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COVID-19 FAQs (March 19, 2020)

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease caused by a newly-discovered coronavirus, and scientists are learning more about it every day. It was named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization on February 11, 2020: “COVI” for coronavirus, “D” for “disease,” and “19” for the year when it was identified. The virus itself is called SARS-CoV-2. This new virus and disease were unknown before the outbreak began in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, in December 2019. More information on COVID-19 can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and on the State of New Jersey Department of Health website

What is the status of COVID-19 cases in New Jersey?

For updated information, view the State of New Jersey Department of Health COVID-19 Dashboard.

How does COVID-19 infect people?

Current knowledge on how COVID-19 spreads is based on what is known about early COVID-19 cases and about similar coronaviruses. Most often, person-to-person spread happens during close exposure to an individual infected with COVID-19. Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza viruses and other respiratory pathogens spread. These droplets can land in the mouths, noses, or eyes of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

It may be possible for a person to become infected with COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. More information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

How is “close contact” defined?

In general, the New Jersey Department of Health defines close contact as being within six feet of a person infected with COVID-19 for longer than 10 minutes. It is currently thought that close contacts of people who have COVID-19 are at highest risk of getting the virus than the general public. Some examples of close contact include:

  • living in the same household as a sick person with COVID-19
  • caring for a sick person with COVID-19
  • sharing a health care waiting area or room with a sick person with COVID-19
  • having direct contact with the infectious secretions of a sick person with COVID-19 which could include being coughed on, kissing, sharing utensils, etc.

Data to inform the definition of close contact are limited. Considerations when assessing close contact include the duration of exposure (e.g., longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk) and the clinical symptoms of the person with COVID-19 (e.g., coughing likely increases exposure risk, as does exposure to a severely ill patient). 

If you have not been in close contact to someone with COVID-19, you are likely to be at lower risk for infection and can continue to go to work or school unless you are told otherwise. However, you should continue to monitor your health for symptoms. If you feel feverish or develop a cough or difficulty breathing, you should limit contact with others and seek advice by telephone from a health care provider to determine whether medical evaluation is needed.

For more information about individuals who are close contacts and those with confirmed COVID-19 infection, please visit the NJ Department of Health’s FAQ page.

What is the incubation period for COVID-19?

The incubation range (the time between exposure to COVID-19 and the beginning of symptoms) is believed to be from two to 14 days, with an estimated average of five days.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The symptoms of COVID-19 infections resemble those of the seasonal flu, which is still widespread in New Jersey and in other states. Symptoms can range from very mild to severe respiratory illness and may include fever, cough, diarrhea, weakness, and—in severe cases—difficulty breathing (bringing air into your lungs through your mouth). If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and other symptoms, call your health care provider for medical advice.

Most people will feel pretty miserable for a week and get better on their own. But some people will feel worse, particularly around days five to eight of their illness; they may develop difficulty breathing, a worsening cough, and pneumonia, requiring emergency room evaluation and possibly hospital admission. See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more information.

Those who seem to be at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness are older adults and people of any age with weakened immune systems and with conditions such as diabetes, heart or lung disease. (more information, including a video on what older adults need to know

How do I protect myself and my family against the new coronavirus?

There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. At this point, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes it. Stopping the transmission (spread) of the virus through everyday practices is the best way to keep yourself and others healthy.

According to the CDC, these include:

  • frequent hand-washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • if soap and water are not available, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol
  • avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • social distancing
  • avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throwing the tissue in the trash, and washing your hands
  • cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • staying home when you are sick

Can I get tested for COVID-19 at TCNJ Student Health Services?

This service is unavailable on campus, as Student Health Services has closed its physical location and moved to a “telemedicine” format through the spring semester in light of the current public health crisis.

Students may, however, consult with Student Health Services remotely for assistance in making decisions about whether, when, and where they should be evaluated. Telemedicine appointments are available by appointment, Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–3:30 p.m., to TCNJ students currently taking classes and can be scheduled by logging in to the Online Wellness Link (OWL) portal.

Otherwise, students should contact their health care provider or local urgent care facility for medical care. Be sure to call ahead so that the office is prepared to see you.

If you are diagnosed with coronavirus, please email Student Health Services immediately.

If I received an exception to remain on campus through the spring semester, should I be concerned about sharing a bathroom?

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus most easily transmitted through coughing and sneezing. Follow good sanitary practice, washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and not coughing or sneezing on your hands.

Use disinfectant wipes to wipe down sink handles, toilet handles, and bathroom door fixtures after use and before you wash your hands.

Isn’t there a medicine or vaccination I can obtain to protect me from getting COVID-19?

Scientists are working on a vaccine but don’t expect to see one for more than a year. Ongoing trials suggest that some existing antiviral medicines might be helpful for the sickest patients.

