Coronavirus: What It Is And How To Avoid It

by | Feb 4, 2020 | POLITICS

Fortunately, the case at George Mason turned out to be a false alarm. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to be careful and protect your health.

After the U.S. had its first person-to-person transmission of coronavirus, the World Health Organization has declared the current state of the disease a “global health emergency.”

There have been six confirmed cases within the U.S., while more than 300 have already died due to the virus in China. On Wednesday, 195 passengers on board a flight returning from Wuhan, China were ordered into a 14-day quarantine at March Air Reserve Base by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Residents of Virginia raised concerns when a student at George Mason University was being tested for coronavirus symptoms (test results for the student were declared negative on Friday). For those anxious about the spread of the disease, here’s what you need to know and what precautions to take. 

By CDC/Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM – This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library (PHIL), Public Domain, via Wikimedia

What It Is

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses typically found in animals, which resemble the common cold because of their similar symptoms. However, coronaviruses are much more severe and have longer durations. Other examples of coronaviruses include Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The new coronavirus (nCoV) that originated in Wuhan, which has now reached the U.S. and Europe, is a respiratory illness that has never been seen before in humans. 

“It’s believed it was initially transmitted from animals to human beings probably from food markets or animal markets in Wuhan, China,” said Gonzalo M. Bearman, M.D., M.P.H., in a video released by VCU Health

Coronaviruses can be transmitted between animals and people with numerous versions found in animals that haven’t affected humans. There have been other cases of the virus transmitting from animals to people, including SARS-CoV from civet cats to humans, and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. 


Signs that one might have the virus are similar to signs of the flu; they include shortness of breath, respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, and difficulties with breathing. The new coronavirus also includes more severe symptoms, such as pneumonia, worsening cough, sore muscles, and joint pain.

The risk of someone in the commonwealth receiving the virus is currently low, so someone who is showing these signs may simply have the flu. For doctors to be concerned, someone would have had to recently visited an area with epidemic activity or have been in contact with someone else with a confirmed case of the virus within the past 14 days. 

Officials from the Virginia Department of Health have been informing citizens that they should be more concerned about the flu. Roanoke’s Carilion Clinic has reported three patients dying from influenza, while no one in Virginia has a confirmed case of coronavirus. 

Map of the 2019–20 Wuhan coronavirus outbreak as of 4 February 2020. Region of origin (mainland China) in brown. Confirmed cases reported in red. Suspected cases reported in blue. By Pharexia. Map derived from BlankMap-World-Microstates.svg. Data derived from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York Times, CNBC, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia


Health officials are advising people to take routine steps to prevent further spread of the disease and to protect themselves from it. 

Recommended precautions include:

  • wash hands with soap and water regularly
  • cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • don’t share drinks or food
  • use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • don’t make contact with people showing symptoms of the infection.

If someone is experiencing symptoms of the infection, has been in contact with someone known to have the infection (or currently being tested for it), or has recently traveled to Wuhan, China, they are advised to seek medical attention immediately. Those in the Richmond area can visit the VCU Health emergency room at 1213 E. Clay St.

“VCU Health is aggressively monitoring the situation, so that we’re aware of all the latest updates and recommendations coming from the CDC to have the appropriate teams to respond to changes in the situation,” said Bearman. 

More information about the new coronavirus can be found at the World Health Organization or VCU Health webpages.

Top Photo by Macau Photo Agency on Unsplash

Zach Armstrong

Zach Armstrong

Zach Armstrong is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University majoring in Mass Communications and minoring in Political Science. Zach aspires to be a journalist because, in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, it “uses the English language as both a musical instrument and a political weapon.” He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and his hobbies include playing guitar and reading.

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