The coronavirus, officially known as 2019-nCoV, first began in Wuhan City, China in late 2019 with the first confirmed person-to-person instance of the virus in the United States reported on Jan. 30. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at the time of writing there have been 12 positive confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., with another 68 pending investigations.

Mansfield University, which boasts around 50 Chinese alumni and has a diverse community of students including numerous individuals from China, is monitoring the situation closely.

“Right now all guidance comes form the national level from the CDC and that is pushed down to the PA Department of Health,” said Jim Welch, environmental health and safety director at Mansfield University.

The coronavirus has been compared to the severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS, that spread throughout the world in 2002. Coronavirus is similar to SARS in that the virus affects the respiratory system and is a contagious airborne illness that is spread through droplets. The CDC has identified symptoms of the illness to include, fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The current timeframe for symptom appearance is between two and 14 days.

Welch noted that the coronavirus is similar to the seasonal flu, in terms of symptoms and affects.

As far as avoiding the virus Welch said, “The big thing is just normal precautions that people should be taking everyday: washing hands with soap and water and not touching eyes, nose and mouth. We are in the height of a lot of seasonal flus that are in our part of the country this time of year. These viruses need a host, and that is the human body. If you can keep that out of the body, the virus will die off. The only way it can spread is by infecting other hosts,” Welch said.

With the Chinese student population on campus, there is concern for families and friends back home. Mansfield University has been in contact with many of its Chinese alumni as well as its former visiting scholars. All are doing well and report that they are taking the necessary precautions.

“Really the best thing we can do is support the students that are here. If they are unable to go back home, we will continue to house them and care for them here on campus, until the area is secure and OK for them to head back to mainland China,” Welch said.

Pennsylvania secretary of health Rachel Levine said that the threat from the coronavirus remains low. While there have been 11 confirmed cases in the U.S., there are no confirmed cases in Pennsylvania currently.

“We are in constant communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are prepared to respond in the case that someone in Pennsylvania tests positive for coronavirus,” said Dr. Levine. “It’s important to remember that the most accurate and timely information regarding this outbreak is available through our website, health.pa.gov, and our Facebook and Twitter, as well as the CDC’s website and social media channels. At this time our risk remains low, and we encourage you to monitor our website and our social media.”