Coronavirus Update

February 29, 2020

Dear Willamette Community,

In response to a presumptive positive case in Oregon and questions from our community, I write to provide an update on what we currently know about Coronavirus. Importantly, we continue to monitor this changing situation closely and are ready to respond as needed. Federal authorities announced that 60 people in the United States had been infected with the virus, mainly people repatriated from travel abroad, but also some diagnosed in the U.S. At the time of this message, there is now one presumptive case in Oregon. Federal authorities warn the virus is likely to spread and encourage people to prepare for its arrival in their community.

The most current information we have about Coronavirus can be found on the CDC website. This resource is updated regularly and is the most reliable source of information. The Marion County Health Department also has a helpful and regularly updated page with local information.

A few FAQs:

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus, now officially "COVID-19" - short for Corona Virus Disease identified in 2019, is a new virus that has never been seen in humans. It started from an animal source in Wuhan, China and spread quickly. Preventing further spread of a novel disease is all about containment and quarantine. This is why you are seeing travel restrictions to and from impacted countries, the cruise ship docked in Japan, temperature checks at airports, etc.

What are the symptoms?

As it is an upper respiratory disease, symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The very young, very old, and those with compromised immune systems seem to be at most risk for complications. Lab tests are used to confirm the diagnosis.

How does it spread?

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). It is believed that the virus is most easily transmitted by people with symptoms. Respiratory droplets are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can also possibly be picked up and spread when other people touch their mouths, noses, or eyes. It is possible that the virus could be spread before people show symptoms.

How can you protect yourself?

Because there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The same precautions we take with any respiratory disease are applicable for coronavirus, including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue away.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be effective.

The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. However, facemasks should be used by people who are symptomatic to help prevent the spread of the disease to others.

What do you do if you think you are sick with COVID-19?

If you think you may have been exposed to coronavirus and develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, federal authorities recommend that you call your health care provider and mention any recent travel to affected countries or contacts with potentially affected persons. Importantly, only the CDC has the ability to test for coronavirus. Your healthcare provider will work with your state’s local public health department and CDC to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19. More detailed directions from the CDC can be found here.

Does Willamette have a plan?

Absolutely. We enjoy strong relationships with Salem Hospital, Marion County Health Department, and the Oregon Health Authority; all critical partners in any communicable disease outbreak, should one occur. Just this past October, Willamette hosted a multi-agency tabletop drill with these partners where we further refined our respective responses. With any suspected case of COVID-19 in the Willamette community (and to be clear, we have none), we would coordinate efforts with our public health partners. We have also mobilized our campus response team that includes housing, academic deans from all four schools, Office of International Education, Bon Appetit, Human Resources, and Facilities.

As mentioned in my message at the end of January, please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or concerns, and rest assured that we’re paying close attention to this issue. Our primary goal is to ensure the health and safety of every member of the Willamette community.

Don Thomson, Director of Bishop Wellness Center

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