Campus coronavirus update

Dear Western Community,

Western Washington University has been closely following an emerging public health situation regarding an outbreak of pneumonia caused by a novel strain of coronavirus, “2019 Novel Coronavirus” (2019-nCoV), in Wuhan, China.

A "novel coronavirus" is a strain that has not previously been found in humans. This coronavirus can lead to fever, cough, and shortness of breath.  Most people with these infections have reported exposure to a large seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, but there is also evidence of human-to-human transmission.  About 27,000 cases have been confirmed — including about 560 deaths — with the vast majority of cases in Mainland China, mostly in the Wuhan area, but elsewhere as well, including among people who have traveled internationally from China.

What to Know

There are currently no identified cases in the WWU community. Student Health Center staff are working closely with local and state resources, to monitor the situation and protect the health and well-being of the WWU community.

Consistent with the recommendations of U.S. Centers for Disease Control, WWU community members are advised to avoid non-essential travel to China for the time being. See:

Western only had one student that we are aware of studying in China. She was in the Sichuan province, not in the province where Wuhan is. She left China because her sponsoring study abroad organization suspended the program out of an abundance of caution, even though she was not in the Hubei province. She did not return from China to Western’s campus but to her parents’ home in Oregon. Officials in Western’s Institute for Global Engagement are in communication with her.

The World Health Organization continues to meet on this situation. We will provide updated information based on the outcome of these meetings.

Here is an update from the Whatcom County Health Department:

  • Currently, there is a low risk of infection.
  • Currently, there are no confirmed cases in Whatcom County.
  • Take usual steps to prevent the spread of a respiratory virus.

So far in the United States:

11   Confirmed cases.

167 Tested negative.

82   Pending

260 Total

Who do health practitioners test for coronavirus?  A patient with: Fever AND symptoms of lower respiratory illness (cough, dyspnea) AND, within the past 14 days, travel to Wuhan OR close contact with said traveler OR close contact with an ill lab-confirmed 2019-nCoV patient


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, 2019-Coronavirus, 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 coronavirus?

Symptoms related to the novel coronavirus under investigation (2019-nCoV ) include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia and other complications, especially in infants, older individuals and in those with underlying health conditions.

How do I prevent coronavirus?

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

  • 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.
  • Avoid 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.
  • If you are sick stay home and do not come to class or work.

I’m sick.  How do I know if it’s coronavirus 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 city of Wuhan in China.  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 the Student Health Center at 360-650-3400 and ask to speak to a nurse. Faculty and staff can check with their physician.

If you recently traveled to/from Wuhan and have a fever and cough or shortness of breath, you should:

  • Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.  WWU students can call 360-650-3400 and ask to speak to a nurse.
  • Stay home. Except for seeking medical care, 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.

Additional Resources

WWU Student Health Center

World Health Organization (WHO) information about Coronavirus

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Situation Summary

Western’s policy on communicable diseases (PDF)



Sislena Ledbetter
Executive Director for Health and Wellness
Western Washington University

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Event Date