What should secondary contacts do? I’m not sick but have been in the proximity of someone who was in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. (The person with whom I was in contact was not sick.)

There is no need to self-quarantine. You should monitor yourself for symptoms. If you develop symptoms or are concerned about your health, contact your health care provider (be sure to call ahead), stay home, and avoid close contact with others.

Can people on self-quarantine be tested for COVID-19 so they don’t have to continue self-quarantining?

The CDC does not recommend testing people who do not have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. Only those who meet specific criteria are being tested for COVID-19. Unnecessary testing does not make the patient or the community safer and also requires the use of test kits and other medical resources that are in limited supply.

What is the difference between self-isolation and self-quarantine?

While both isolation and quarantine refer to methods of preventing the spread of illness, they do not mean the same thing.

  • Isolation refers to separating people who are sick from those who are not sick.
  • Quarantine refers to separating people who are, or may have been, exposed to a pathogen but are not showing signs of illness. Quarantine is used to make sure individuals are not contagious by minimizing contact with people who were not exposed during an illness’ incubation period (the time it takes for symptoms to emerge).

What should I do if I think I’m sick with COVID-19?

  • Call your health care provider for medical advice.
  • Separate yourself from other people in your home (known as self-isolation).
  • Stay home except to get medical care. Be sure to call ahead before visiting a health care provider or hospital emergency room.
  • Wear a face mask when you have to be around other people and before you enter a health care provider’s office.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items.
  • Clean all “high-touch” surfaces at least once a day. Most EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.
  • Monitor your symptoms.
  • Call 911 if your illness is worsening (e.g., you have difficulty breathing, chest pain).

For detailed information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Should I start wearing a mask when I’m out in public?

The CDC and other public health experts do not recommend that people who are well wear face masks as a way to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.

As there is currently a limited global supply of masks, they should be reserved for caregivers of patients with infections that require mask use or for patients with coughs or other symptoms of respiratory illness.

In hospitals and medical offices, patients who are sick with respiratory illnesses are asked to wear a mask as a way to contain the respiratory droplets that are produced when they cough or sneeze. This helps to prevent spreading infections to others.

Masks are more effective when worn by someone who is sick to prevent respiratory droplets from escaping. If you are sick, it may be a public service to wear a mask if you need to be out and about. (more information from the World Health Organization) 

If you see someone wearing a mask, do not assume that they have symptoms or are at risk. Wearing a mask is a widespread preventive habit in several countries as well as a gesture of consideration for others.

Is it safe for me to travel within the United States?

Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in all 50 states, and a number of areas are experiencing community spread of the disease. Crowded settings such as airports may increase your risk of exposure to COVID-19. Also, on March 16, the White House recommended avoiding discretionary travel. The CDC has provided helpful FAQs for those considering traveling within the country to keep in mind.

Should I consider canceling my international travel plans?

On March 19, 2020, the U.S. Department of State issued the highest possible level of travel advisory, “Level 4: Do Not Travel,” advising U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. The updated advisory went on to say: “In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel. Many areas throughout the world are now experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and taking action that may limit traveler mobility, including quarantines and border restrictions. Even countries, jurisdictions, or areas where cases have not been reported may restrict travel without notice.”    

The CDC provides travel notices, or recommendations on postponing or canceling travel based on assessment of the potential health risks involved with traveling to a certain area. Visit the CDC website for the COVID-19 travel recommendations by country.

I am returning to the States from a country with “sustained spread” of COVID-19. Do I have to do anything special, or can I just return to work?

No, you cannot return to work. Anyone arriving from countries with a Level 2 or Level 3 CDC COVID-19 risk must stay home and self-quarantine. The “incubation” range (the time between catching the virus and beginning to have symptoms) for COVID-19 is two to 14 days. Therefore, 14 days is the amount of time you will need to self-quarantine. Day one begins the day after you arrive in the United States.

During the time that you are in self-quarantine:

  • Stay home. Avoid close contact (six feet or closer) with other people, including family members. Wear a face mask when around others and use a separate bathroom if available. Avoid sharing household items, including drinking cups, eating utensils, towels, and bedding, and wash these items thoroughly after using. Clean high-touch surfaces daily using a household cleaner or wipes.
  • Monitor yourself for fever and cough. Take your temperature every morning and evening. If you develop even a mild cough and a fever of 100° F or greater, or if you have concerns about your health, contact your health care provider. If you have difficulty breathing (i.e., bringing air into your lungs through your mouth), call 911 for transport to your local hospital. Be sure to inform them of your recent travel and symptoms.
Student Health Services has moved to a telemedicine format for the semester. Services are available by appointment and can be scheduled via the OWL portal.