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Public health information on novel coronavirus

From: Daniel Diermeier, Provost, and Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD, Executive Vice President of the University for Biology and Medicine 
To: Members of the University Community
Subject: Public health information on novel coronavirus
Date: January 24, 2020

As the health and well-being of our campus community is a paramount priority, the University of Chicago is closely monitoring public health notifications related to the novel coronavirus that was recently identified in Wuhan, China (Wuhan 2019-nCoV). The University and the University of Chicago Medicine (UCM) are taking a number of precautionary steps to promote the health of our community and ensure that we are sharing accurate public health information, working closely with the Chicago Department of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At this time we do not have patients at UCM or members of the University community who have tested positive for 2019-nCoV, however UCM will continue to screen individuals as part of their normal intake and triage process. The CDC announced Friday that a woman in her 60s in Chicago has tested positive for the virus and is in stable condition at an Illinois hospital – one of two confirmed cases in the United States to date.  Symptoms related to this coronavirus strain include fever, cough, runny nose, headache, or sore throat. In some cases, illness can progress to a severe pneumonia. 

While nearly all confirmed cases so far have been in China, the public health situation is still developing, and we are continuing to monitor and prepare for a number of contingencies. The Student Health Service and the University of Chicago Medicine are following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are screening all patients for coronavirus, regardless of the reason for their visit, by asking patients whether they have recently traveled to Wuhan City, China, or been in close contact with an ill person who is known or suspected of having the coronavirus in the past 14 days.

We encourage any student who is not feeling well or who has questions or concerns to contact the Student Health Service at 773-702-4156. Other members of the UChicago community are encouraged to reach out to their primary care providers with questions about their health. Individuals should also inform their medical providers of any recent travel.  If you have been in a high risk area (currently identified as Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China) within the last 14 days or have had contact with someone who had the 2019-nCoV infection and now you have a cough, difficulty breathing or fever, you should call your primary care provider. 

The U.S. State Department has recommended that travelers avoid travel to Hubei Province, China, and to exercise caution in planning travel to other destinations in China. Additional CDC advice for travelers is available here. The University’s Center in Beijing and Yuen Campus in Hong Kong are taking standard recommended precautions, but there has been no broader change in their operations. For more information on International SOS, UChicago’s travel assistance company, or to register your travel with UChicago Traveler, please refer to the UChicago Travel Toolkit.

While the new coronavirus is garnering media attention, it’s important to remember that the same steps we take each day to help prevent any respiratory infection — whether it’s influenza or a common cold —  continue to apply:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wear a facemask if you are ill if you need to be around other people.

For more information on the screening process in place at UChicago Medicine and the Student Health Service, please review this Q&A with the hospital’s epidemiologist. Students may also reach out to SHCS with any questions or concerns.

For more information and the latest public health guidance, please refer to the CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health websites.  We will keep you updated with relevant new information as the situation develops.   

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