FAQs COVID General information

Disease Basics

What is novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 was first described in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China and has spread within China and many other countries. COVID-19 refers to the illness caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2.

How does the virus spread?

This virus likely originated from an animal source but now is spreading between people. At this time, it’s unclear how easily this virus is spreading between people. When person-to-person spread occurs with other coronaviruses, it mainly happens when an infected person coughs or sneezes and their respiratory droplets come into contact with the eyes, nose, and mouth of other people who are nearby, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. It is unknown if this virus can spread from asymptomatic carriers.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Patients with this virus have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms that can include:

  • Fever, cough, shortness of breath

The majority of patients with COVID-19 are mild. A smaller percentage of cases are severe and can involve pneumonia. Patients who are elderly or have underlying medical conditions seem to be at higher risk for severe infection. 

Who it at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19?

Older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions are at higher risk of getting sick from COVID-19. 

For comprehensive information refer to the CDC guidance for these populations

Public Health Response and Current Situation

Have there been COVID-19 cases in the United States?

Yes. The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 21, 2020.

The current count of cases of COVID-19 in the United States is available on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) webpage at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/ cases-in-us.html.

Will more people in the U.S. be affected by COVID-19?

COVID-19 is able to spread from person-to-person. The number of cases of COVID-19 are increasing in the United States.

The CDC continues to closely monitor the situation. This is a rapidly evolving situation and information may change daily. The latest updates are available on the CDC’s website.

What is the significance of the recent COVID-19 cases in patients with no history of high risk travel or other risk factors?

These cases are concerning for community transmission of COVID-19. 

Practicing general infection prevention is important to protect yourself from respiratory viruses including COVID-19.  The best way to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses is to avoid exposure, including:

  • Stay away from people who are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes or nose
  • Cover up your cough or sneeze with a tissue
  • And other measures listed below

This is a rapidly evolving situation and information may change daily. The latest updates are available on the CDC’s website

Should I travel?

If you have question about travel, refer to the UCSF travel guidelines are here

How many Bay Area facilities are prepared to take patients if this becomes widespread?

In the Bay Area, the local departments of public health including San Francisco Department of Health and the California Department of Public Health have been working with hospitals on COVID-19 preparedness. 

As a result, capacity is being built across Bay Area counties which can be utilized if COVID-19 becomes a greater public health concern.  San Francisco Mayor London Breed also has declared a public health emergency on February 25, 2020 in order to obtain the resources it needs for staffing, contracting, purchasing, etc., and  respond quickly if needed.

At UCSF Health, because of our expertise in safely caring for patients including with infectious disease and acute illnesses, we were among the first hospitals to prepare for the possibility of an increasing number of patients with COVID-19.

As a result, we have created protocols based on recommendations from the CDC and local and state public health departments to enable us to care for these patients while protecting the health of our faculty, employees, patients and visitors.

Prevention

How do I protect myself against COVID-19?

Unlike influenza, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

The best way to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, is to avoid exposure. The CDC recommends general preventive measures to help prevent the spread of respiratory infections:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Do not come to work, stay home and do not travel when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue in the trash. Then wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

What should I do if I am an older adult or a someone with a chronic medical condition?

If you are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, you should:

  • Stock up on supplies
  • Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others
  • When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often
  • Avoid crowds as much as possible
  • Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel
  • During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to reduce your risk of being exposed

For more detailed information please refer to the CDC website.

Additionally, you should follow general prevention measures:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Do not come to work, stay home and do not travel when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue in the trash. Then wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Should I start wearing a mask when I’m at work or out in public?

The CDC and San Francisco Department of Public Health do not recommend that people who are well wear facemasks to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.

Currently, there is a limited global supply of masks. At UCSF, masks are to be used ONLY by:

  •  Health care workers, staff, and other employees in contact with patients with infections that require Droplet Isolation or who did not receive their influenza vaccine this season while in direct patient care areas.
  • By patients with cough or other respiratory symptoms.

The best way to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses is to avoid exposure, including:

  • Stay away from people who are sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes or nose
  • Cover up your cough or sneeze with a tissue
  • And other measure listed above.

People who are sick should not come to work, should stay home, and not go into crowded public places or visit people in hospitals.

UCSF Health Preparedness

What is UCSF Health doing to prepare for COVID-19?

The UCSF Health Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) convenes a multidisciplinary group that meets on a regular basis to leverage resources, facilitate communication, and coordinate and implement the comprehensive COVID-19 plan.

The group is composed of Senior Leadership, medical and nursing leaders, Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Prevention (HEIP), Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S), Emergency Management, Materials Management, and others. 

HEIP is partnering closely with the San Francisco, Alameda, and California Departments of Health and the CDC and is incorporating the latest national updates and recommendations.

The UCSF Health COVID-19 plan includes screening and education for patients and health care personnel at the Parnassus, Mt. Zion, Mission Bay, and Oakland campuses. Resources include tip sheets and health care worker personal protective educational videos (https://infectioncontrol.ucsfmedicalcenter.org).

Our COVID-19 plan has been deployed to care for suspect and proven COVID-19 cases.  UCSF Health is prepared to safely care for patients with COVID-19.

