Oberlin College is communicating with Lorain County Public Health and is tracking developments in the outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV infection) centered in Wuhan, China.

Frequently asked questions:

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others that circulate among animals, including camels, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread between people such as has been seen with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2014 and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, and now with 2019-nCoV.

What is the novel coronavirus?

2019-nCoV is part of a large family of coronaviruses, some of which cause illness in people and others that circulate among animals. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can evolve and infect people and then spread between people. This happened with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2014, and now 2019-nCoV. These viruses may cause mild to severe respiratory illnesses with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

What are the symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus?

They can be similar to the flu or cold: fever, cough, or shortness of breath.

What steps are being taken to protect students from the novel coronavirus?

We have no reason at this time to believe anyone on our campus is infected with the novel coronavirus and we will update you as appropriate.  Please visit the CDC website for further information. Oberlin College will continue to monitor the situation and postings will be sent out as needed. Please call Student Health Services (440-775-8180) or Lorain County Public Health (440-322-6367) if you have any questions.  Thank you for helping us keep our community well.

What is Oberlin College Student Health Services doing in response to the current 2019-nCoV situation?

Oberlin College is working in conjunction with Lorain County Public Health to prepare for the potential presence of 2019-nCoV infection on campus. Oberlin College Student Health Services (SHS) is staying up-to-date on the latest information about signs and symptoms, diagnostic testing and treatment plans. SHS is prepared to screen patients with flu-like illness (fever with cough or shortness of breath) for this infection. SHS plans to contact Lorain County Public Health and Mercy Allen Hospital if a patient is at risk and under investigation for this virus so the situation is handled appropriately and with the most current CDC guidelines and recommendations.

Is the College screening students? 

There are currently no recommendations for screening healthy people returning from China or any other country other than what is occurring at airports.

Will Oberlin begin passing out masks to students?

Neither the CDC, the Ohio Department of Health nor Lorain County Public Health recommend distributing masks at this time. If this changes, we will reassess the situation. 

However, some students may be more comfortable wearing masks as a precaution or for mutual protection. Students should feel free to wear masks if they wish to do so.

Is Oberlin planning to cancel sporting or other campus events?

Oberlin College is in close contact with Lorain County Public Health and is monitoring communications from the Ohio Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health authorities are not urging the cancellation or postponement of public events, so events at Oberlin will continue as planned.

Will Oberlin cancel classes?

There are no plans to cancel classes. If students miss class for reasons related to illness, they should contact their professor. The College has urged faculty to be flexible and sensitive to student concerns about the coronavirus.

How can I ask questions to get more information about the coronavirus?

If you have additional questions or concerns, please send them to Health.Info@oberlin.edu. Watch your email and this website for responses.

How can I avoid getting sick?

It is flu season and it is always a good idea to protect yourself and others from infection by following these practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds to avoid spreading any virus to others. If soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes in your elbow or sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay at home when you are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. When used correctly, commercially available disposable disinfectant wipes, cloths, or towelettes are effective for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.
  • Avoid sharing household items like dishes, cups, eating utensils, bedding and towels.

What can you do to limit risk?

If you suspect you may have been exposed to 2019-nCoV because you have traveled to China or have been around people who may have been exposed and/or are exhibiting symptoms, contact your health care provider and let them know you may have been exposed to 2019-nCoV before visiting the health care facility. This will help the health care provider’s office take precautionary steps to keep other people from being exposed.

Just as with influenza and other illnesses, it’s critical to protect yourself. Experts at the Ohio Department of Health recommend these tips:

  • The most effective means of protection is the same as those things that prevent other illness such as flu.
  • Practice good hand hygiene.
  • Follow appropriate cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Don’t go to work or class when you feel ill. Stay home and rest.
  • Avoid exposure to others who are sick.

What is Oberlin doing to raise awareness about the steps people can take to remain healthy?

Handwashing signs are being posted on campus as a reminder. One of the most effective ways we can stay healthy and avoid the spread of illness is to wash hands!

Another way to keep our campus healthy is to use hand sanitizer, particularly prior to eating. Sanitizing stations have been posted at locations around campus. Please use them!

What should I do if I become ill with fever, cough or shortness of breath after traveling to China and returning to Oberlin?

If you have traveled in or through known affected areas in the past 14 days and have any of the above symptoms, you should seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office,  contact Oberlin Student Health Services at 440-775-8180 or Mercy Allen Hospital at 440-775-1211, if Student Health Services is closed. If you need to be seen by a health-care provider, you will be advised on where to go and how to get there. If you have severe symptoms, you will be advised to go to Mercy Allen Emergency Room. If you are ill, do not go to class or public gatherings. Do not travel.

Students who choose to remain in their assigned campus residence due to illness should call the Dean of Students office at 440-775-8462 during business hours for assistance, including food and water delivery. After business hours, please call Campus Safety at 440-775-8444.

