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Jan 28

Responses to common questions about novel coronavirus 2019

Posted on January 28, 2020 at 3:03 PM by Kari Bray

The first case of novel coronavirus 2019 in the U.S. was confirmed last week in Snohomish County. Since that case was announced on Jan. 21, four more have been identified in the U.S. More than 2,700 cases have been reported worldwide, most of them in China.

There is still much to learn about this virus. At this time, the risk to the general public in the U.S. is considered low. This is a rapidly evolving situation and we will provide updates when new information becomes available.

The health and safety of people in Snohomish County is the Snohomish Health District’s priority. We are working with the Washington State Department of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local partners to respond to coronavirus. 

We’ve received many questions. We know it can be frustrating when answers aren’t immediately available. Some of the questions are ones that we do not yet have answers to. Experts are working around the clock to get those answers. 

Thank you to those who are asking questions and following us for updates. Based on current understanding of the virus, we are providing answers to some of the most frequent questions we’ve been seeing.

How does this virus spread?

Coronaviruses typically spread through respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes. You may be exposed if you were within 6 feet of someone contagious and had droplets land on you. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. That family includes the common cold, as well as more severe illnesses such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Both MERS and SARS have generally spread between close contacts. 

Along with droplets from coughing or sneezing, coronaviruses can spread through close personal contact like shaking or holding hands, or touching an object or surface where the virus has been and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands. In general, coronaviruses are not known to survive on surfaces for a prolonged period of time. We don’t know much about this particular virus, but we do know that other coronaviruses can live on surfaces up to a few days. 

At this time, CDC does not believe “transient contacts,” such as passing by someone in the grocery store or standing near them at the gas station, are likely exposures.

This is a new virus and public health officials are still learning how contagious it is. We are approaching this with an abundance of caution and taking measures to minimize transmission of the virus in the U.S. 

Who is at risk?

Current risk to the general U.S. public remains low. At this time, there are a small number of cases in the U.S. To minimize the risk of spread, health officials are working with healthcare providers to quickly identify and evaluate any suspected cases.

Travelers to and from certain areas of the world may be at increased risk. See for the latest travel guidance from the CDC. 

Those who are considered close contacts of the Snohomish County case are being contacted individually by public health staff and monitored for symptoms.

How can I protect myself and my family?

The CDC recommends avoiding non-essential travel to China. Regardless of where your travels take you, we advise you to always check CDC advisories before your trip. 

If you recently traveled from Wuhan, China, or have been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case or is under investigation for novel coronavirus 2019, and if you are experiencing symptoms, call ahead to your medical provider before going in. This allows time to set up an appropriate plan so others are not exposed.

Make sure you are following standard illness prevention steps. 
  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with warm water and soap. Think you’ve washed them enough? Wash again.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces. Follow instructions on the product label for disinfectants, and check that the product is registered with the EPA.
  • Cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then dispose of the tissue and wash your hands. 
  • If you are sick, stay home. Keep sick children home, as well.
  • If you do visit a clinic and have any respiratory symptoms, wear a mask. Most medical facilities provide these masks near the entrance or at the front counter.
Why isn’t there a public list of locations the patient went to between the airport and the clinic?

Public health staff is directly communicating with people who are considered close contacts of the Snohomish County case. Based on how the virus is believed to spread and how similar viruses spread, we have been able to identify and directly notify exposed individuals. Those who are being contacted include people who were in the clinic when the patient was there, who worked in close contact with the patient, or who were on the flight with the patient.

Extensive interviews have been done with the patient, as they will be if additional cases are identified. If it is determined that there are locations where the virus may have spread and we cannot contact people directly, that information will be released quickly. 

Should I wear a medical mask to avoid exposure?

Masks are standard precautions in medical settings like clinics or hospitals if you have respiratory symptoms. Please do wear a mask if you are in a clinic or hospital with fever, cough, sneezing or other symptoms. If you are asked to wear a mask by a medical provider, please comply.

There is currently no recommendation to wear masks in public settings. At this point, the spread of the virus is related to travel and is not circulating widely in the U.S. Public health agencies are not providing masks for the general public.

Should I be worried about packages in the mail?

The risk of coronavirus transmission from a package is very low. Take normal precautions like washing hands, sanitizing surfaces, and washing clothes or linens to prevent spread of illness.
I’ve been following news about this virus and it looks scary. Why are you saying there is low risk to the U.S. public? 

There are currently a small number of confirmed cases in the U.S, and health officials have responded quickly. This is what we train and prepare for, and disease investigations are something we do every day. Local, state and federal health officials – along with our outstanding partners in local clinics, hospitals and emergency medical services – responded to isolate the known case in Snohomish County and contact individuals who may have been exposed. 

If the risk assessment or our understanding of how the virus spreads changes, new information will be provided.

What happens next?

Partners around Snohomish County, as well as at the state and federal level, are participating in this response. We are prepared to maintain this coordinated effort.

Public health staff will continue to notify, evaluate and monitor close contacts of the patient.

We do expect additional cases to be identified internationally and in the U.S., potentially some in Washington. The initial U.S. cases have been in patients who recently traveled to an affected area. 

We also expect to gain a better understanding of this virus, enabling us to provide more detailed information. 

Expect updates through our website at and on our social media channels:,, and

What if I have other questions?

Please make sure you are getting information from reliable sources. Along with the Snohomish Health District and CDC sources linked above, check in with the Washington State Department of Health, which is updating its website regularly at A hotline also has been set up for questions by phone. Call 1-800-525-0127, then press #.