Frequently Asked Questions

Basic Facts

What is the 2019 novel coronavirus?

Coronavirus refers to a family of viruses that cause a spectrum of diseases ranging from the common cold to severe life-threatening pneumonia. They’re named for the spike proteins on the surface of the virus that make the virus look like a crown or star.

The 2019 novel coronavirus was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, in December 2019. The virus has been named SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes has been named coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19. On March 11, 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?

The symptoms of COVID-19 infections can range from very mild to severe respiratory illness and may include fever, cough and shortness of breath. These symptoms can be very similar to those for influenza, so it may be difficult to distinguish without clinical testing. Patients with this virus have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms that can include:

  • Fever, cough, shortness of breath (most common)
  • Headache, unexplained muscle aches, fatigue, GI upset (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) (less common)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  recommends seeking immediate medical attention if you develop any of the following emergency signs:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

Symptoms of the coronavirus may appear in as few as two days or up to 14 days after exposure, according to the CDC.

How does the virus spread?

The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads from person to person. Someone who has COVID-19 can spread the illness to others, even if they don’t show any symptoms. The principle mode of transmission is thought to occur mainly via respiratory droplets that travel up to six feet in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes. This is similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Close contact with an infectious person, such as shaking hands, or touching a doorknob, tabletop or other surfaces touched by an infectious person, and then touching your nose, eyes, or mouth can also transmit the virus, though this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is not yet known how long the new coronavirus can survive on surfaces, but based on data from other coronaviruses, such as SARS, it may be for up to two days at room temperatures.

Prevention & Treatment

Who is at risk of contracting COVID-19?

This is a rapidly evolving situation and the risk assessment will be updated as needed. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) current risk assessment is as follows:

  • People in places where community spread of the virus has been reported are at elevated risk of exposure. Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in all 50 states, and cases of community transmission continue to climb. The level of risk depends on the location.
  • Health care workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 also are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Travelers returning from international locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure.

Note that diseases can make anyone sick regardless of their race or ethnicity. Uncertainty about contracting the disease can cause fear and anxiety, which can lead to social stigma towards Chinese and other Asian Americans. Help stop fear by letting people know that being of Asian descent does not increase the chance of getting or spreading COVID-19.

The CDC notes that “people – including those of Asian descent – who do not live in or have not recently been in an area of ongoing spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, or have not been in contact with a person who is a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 are not at greater risk of spreading COVID-19” to others. For more information about stigma related to COVID-19, see the CDC website.

What groups are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19?

People who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 are those at increased risk for severe illness from the virus and those who need to take extra precautions to prevent it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among those with a greater risk of severe disease are older adults and people of any age with medical conditions, including chronic kidney disease, heart conditions and those with Type-2 diabetes. Those who need to take extra precautions include those experiencing homelessness, those with disabilities, women who are pregnant and breastfeeding, and those for whom long-standing systemic health and social inequities put them at increased risk of getting COVID-19, including American Indians, Blacks and Hispanic/Latinx persons.

What should I do to protect myself against the virus?

Updated April 7, 2020

This remains a rapidly evolving situation worldwide. Members of the UCSF community are encouraged to stay informed about the changing advisories, restrictions and guidelines issued by UCSF as well as those issued by local, state and federal authorities. However, everyone can take simple steps to prevent the spread of respiratory diseases. Most importantly, if you’re sick, restrict activities outside of the home and avoid close contact with other people.

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infection. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home and do not travel or go to work or school when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash. Then wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Practice physical distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from other people, especially if COVID-19 is currently spreading in your community.
  • Wear a cloth face covering in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies).

Should I wear a mask?

Updated April 22, 2020

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone wear some form of cloth face covering in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, as a means of reducing the chance of spread of COVID-19 from potentially infected but asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic individuals. COVID-19 can spread between individuals interacting in close proximity (e.g. speaking, coughing or sneezing), even in individuals who are not exhibiting symptoms.

In accordance with April 17, 2020, health orders from San Francisco and six other Bay Area jurisdictions, UCSF requires that anyone in UCSF campus space (including on campus grounds and in campus buildings, shuttles, etc.) wear a cloth face covering at all times, except when alone in a private room or private vehicle. See UCSF's guidance on wearing face coverings on campus.