What should I do if I or someone I know needs to be transported to a health care or other facility equipped to provide appropriate isolation?

Students may contact Campus Safety at any time for assistance. Campus Safety will direct the student in accordance with the most current public health guidance to ensure that individuals providing transport are appropriately protected. Any transports provided by Campus Safety will include appropriate disinfection of equipment including vehicles in accordance with public health guidance. Individuals requiring isolation will be assisted in moving to locations that meet the criteria provided by public health authorities.

If I traveled to areas with the coronavirus, and I am not experiencing any symptoms, should I quarantine myself? If I do, will I suffer consequences if I miss classes?

Under the guidelines of the CDC, the Ohio Department of Health and Lorain County Public Health, there is no need for any person who is not exhibiting flu-like symptoms to self-quarantine. It is understandable that students who feel they may have been exposed to the coronavirus may wish to self-quarantine themselves, but there is no medical reason to do so.

The consequences for not attending class because of the virus would need to be discussed with your professor.

What do I do if I have a friend/roommate with flu-like illness (fever with cough, shortness of breath and/or sore throat)?

Encourage your ill friend to contact Student Health Services and to wear a mask if they are going to be near others. Masks are available at Student Health Services (SHS). If your friend has traveled to China in the past 14 days, call Student Health Services, Mercy Allen Hospital or Lorain County Public Health (440-322-6367) for advice on what to do right away.  

Monitor your own health and be particularly stringent in following the self-care guidelines below.

If your roommate is ill and you need assistance with alternative housing, please call the Dean of Students office or Campus Safety at the numbers listed above.

What if I am studying abroad this semester in an area that becomes affected by the novel coronavirus?

The College is actively communicating with its study away partners, including those in potentially impacted locations.  Please reach out to Director of Study Away Programs Mike Rainaldi (mrainald@oberlin.edu) with questions or concerns about your specific program.  If you need immediate assistance outside of business hours, please call Campus Safety at 001-440-775-8462.

If you traveled to affected areas outside the United States where 2019-nCoV outbreaks have been identified (e.g. Wuhan, China) and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, you should:

  • Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
  • Avoid contact with others.
  • Not travel while sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

Should I cancel a public event I've helped to organize on campus, or should I avoid attending such events?

Lorain County Public Health states, “There is no need to change any routine activities or behaviors at this time.”

This is a stressful time. What do I do if I am worried about my friends or even my own health?

We recognize that some of you are feeling growing concerns about family or friends in China, or about your own health. The Counseling Center offers walk-in appointments during weekday office hours, as well as a 24-hour, 7 days-a-week counseling line at 440-775-8470 (option 2).

Should students continue to use the dining halls and student housing?

Oberlin is taking steps to keep the dining halls, dorms and all facilities as clean and free from viruses as possible. Hand sanitizing stations are available to students, faculty and staff across campus. Cleaning protocols have been expanded. These steps have been taken to keep the dining halls, dorms and other facilities clean and safe.

How is Ohio tracking 2019-nCoV?

Ohio’s public health system includes a team of state experts, local health departments, and local partners that perform daily monitoring of reportable diseases, including 2019-nCoV. ODH is closely monitoring the 2019-nCoV situation in lockstep with the Centers for Disease Control and is ready to respond if a case is reported in Ohio.

What happens if a case is reported?

  • A case or suspected case of 2019-nCoV is reported to a local health department.
  • ODH reports to the CDC and, if indicated, patient specimens will be collected and shipped.
  • Currently, testing for this virus must take place at CDC.
  • ODH will work with local, state, and federal partners to investigate reports of 2019-nCoV in order to identify cases and prevent the spread of infection.

When did the first case of 2019-nCoV occur in the United States?

  • The first U.S. case was announced January 21, 2020 in Washington State. There are ongoing investigations by the CDC to learn more. There are currently no known cases in Ohio. ODH is providing guidance to state and local health agencies and health care providers.
  • Amy Acton, MD, MPH, director of ODH, declared novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a Class A reportable infectious disease on January 23, 2020.
  • Classifying a disease as Class A means that confirmed or suspected cases of nCoV must be reported immediately to the local health district where the person lives (or the local health district where the person is being evaluated if the person’s residence is unknown or not in Ohio). Required reporters include physicians providing care, administrators in charge of hospitals, clinics or other institutions providing care or treatment, laboratory administrators, or any individual having knowledge of a person with nCoV.

What is public health doing to protect Ohioans?

  • Ohio’s public health system includes a team of local and state partners who perform daily monitoring of reportable diseases, including 2019-nCoV (educating about what public health does).
  • ODH is monitoring this situation, in lockstep with the CDC, and will be ready to respond if a case should be reported in Ohio.
  • CDC considers U.S. risk low at this time.

Below are links to trusted sites where you can find additional information: