Coronavirus outbreak poses ‘no identified risk to the MIT community’

Individuals traveling from central China should look out for symptoms including fever, cough, or difficulty breathing

MIT Medical Director Cecilia Stuopis ’90 and Chief of Student Health Shawn Ferullo wrote in an email to the MIT community Jan. 24 that the recent coronavirus outbreak currently poses “no identified risk to the MIT community.” However, the email urges individuals traveling from central China within the past three weeks who have a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing to call 617-253-4865 immediately for advice.

This outbreak of the virus, officially named the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, originates from Wuhan, China. The respiratory virus has infected 7,700 people, according to The New York Times. The BBC reported Jan. 26 that the virus has an incubation time between one and 14 days, and individuals may be contagious without displaying symptoms. 

Stuopis wrote in an email to The Tech that much information about coronavirus “has not been independently verified” and “much remains unknown regarding the virus’s severity and how it is transmitted.” Should the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations change, MIT Medical’s “response would change accordingly.”

According to the MIT Medical email, individuals should get a flu shot if they have not already, wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water; use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; cover coughs and sneezes; avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth; and avoid exposure to sick individuals.

MIT Medical wrote that community members who are experiencing symptoms “but have not recently traveled to an affected area in China” most likely have “a bad cold or the flu.”

According to MIT Medical’s coronavirus website, the CDC will only test individuals who display symptoms of the contagion, have either traveled to an affected region or been in close contact with an affected individual, and have received approval from the Massachusetts state epidemiologist.

Stuopis wrote that MIT Medical is in “close and consistent contact” with the Cambridge and Massachusetts public health departments and is following daily updates and recommendations from the CDC.

In an email to The Tech, MedLinks President Laura Liao ’20 echoed MIT Medical’s advice to maintain good health practices. 

“Please respect students who may be returning from affected areas. … Their families may be affected and it can be a stressful time for them. Be supportive and vigilant, not paranoid,” Liao wrote. 

The CDC released an official advisory Jan. 27 to avoid nonessential travel to China, but does not recommend isolating individuals who have traveled from Wuhan if they do not have symptoms. As of press time, there are five confirmed cases and 92 patients under investigation in the U.S.

Stuopis wrote that MIT Medical’s action plan for the coronavirus is “not very different” compared to its plans for outbreaks of other diseases, which “happen often enough that we have developed a playbook for these situations.”

Community members can visit for the latest updates.