Campus News

Letter and FAQs about Coronavirus

January 31, 2020

Office of Communications

Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

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January 31, 2020

Dear Oberlin College community,

Welcome back to Oberlin. We return to campus as news about the novel coronavirus continues to develop, and some of you are expressing understandable concern about whether and how this virus might impact us on campus and in town.

The health and safety of all members of our campus community is the highest priority. 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. The coronavirus causes a pneumonia-like illness with cough and shortness of breath in addition to fever and general malaise. 

Currently, there are no suspected cases of the coronavirus on Oberlin's campus and the risk for 2019-nCoV infection in the U.S. is low. The Ohio Department of Health says no additional precautions are recommended for the general public. The College is nevertheless closely watching worldwide developments, monitoring updates daily from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and following all recommendations from local and state public health agencies and the American College Health Association (ACHA). 

The best thing all of us can do to ensure a healthy campus community is to stay home when demonstrating specific symptoms of active infection. This advice is especially helpful given influenza activity in the United States, which has infected 15 million people in the United States so far this year (the coronavirus has infected 8,200 worldwide in comparison, though the numbers continue to climb). 

One of the biggest challenges in instances of public health concern is to address fears while remaining conscious of the individual impact of measures that may seem reassuring but have no public health benefit. At this time, public health authorities recommend that individuals who have traveled to affected areas and 1) are showing symptoms or 2) may have been in contact with infected individuals remain isolated in their residences. 

For information on the novel coronavirus, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. We will provide ongoing updates via email and posts at Meanwhile, we have compiled some frequently asked questions below for your reference. 

Thank you.

John Harshbarger

Director, Student Health and Counseling Services

Meredith Raimondo,

VP and Dean of Students

Coronavirus Information: Question and Answers

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.

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.

Does the College plan to distribute masks?

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. 

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 the Ohio Department of Health at 833-427-5634, 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 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.

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 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 ( 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.

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.

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.

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)

If you have additional questions or concerns, please send them to Watch your email for responses.

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