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The recent outbreak of COVID-19, a respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus, continues to be a global public health issue—the outbreak originated in Wuhan, China last month and has since spread to more than 50 countries.

This week, the CDC confirmed the first known case of U.S.-acquired COVID-19, in a Northern California woman who had no relevant history of travel or exposure to someone who had travelled to affected areas. This has prompted the CDC to update testing guidelines and cast a wider net when looking for cases. And while this indicates that there is likely “homegrown” transmission happening now in the U.S., the immediate risk to the general public in the U.S. is still believed to be low at this time.

See below for answers to the most common questions we’ve received about COVID-19, along with tips for protecting yourself during an outbreak. Visit the CDC’s website for up-to-date information and answers to more frequently asked questions.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus disease?

According to the CDC, symptoms for confirmed cases have ranged from mild to severe and occasionally death. Symptoms can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and typically appear within 2 to 14 days after exposure.

How can I protect myself?

Health officials advise taking the same precautions you would for any virus, including:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available;
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing;
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands;
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick;
  • Avoiding travel to the places that are currently experiencing outbreaks; and
    Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?

If you recently traveled to an outbreak area, have been in close contact with someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19, and are experiencing respiratory symptoms (fever, cough and shortness of breath), seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office, urgent care or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and symptoms so they can put you in a private place away from other patients.

It’s best not to travel while sick and to stay away from work, school, or other people if you have respiratory illness.

I’m an employer—what issues should I consider for preparedness planning around coronavirus?

Employers should have a pandemic preparedness plan, and resources from the CDC and EEOC are a great place to start. Below are some important things to consider for your workplace preparedness plan:

  • Take a look at your sick policies. Do they adequately encourage employees to stay home when ill?
  • Working remotely—can some of your staff work from home if they are feeling sick?
  • Environmental cleaning—do you routinely clean doorknobs, surfaces, keyboards and other commonly touched objects in your workspace?
  • Do you offer hand washing or hand sanitizing stations for employees?
  • Do you have posters or signs encouraging hand washing and staying home when sick?
  • Do you have any large meetings requiring close contact that could be rescheduled or done remotely, if more cases are seen in your area? Also, check the CDC’s guidance on travel and limit business travel accordingly.
  • Have you cross-trained personnel in essential work functions, in case there is significant absenteeism?

How can Grand Rounds help?

If your employer offers Grand Rounds as a benefit, our on-staff clinicians are available to talk. Just log into your account or give us a call to evaluate your risk or ask any questions you may have.

If you are an employer who offers Grand Rounds, please be sure your employees are aware that we are available to assist. Our clinicians can discuss what your employees are experiencing, help determine if they need to be seen at a doctor’s office, urgent care or emergency room, and call ahead on their behalf. Our navigation services can help ensure they get exactly what they need.


Dr. Ghosh is a medical director at Grand Rounds. She has specialized training in epidemiology and disease control and previously oversaw all outbreak response and preparedness activities for the state of Colorado. She has also consulted for the World Health Organization.

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