Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections. The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19.
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People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick. (Source: WHO)
Video: coronavirus health and safety tips
Prevent the spread of respiratory disease
To prevent the spread of COVID-19 or other respiratory diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) recommends you:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
For research students, faculty and staff: Refer to the lab safety guidelines in this message from Dr. Costas Tsatsoulis, vice chancellor of research and graduate studies.
What to do if you are sick
The situation is rapidly evolving and recommendations from the CDC and the U.S. Department of State change daily. Members of the S&T community are encouraged to monitor the CDC and U.S. Department of State websites.
Those who believe they may have been exposed to or infected with the novel coronavirus should seek medical care right away. Before you go to a clinic, doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms. Students can access the S&T Student Health Center or visit a local hospital. Faculty and staff members who experience symptoms should contact their primary care provider to discuss symptoms and travel history. Managers should encourage employees who are sick to stay home.
Keep workstations clean
Students with fever or cough should not use university computer stations. These students should immediately contact the Student Health Center or their personal health care provider.
Students should use supplied wipes to clean keyboards, mouse, flat surfaces, and chair armrest before and after using computer equipment. The suggested contact time for surface cleaning is at least two minutes.
Following surface cleaning, students should wash their hands with soap and water before sitting at the workstation. An approved alcohol gel of at least 60% alcohol is a less preferred substitute.
As a social distancing measure, computer workstations should be separated by 6 feet to avoid cross-station exposure.
Research lab safety
- All researchers should use a personal space distance of six feet between them in all situations including across bench space.
- In non-bench related research space, the personal distance space should be used as a guide and non-bench research spaces should be limited to a maximum of 10 people.
- The number of people in a lab will be impacted strongly by the square footage of the lab so long as the six foot personal distance limit can be maintained.
- Consider implementing a rotation time for researchers’ access to shared spaces.
- Implement a cleaning of work space surfaces with appropriate cleaners, especially for shared equipment and computers.
- Please ensure that all personnel in your labs carry their ID card.
- Conduct research group meetings by Zoom.
- Check your own health and be proactive. Consider taking your temperature in the morning prior to coming into work.
- All personnel should stay home if they experience any symptoms.
CDC guidance for higher education institutions
The CDC has issued guidance for higher education institutions to help college and university officials “prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students, staff, and faculty.”
Departments on campus are encouraged to develop business continuity plans to address potential impacts and coping strategies for increased employee absenteeism and cancellation or closure of services and events.
CDC COVID-19 information
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s COVID-19 website provides frequent updates and information for the public.
You may have heard the phrase “social distancing” in relation to COVID-19. According to the CDC, social distancing “means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.”
Social distancing helps limit the spread of COVID-19, according to Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, an infectious disease expert at the Mayo Clinic.
“It’s transmitted through respiratory droplets generated when someone infected coughs or sneezes,” she says. “We know that these droplets extend about 3 to 6 feet from the person that generates them. If you breathe in the droplets, or they land on your eyes, nose, or mouth then you are at risk of getting infected.
“This is where the concept of social distancing comes in. If we stay away from someone who is sick, or in general, beyond that 6 foot margin, then the risk of being exposed drops dramatically. That’s why some of these recommendations about canceling large meetings and gatherings where people are in very close contact with each other.”
Our decision to switch from classroom and lab settings to online teaching is a social distancing measure. Online instruction increases the distance between people and thereby decreases the chances they are exposed if someone around them is sick. “Social distancing has been shown to be effective in slowing the spread of infection during many outbreaks in the past,” says Dr. Rajapakse.