Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

January 22, 2020
Leslie Lawrence, M.D., Executive Director for Health and Wellness

I write to inform you about Rensselaer’s recommendations and plan regarding the recent novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China.


 An outbreak of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan City was initially reported to the World Health Organization on December 31, 2019. Chinese health authorities have now confirmed more than 470 infections and at least 17 deaths from infection with a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV ) as the cause of the outbreak (these numbers will unfortunately continue to change daily). Initially, most patients had epidemiological links to a large seafood and animal market. Unfortunately, human-to-human spread has now been verified and it has spread to at least five other countries with individual cases in Japan, South Korea, and the U.S., and five cases in Thailand.  All of these cases originated in Wuhan, China, before traveling to these other countries.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause cold-like illnesses in people; numerous other coronaviruses circulate among animals, including camels, cats, bats, and others. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread between people, such as has been seen with Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV), and now 2019-nCoV. 

Rensselaer’s Plan:

Rensselaer already has an emergency plan for respiratory-track viruses, which is being adapted for this coronavirus outbreak. We will send further updates with plan information should we see spread here on our campus.  

For now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has placed travel restrictions on traveling to Wuhan and the Province of Hubei in China. Rensselaer further strongly recommends that its faculty, staff, and students do not travel to Wuhan or the Province of Hubei until more is known about this virus, its spread, and its fatality rate.

When to suspect you may be affected by the 2019-nCoV:

The CDC is using the following criteria in order to know when to suspect a case of 2019-nCoV:

  1. Fever (100 degrees F [37.8 degrees C] or higher) AND symptoms of lower respiratory illness (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) - and in the last 14 days before symptom onset, history of travel from Wuhan City, China, or close contact with a person who is under investigation for 2019-nCoV while that person was ill. 

  2. Fever OR symptoms of lower respiratory illness (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) - and in the last 14 days before symptom onset, close contact with an ill laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV patient.

If you have traveled to Wuhan or the Province of Hubei in the last 14 days and have these symptoms, you should immediately contact your primary care physician if you are faculty or staff, or call or make an appointment with Student Health Services if you are a student.


It is important to remember that each of you also plays an important role in this effort. The most effective tool for safeguarding the health of our campus is for you to be vigilant about preventing yourself from becoming ill, and taking exceptionally good care of yourself should you unfortunately become ill.

The same recommendations that you hear from medical authorities regarding protecting yourself from the flu are the same recommendations that are being applied to 2019-nCoV. Since this happens to be influenza season, and this year it has been particularly bad in New York state, it is a good idea for all of us to be following these recommendations:  

  • Wash your hands often, especially after shaking hands with others (hand disinfectants may be used if there is no access to soap and water);

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick;

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing;

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

  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, especially after contact with others;

  • Keep a three-foot [one-meter] distance between yourself and anyone who is ill;

  • Stay home if you have a fever and influenza-like symptoms and consider seeing your primary care provider depending on the severity and length of your symptoms. Do not return to work or school until you’ve had 24 hours without a fever. This is important to help limit the spread.

Back to top