Will I be safe in the hospital if UCSF Health is treating proven or suspected COVID-19 patients?

UCSF Health cares for patients with complex health conditions and has expertise in treating patients with infections and in infection prevention and control.

Our infection prevention practices and protocols are aimed at protecting our faculty, employees and contractors, as well as other patients and visitors.

Any patient with respiratory symptoms is immediately given a mask to wear as a way to contain their respiratory secretions and to prevent spread of infection to others. It is important to remember that this virus is not currently widely spreading in communities in the United States.

Between our campuses at Parnassus and Mission Bay, we have over 40 airborne infection isolation rooms – known sometimes as negative pressure rooms – that can be used to safely isolate and care for patients with COVID-19. We also have the ability to adapt additional rooms and hospital areas  to care for larger numbers of patients if needed.

How do we know that our health care teams are complying with safety protocols?

Our infection prevention efforts focus on early screening of patients, quickly isolating patients who might have COVID-19 from other patients, and consistent use of the personal protective equipment (PPE) that has been shown to be effective in preventing the spread of this virus and other novel coronaviruses.

Our providers are using a combination of PPE to minimize the risk of transmission of this virus:

  • N95 respirator that the individual has been fit tested to wear or a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR)
  • Eye protection
  • Gown, and gloves

The UCSF Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) continues to provide scheduled respiratory protection training (see schedule here).

The Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Prevention (HEIP) website has PPE donning and doffing videos.

HEIP and EH&S teams also have been providing on-site, just-in-time training to all health care personnel caring for or entering the rooms of patients with proven or suspected COVID-19.

Medical Information

What to do if you develop symptoms of respiratory infection?

If you have fever and cough follow the steps below to help limit spread of infection to people in your home and community

  • Stay home except to get medical care. You should not go to work, school, or public areas.
  • Separate yourself at home as much as possible from family and pets.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wear a mask to cover your nose and mouth if you have cough and are around other people in your home or in public.
  • Wash your hands after touching your face, before eating, after using the bathroom. If soap and water is not available, use hand sanitizer with >60% alcohol.
  • Avoid sharing personal household items.
  • Clean all high touch services every day such as counters, tabletops, doorknobs, phones, keyboards. Use a household cleaning spray or wipe according to label instructions.
  • Monitor your symptoms. If you are feel your symptoms are worsening contact your healthcare provider.
  • Check the CDC website for additional information.

Where can I access UCSF specific return to work recommendations?

If you feel sick do not come to work.  Please review the UCSF Stay at Home/Return to Work guidelines and act accordingly.

  • Staff employees must use sick leave time for days off work when ill.
  • If employees are not ill but cannot come to work because they are quarantined at home due to a potential exposure, or are home to care for children due to school closures, we encourage employees to work remotely from home so that these days may be credited as work days. If employees cannot focus efforts on work tasks while at home, these days must be taken as sick leave or FMLA (or vacation days).

Who should be medically evaluated and tested for COVID-19?

If you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness, such as cough or shortness of breath, within 14 days after travel from China, South Korea, Japan, Iran, or Italy, you should call ahead to a health care professional and mention your recent travel. 

If you have had close contact with someone showing these symptoms who has recently traveled from these areas or been diagnosed or suspected to have COVID-19, you should call ahead to a health care professional and mention your close contact and their recent travel.

If you have traveled to a high risk area and have fever, respiratory symptoms you should not come to work or school. Students should contact Student Health and Counseling Services and employees should contact Occupational Health Services. 

How do you test a person for COVID-19?

Health care professionals will determine if a patient needs COVID-19 testing.

Does my patient have COVID-19 if they test positive for a different type of coronavirus?

COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2.

Some respiratory viral polymerase chain reaction (PCR) panels include different coronaviruses that circulate in the community and can cause the common cold. The coronaviruses such as HKU1, 229E, NL63, and OC43 are different than SARS-CoV-2.  The current respiratory viral PCR panels that test for these other coronaviruses do not test for SARS-CoV-2.

At UCSF Health, our respiratory viral panel (RVP) does not test for these non-SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses.

Use contact and droplet isolation for symptomatic patients with HKU1, 229E, NL63, and OC43 coronaviruses.

Can a person test negative and later test positive for COVID-19?

Using the CDC-developed diagnostic test, a negative result means that the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in the person’s sample. In the early stages of infection, it is possible the virus will not be detected.

For COVID-19, a negative test result for a sample collected while a person has symptoms likely means that the COVID-19 virus is not causing their current illness.

Is there treatment for COVID-19?

Not all patients with COVID-19 will require medical supportive care. Clinical management for hospitalized patients with COVID-19 is focused on supportive care.

There are currently no antiviral drugs licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat COVID-19. Some in-vitro or in-vivo studies suggest potential therapeutic activity of some agents against related coronaviruses, but there are no available data from observational or randomized controlled trials in humans to support recommending any investigational therapeutics for patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 at this time. Remdesivir, an investigational antiviral drug, was reported to have in-vitro activity against COVID-19. A small number of patients with COVID-19 have received intravenous remdesivir for compassionate use outside of a clinical trial setting.