I may have been exposed to COVID-19. What should I do?

You should monitor your health for fever, cough and shortness of breath during the 14 days after the last day you were in close contact with the sick person with COVID-19. If you begin to experience any of these or other symptoms of respiratory disease, you should not go to work or school, and should avoid public places for 14 days. If symptoms worsen, contact your health care provider.

In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, UCSF is requiring all personnel working or learning at UCSF who test or have tested positive for COVID-19 at an outside facility (e.g., Kaiser, Sutter) to self-report the positive COVID-19 test result to the appropriate UCSF department: UCSF Occupational Health Services (OHS) for faculty, staff, trainees, and volunteers, and UCSF Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS) for students. This policy applies to personnel with current and past positive diagnoses and will supplement the cases already reported within UCSF, including within OHS and SHCS, and enable UCSF to obtain complete data about positive COVID-19 diagnoses for exposure tracing and analysis. See the full policy.

What do I do if I feel sick?

In the event that you have symptoms of respiratory illness, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing, please take the following steps to prevent the spread of the disease:

  • Restrict activities outside the home unless seeking medical care. Do not go to work, school, or other public areas. Avoid public transit, ride-sharing and taxis.
  • Maintain social distancing from others in your household. If possible, stay in a specific room, use a separate bathroom, and avoid handling pets.
  • Seek medical attention if symptoms worsen, but first call your healthcare provider to let them know that you may have COVID-19. This allows healthcare providers to take steps to prevent others from being infected or exposed during your medical visit.
  • In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, UCSF is requiring all personnel working or learning at UCSF who test or have tested positive for COVID-19 at an outside facility (e.g., Kaiser, Sutter) to self-report the positive COVID-19 test result to the appropriate UCSF department: UCSF Occupational Health Services (OHS) for faculty, staff, trainees, and volunteers, and UCSF Student Health and Counseling Services (SHCS) for students. See the full policy.

UCSF’s Response

What is UCSF doing to prepare for and respond to the coronavirus?

Teams are working to ensure the campus and UCSF Health are prepared and that faculty, staff, students, patients and visitors are informed about the outbreak.

The health and safety of our UCSF community, and our patients and visitors, is among our most important priorities. UCSF remains focused on three primary goals:

  • Providing compassionate and safe care for patients with COVID-19,
  • Providing support and training to keep our health care workers and other employees safe while caring for these patients, and
  • Communicating regularly with and offering guidance to the UCSF community during this rapidly-changing situation.

UCSF Health has a proven track record of protecting and safely caring for patients with infectious diseases and severe illnesses and was among the first hospitals to start preparing for a large influx of patients. As a result, UCSF Health has the facilities and protocols in place to enable us to care for these patients, while protecting the health of our faculty, staff, students, patients and visitors.

UCSF Health has a number of airborne infection isolation rooms that can safely isolate patients with COVID-19. It can adapt additional rooms and hospital areas to care for larger numbers of patients if needed.

In addition, UCSF Health’s Hospital Incident Command System team is working on surge planning in the event of broader community spread, and has been conducting drills to ensure the highest level of preparedness.

Are buildings on campus still open?

Updated April 7, 2020

Yes, most UCSF buildings are still open to employees, trainees, and students who are doing essential work that requires them to be on site to respond to the outbreak and support the response effort. However, entry to all campus buildings now requires UCSF badge access at all times, and everyone must complete the daily health screening before coming to campus and adhere to the UCSF Social Distancing Protocol and Campus Face Covering Guidelines while on campus. Learn more about building access.

Chancellor Sam Hawgood has directed all managers and supervisors to prioritize telecommuting and other alternate work arrangements in order to reduce the risk of transmission of people working on-site at UCSF facilities, wherever possible.

What is the policy on visitors to UCSF facilities?

Until further notice, all UCSF facilities are closed to non-essential personnel. Visits to UCSF Health and UCSF Dental Center facilities that are unrelated to the health care of an individual are indefinitely postponed until further notice. See UCSF's full policy on visitors to UCSF facilities.

