Q&A: 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Questions from students; answers from USC Student Health

Updated 2/23/2020 (No cases at USC)

For general questions or comments, and assistance for students currently studying abroad who need guidance in returning to the United States:


2/23/2020—Important new guidance regarding international travel has been issued to the community as the situation for COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) continues to evolve. As of today, there are reports of increasing cases in areas such as South Korea and Japan, and new outbreaks in Italy. With these developments we are closely evaluating university associated international travel to ensure we can best support our faculty, staff and students.

In order to ensure the continued safety and our close communications with all members of our community who are studying, working and traveling abroad, please see the additional measures below:

For Students:

  • If you are studying abroad in an affected area and wish to voluntarily return home from study, please contact your program administrator and our COVID-19 hotline at 213-740-6291. We will support travel needs and discuss academic continuation options in each of your individual cases.
  • Should the travel condition in the area where you are studying reach the CDC Level 3 or U.S. State Department Level 4 travel advisory, which is currently the case in China only, we will require that you leave the area. Our office of Campus Support and Intervention will immediately contact you to facilitate your safe departure and inform you about academic continuity plans.

For Faculty and Staff:

  • To ensure we are able to immediately contact and support all of our employees who are traveling, you are now required to upload your itineraries for all university-related travel into Concur. For guidance on how to follow this process, please visit https://businessservices.usc.edu/travel/ (see Travel Safety > Duty of Care). This system will automatically send you travel alerts and text messages.
  • Any employee seeking travel to a CDC Level 3 or State Department Level 4 country must receive prior written approval from your Dean and the VP for Global Initiatives.

As a reminder, the risk of contracting this illness remains low in the United States. To prevent the spread of many infections please practice good respiratory hygiene including frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home while you are sick.

Any students who are feeling worried or concerned for family or friends overseas should contact Counseling and Mental Health Services in USC Student Health at 213-740-9355 (WELL). Faculty and staff are encouraged to call the Center for Work and Family Life at 213-821-0800. Campus Support and Intervention is also available for any university audience at 213-740-0411. We are all here for you.

Your safety, well-being and ability to continue your regular university activities remain the highest priorities for the entire leadership of USC.


New travel information guidance for USC students was shared with the community on February 13.


With any novel (new) virus, there are understandably heightened anxieties about the spread of infection and risk to the public. We want to reiterate that the risk to the public in California is low.


Latency period of the Novel Coronavirus: The current recommendation is 14 days for the monitoring of symptoms from the time of exposure (close contact with a sick person, through respiratory droplets, travel from mainland China), although the exact period of time when symptoms may appear may be longer. This is most important when an individual is experiencing symptoms. Within that period of time, the infection is communicable (person-to-person) for a much shorter window of time.


Public health officials are actively screening individuals arriving from China. The Secretary of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency and announced travel restrictions and quarantine procedures. All travelers are being evaluated by local public health authorities upon arrival to the U.S. and may be subject to a variety of movement restrictions and monitoring requirements based on their level of risk.

The university is committed to providing any support to any faculty, staff or student affected by these restrictions. Please contact USC Campus Support and Intervention at Tel: 213-740-0411 or email uscsupport@usc.edu for assistance.

Severity and Susceptibility: The Novel Coronavirus appears at this time to be most severe among older individuals and those with underlying medical conditions or compromised immune systems. For many who have come down with the Novel Coronavirus, including the cases in California, the symptoms are reported to be mild.


Precautions taken at USC: As part of the communicable disease response team, a group of USC experts and responders have been meeting twice daily to share updates and activate necessary processes to safeguard our community. Currently this includes sharing accurate updated information with the community, enhancing cleaning and sanitizing measures at all USC buildings, and being in constant contact with local public health agencies. Campus facilities staff are using appropriate cleaning agents and enhancing cleaning in public areas.


Overall, the risk to the public remains low.


USC Student Health is ready to see any students who have symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath); they should call 213-740-9355, let the scheduler know their condition and make arrangements to be seen by a medical provider. We will update the community if there are any new developments, and we are glad to clear up any misconceptions and answer public health questions.



The following information is confirmed:

  • There is no known connection from affected individuals in California with USC.
  • USC is in regular contact with our local public health officials and will update the community with any new developments.

Answers to frequently asked questions are below; additional helpful information is available at the CDC FAQ website. Updates for Los Angeles County may be found on the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health website.

If I am a student returning from China and the L.A. County Dept. of Public Health has told me to practice social distancing while under health monitoring, can the university help with alternate housing arrangements for my roommates?

Any USC student who needs assistance with making household arrangements in order to comply with L.A. County Dept. of Public Health recommendations should contact USC Campus Support and Intervention, 213-740-0411, uscsupport@usc.edu.

How can I know if I might have been in contact with an affected patient? 

Local public officials will conduct a “contact tracing” measure with identified patients and proactively contact any individuals who might have had an exposure. They will work with any individuals who may be affected to monitor if any symptoms develop.

What disinfection measures are effective?

Coronaviruses, including the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, are transmitted through respiratory droplets from an infected person (cough, sneezing, close contact). Standard Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved cleaning products and disinfectants are effective in cleaning surfaces.

The university is taking extended measures to ensure a hygienic environment, including regular cleaning of common areas, and refilling of soap and hand sanitizers.

What should I do to prevent the spread of infection?

Flu and other serious respiratory illnesses are commonly spread by cough, sneezing, or unclean hands. Covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing prevents the spread of a virus. Handwashing (with soap and water) for 20 seconds reduces risk of infection. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Avoid close contact with someone who is sick.

