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.
Some recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.
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.
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 can range from very mild to severe respiratory illness and may include fever, cough, sore throat, loss of taste and smell, 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 people 65 years of age and older 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)
Isn’t there a medicine or vaccination I can take to protect me from getting COVID-19?
Vaccine development is in the works but don’t expect to see it for 12-18 months. Currently, there are no drugs or other therapeutics approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to prevent or treat COVID-19. Several drugs (e.g., investigational antivirals, immunotherapeutic, host-directed therapies) are under investigation in clinical trials or are being considered for clinical trials of pre-exposure prophylaxis, post-exposure prophylaxis, or treatment of COVID-19 in the United States and worldwide.
How can I protect myself and my family against the COVID-19?
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
- physical distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from people)
- 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
Should I start wearing a mask when I’m out in public?
Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (for example, grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Cloth face coverings slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Social distancing and taking precautions such as washing hands, using hand sanitizer and disinfecting surfaces frequently are also appropriate measures to avoid the spread of illness. Some states are now requiring face coverings in retail stores and on public transportation. In New Jersey, as of Apr. 8, cloth face coverings are required to be worn in retail stores. Do it yourself instructions can be found on several websites including the CDC.
The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.
Is it safe for me to travel within the United States?
Nonessential travel is not recommended. The COVID-19 outbreak in United States is a rapidly evolving situation. The status of the outbreak varies by location and state and local authorities are updating their guidance frequently. The White House’s Opening Up America Again plan means some parts of the country may have different guidance than other areas. Check with the state or local authorities where you are, along your route, and at your planned destination to learn about local circumstances and any restrictions that may be in place. A good source of travel recommendations is the CDC website.
Travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. CDC recommends you stay home as much as possible, especially if your trip is not essential.
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.
Should I consider canceling my international travel plans?
The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential international travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some health care systems are overwhelmed and there may be limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas. Many countries are implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice. Airlines have cancelled many international flights and in-country travel may be unpredictable. If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be disrupted, and you may have to remain outside the United States for an indefinite length of time.
CDC also recommends all travelers defer all cruise ship travel worldwide.
If you must travel, take the following steps to help reduce your chances of getting sick:
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- It is especially important to clean hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
- Make sure you are up to date with your routine vaccinations, including measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and the seasonal flu vaccine.
I am returning to the U.S. from international travel. Do I have to do anything special, or can I just return to work?
Currently, all international travelers arriving into the U.S. should stay home for 14 days after their arrival. At home, you are expected to monitor you health and practice physical distancing (stay at least 6 feet away from others).
You may be screened when you arrive in the United States. After you arrive home, take the following steps to protect yourself and others:
- Stay at home and avoid contact with others. Do not go to work or school.
- Monitor your health. Take your temperature with a thermometer two times a day and monitor for fever. Also watch for cough or trouble breathing.
- Keep your distance from others (about 6 feet or 2 meters) This is referred to as “social distancing.”
Check CDC’s “Returning from Travel’ website for updated information.
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 enrolled TCNJ students 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.
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.)
According to CDC and the New Jersey Department of Health, 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.