Coronavirus basics and what you can do

Woman in blanket with tissues, mug of tea and thermometer

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As students returned for Spring Semester at San Francisco State University this week, more than the average number dropped by Student Health Services for face masks, reports Roger Elrod, director of Student Health. This time, they didn’t just have flu on their minds.  

As widely reported in the media, an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus has been identified starting in the city of Wuhan, China, with a handful of reported cases in the United States. The virus can cause symptoms similar to the flu, like fever and coughing

Scientists are still rapidly learning more about the virus, and the situation may change quickly. But currently risk to the general public in California is low, according to the state's Department of Public Health. Coronavirus, like the flu, appears to be spread through droplets in the air when people cough or sneeze, so there are precautions you can take to minimize the chance of catching it, Elrod says.

“Right now a good response would be to get serious about preventing spread of the flu,” said Elrod. “The prevention behaviors that will help you avoid the flu — or get less sick if you do get it — are the same ones you would take to prevent catching coronavirus.”

That means stopping the virus’s spread by, for example, coughing or sneezing into an arm or tissue; washing hands frequently; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth; and keeping an arm’s length of separation between yourself and others whenever possible.

It’s also important to take care of yourself, Elrod adds. Eating healthy, maintaining good sleep habits and managing stress all make it less likely that a virus will take hold. “Treating ourselves well is either going to help us avoid it or, when we get it, to get it in a less severe way,” Elrod said.

What should you do if you’re feeling flu-like symptoms? Call or email a health provider for advice. You should also stay home from work and school to reduce contact with others until symptoms subside.

Even in a time that may leave some feeling vulnerable, there are opportunities for community-building, Elrod says. Students can use it as a chance to brush up on the best flu-fighting techniques, including encouraging roommates and friends to take simple precautions like using hand sanitizer every time they return to their dorm room.

San Francisco State is closely monitoring guidance provided by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, which is working to identify ill individuals. The University will provide updates as the situation evolves and understanding of the virus changes.

To learn more, visit the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s coronavirus page, or find more information on the World Health Organization’s website. Find additional flu care tips on the Student Health Services website. Students may also consult a free 24-hour advice nurse by calling (415) 338-1251 or schedule an SHS appointment online at