What is the policy on events and large gatherings at UCSF locations?

To help limit the community transmission of COVID-19, UCSF has enacted an interim policy on in-person gatherings at UCSF locations and events, including academic courses.

All non-essential events and gatherings have been cancelled or postponed. Those who believe that an in-person event is essential must complete this form to request an exception. Any exception will need to be pre-approved in writing by the Chancellor.

This interim policy, effective through June 30, 2021, is consistent with the guidance of public health agencies, including the San Francisco Department of Public Health, which emphasize the importance of social distancing as a risk mitigation strategy. Policies will be updated as conditions change. See UCSF's interim events policy.


Are UCSF researchers studying the coronavirus?

UCSF researchers are currently engaged in multiple research projects related to COVID-19 that focus on the following:

  • Rapid, accurate diagnosis of COVID-19 infection in less than one hour using gene editing technologies.
  • Novel methods to diagnose COVID-19 infection based on the host immune response to the coronavirus, especially in individuals with no or minimal symptoms.
  • Methods to track the spread and evolution of COVID-19 by real-time genomic sequencing.
  • Methods to quickly recover the COVID-19 genome sequence directly from low-titer clinical samples.
  • Understanding the pathology of COVID-19 and how infection can develop into a life-threatening pneumonia.
  • Developing antibody-based therapies to treat COVID-19.
  • Developing and testing vaccines to prevent infection from COVID-19.

You can help by joining a COVID-19 research study.

How can I help support UCSF's efforts to tackle this pandemic?

You can support our efforts during this critical time by following public health guidance and UCSF's policies.

UCSF employees can volunteer or be redeployed in order to fill critical staffing needs in UCSF Health. Begin by discussing your interest in redeployment/volunteering with your supervisor. All UCSF employees will need to first obtain clearance from UCSF Occupational Health prior to beginning any redeployment/volunteering activities. 

Learn more about ways to help.

Employees, Trainees, and Students

Should I work from home?

Chancellor Sam Hawgood has directed managers and supervisors to prioritize telecommuting and other alternate work arrangements in order to reduce the amount of work performed on-site at UCSF facilities during this pandemic, where possible. However, many critical roles and functions – including care professionals and essential service staff – have work responsibilities that require them to be on campus to fulfill UCSF's mission.  Read more about UCSF’s telecommuting guidelines.

I’m unable to work from home. What should I do?

UCSF employees who feel that they’re unable to work remotely should contact their supervisor to discuss their situation and make alternative arrangements, where possible. If both employee and supervisor agree that working from home is not feasible, the employee may be eligible to receive a bank of 128 hours of paid administrative leave, prorated based on appointment percentage, in accordance with UC policy. Employees may also use accrued leave or other protected time off, as needed. Read more about UCSF’s guidance for telecommuting and paid leave.

What kind of COVID-19 testing does UCSF offer?

UCSF is committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for our employees, learners, patients and families. To achieve this, we offer symptomatic and  asymptomatic testing to members of the UCSF community.

In addition, UCSF has enacted a policy of requiring all personnel working or learning at UCSF who test or have tested positive for COVID-19 at an outside facility (e.g., Kaiser, Sutter) to self-report the positive COVID-19 test result.

More about UCSF's testing and self-reporting protocol »

How is UCSF deciding who and when people should return to onsite work?

UCSF began restarting some suspended campus and UCSF Health operations in May. These recovery efforts are being implemented in coordination with local and state public health officials. See additional frequently asked questions about the recovery planning and protocols for those who are working onsite.

What if I feel I am being treated unfairly, discriminated against or harassed due to fears about the coronavirus outbreak?

UCSF seeks to offer an environment where everyone feels welcome and supported. During this pandemic, it is more important than ever that the UCSF community lives its PRIDE Values: professionalism, respect, integrity, diversity and excellence.

Employees and learners who believe they are being treated unfairly, discriminated against or harassed based on a protected category, including their disability, medical condition, race or national origin, should contact the Office of the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination at (415) 502-3400.

UCSF values all members of our community. In addition, UCSF offers these counseling services for faculty, staff and learners who would like to talk about their feelings: