Health Center by calling (518) 276-6287 or by emailing if you have not already done so. We will contact your Class Dean so that all of your professors and advisers will be informed that you may be unable to return until after the travel ban is lifted. We will arrange a schedule to help you make up missed work/research.

  2. All faculty and staff who are currently in China should immediately inform Human Resources by contacting Louis Padula, Director of Benefits, Retirement and HRIS, by telephone at (518) 276-6164 or by email. You should also contact the nearest American consulate as the U.S. is currently planning further evacuations of American citizens.

  3. There will be no university-sanctioned travel to China until further notice, including using airports in China as transit points. Since individuals on university business travel are required to use Concur, Rensselaer will flag all travel to or through China.

  4. Travel to China for personal reasons should be canceled for the reasons stated above.

  5. Rensselaer does NOT recommend travel outside of North America for the coming Spring Break. 

  6. Rensselaer has a Pandemic Illness Plan that is regularly updated and that would be employed should an outbreak of COVID-19 occur in the United States.


We are still seeing roughly five times the number of influenza cases that we saw at this time last year. The latest information from the New York State Department of Health indicates we are just past the peak of flu season. However, this still means that there are four to eight weeks before regular cases may stop occurring. I would like to remind everyone again about ways to protect yourself:

  1. First and foremost, get the influenza vaccine. It has been extremely effective this year and therefore is your best defense. We have exhausted our supply of influenza vaccine at the Rensselaer Health Center; however, local pharmacies offer flu vaccines to anyone over 18 who asks for one at the pharmacy counter and they have plenty in stock.

  2. If someone you live with or a family member has influenza, ask your physician or Student Health Services about antivirals you can take that may help prevent influenza. These must be prescribed by a physician and can be effective. Many times if a person lives with someone with confirmed influenza, a physician will give the person 10 days of an antiviral and the influenza vaccine. This is because it can take 10 to 14 days for the vaccine to produce an immune response robust enough to defend against the flu.

  3. Take steps to prevent the spread of viruses. Influenza viruses are spread from person to person in the respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. Influenza viruses may also be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose (or someone else's mouth or nose) before washing their hands. To prevent the spread of influenza viruses, follow these healthy habits: 

    • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. 

    • Cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow if you do not have a tissue.

    • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze, and also before you prepare food or eat. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. 

    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way. 

    • Try to avoid close contact with sick people. 

  4. Another recommended action in preventing further spread of the flu is for students, faculty, and staff to stay home and away from others in our community should they develop flu-like symptoms (i.e., fever of 100 degrees F/37.8 degrees C or higher, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and, rarely, diarrhea and vomiting). At this time this recommended action includes not attending classes; working on campus; participating in any student club events, performances, activities, or athletic competitions; or visiting other venues where people gather on campus. Students needing assistance should contact Student Health Services, who will assist by making necessary accommodations through our Class Deans and Residential Commons Deans as students recover from the flu.  

You can find more information about influenza in New York state on the New York State Department of Health website.

Please refer to the COVID-19 Outbreak Communications website for more details. As more information becomes available, we will keep the campus community updated.

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