How many cases are there in LA? How fast is it spreading?

Please visit the USC homepage for continual updates on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus as it relates to the USC campus community. We expect to see more confirmed U.S. cases in addition to these first confirmed cases as screenings at eleven airport points of entry in the United States.

What measures is USC taking to prevent the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus?

All of us can take measures to protect our community from the spread of illness, primarily through good hand hygiene, covering coughs and sneezes, and reducing contact with others when feeling sick.

As part of the communicable disease response team, a group of USC experts and responders have been meeting twice daily to share updates and activate necessary processes to safeguard our community. Currently this includes sharing accurate updated information with the community, enhancing cleaning and sanitizing measures at all USC buildings, and being in constant contact with local public health agencies. Campus facilities staff are using appropriate cleaning agents and enhancing cleaning in public areas.


If someone who has recently traveled to China is on campus, should they be isolated or held in quarantine?

As of February 2, 2020, all travelers from China to the United States will go through screening and monitoring procedures from public health authorities at airport points of entry, as part of the federal declaration of a public health emergency.

  • USC students affected by these new restrictions should contact USC Campus Support and Intervention at 213-740-0411, or email uscsupport@usc.edu for assistance with any support accommodations, including class accommodation and household contact accommodations.
  • Faculty and staff affected by these new restrictions should contact their department chair/immediate supervisor to make arrangements. Chairs and supervisors will coordinate leave and workplace coverage arrangements with Human Resources.

While these restrictions do not apply retroactively to people who are already in the United States, USC students, faculty and staff who have returned from affected areas should carefully self-monitor for any fever or respiratory symptoms for 14 days (counting day 1 as the departure date from China). If any symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing) appear during this time, students should call USC Student Health immediately, 213-740-9355 (WELL) and make arrangements to be seen by a medical provider. Employees should contact their health care provider.

If there is an infection of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus on campus, will the university isolate the individual?

In the event of a USC student testing positive for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, the patient would receive appropriate medical attention and would be under monitoring of public health officials. Any roommates or suitemates concerned about close contact would be assisted in temporary relocation and any other needed support by the university.

What are the symptoms I should be looking for? Who is most at risk?

Patients with confirmed 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of:

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath 

Many cases appear to be mild. Individuals who are elderly, have weakened immune systems, or have other underlying health conditions appear to be at risk for more severe disease.

I am worried about friends and family in affected areas. What can I do to help?

It’s hard knowing people you care about are in the middle of a very scary situation far away. We know that this has been a difficult time for many members of our Trojan family. Please know we are here for you and encourage you to reach out for support. If you want to meet with a counselor, please call 213-740-9355, or you can join with other international students at a special “Let’s Talk” group in the OIS office, Tuesdays, 1:30-2:30.

You can also help your family back home by letting them know you are taking good care of yourself. The best advice for not getting sick is to practice frequent handwashing and staying out of close contact with people who might be sick. Let them know you are well, and it may comfort and reassure them. As opportunities to assist become available, we will share these with the community. 

Does the flu shot prevent the 2019 Novel Coronavirus? 

No, the flu shot is formulated to match influenza viruses expected to be circulating in the United States during the 2019-2020 flu season (Los Angeles County is currently seeing a rising number of cases, so please get a flu shot if you have not already done so). The influenza virus is a different genetic makeup from the coronavirus. The coronavirus has many genetic variants, including the “common cold” that generally does not present serious adverse health risks.

Will the school be able to distribute face masks to students? What kinds of masks will be able to prevent the infection?

Patients to Keck Medicine of USC ambulatory care settings, including USC Student Health buildings, are welcome to take a mask from the front lobby as they come in for care. If you do not have access to a mask, any face covering—including a tissue, cotton cloth, or scarf—can help reduce the spread of infections by physically keeping droplets from reaching others. A covering also prevents the casual “habit” of touching your mouth and nose with your hands that many people do without being aware of it.

Does wearing a face mask help me if I am NOT sick?

Wearing face masks routinely is not recommended for people who are not sick. Face masks are effective in preventing droplets from a sick person from infecting others and are used by healthcare providers, family members, and others when caring for or in close contact with a sick person. Handwashing and avoiding touching your face, (eyes, nose, and mouth) are the most effective method of illness prevention. Learn more about face masks from an interview with Dr. Armand Dorian, chief medical officer at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.

Will the school be able to distribute hand sanitizer to students?

Hand gel is available in dispensers at locations throughout the campuses and all members of the community are encouraged to use them. Remember that hand gel does not replace handwashing with soap and water; handwashing is a more effective way to reduce the spread of infection.

What should I do if I have a fever or have the symptoms of the flu? Do I need to be isolated?

Individuals who have had recent travel within the last 14 days from affected regions and are experiencing symptoms are advised to make an appointment to see a medical provider. Students can call USC Student Health, 213-740-9355 (WELL); let the scheduler know you think you may have the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. Faculty and staff should contact their regular health care provider. For other illnesses, stay at home to avoid spreading the virus to others until you have been without a fever for 24 hours.

What can I eat and what can’t I eat?

There are no dietary restrictions related to viral infections.

Where can I get the most updated information regarding the 2019 Novel Coronavirus?

The most updated current information on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus as it presents in the United States will come from the federal public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Any specific local advisories for Los Angeles County would be issued by Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and other local public health agencies. New developments will be shared with the university community by USC Student Health via email and on Twitter.