2019 Novel Coronavirus: Frequently asked questions for clinicians


The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak has unfolded so rapidly that many clinicians are scrambling to stay on top of it. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about how to prepare your clinic to respond to this outbreak.

Keep in mind that the outbreak is moving rapidly. Though scientific and epidemiologic knowledge has increased at unprecedented speed, there is much we don’t know, and some of what we think we know will change. Follow the links for the most up-to-date information.

What should our clinic do first?

Plan ahead with the following:

  • Develop a plan for office staff to take travel histories from anyone with a respiratory illness and provide training for those who need it. Travel history at present should include asking about travel to China in the past 14 days, specifically Wuhan city or Hubei province.
  • Review up-to-date infection control practices with all office staff and provide training for those who need it.
  • Take an inventory of supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gowns, gloves, masks, eye protection, and N95 respirators or powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs), and order items that are missing or low in stock.
  • Fit-test users of N95 masks for maximal effectiveness.
  • Plan where a potential patient would be isolated while obtaining expert advice.
  • Know whom to contact at the state or local health department if you have a patient with the appropriate travel history.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has prepared a toolkit to help frontline health care professionals prepare for this virus. Providers need to stay up to date on the latest recommendations, as the situation is changing rapidly.

When should I suspect 2019-nCoV illness, and what should I do?

Take the following steps to assess the concern and respond:

  • If a patient with respiratory illness has traveled to China in the past 14 days, immediately put a mask on the patient and move the individual to a private room. Use a negative-pressure room if available.
  • Put on appropriate PPE (including gloves, gown, eye protection, and mask) for contact, droplet, and airborne precautions. CDC recommends an N95 respirator mask if available, although we don’t know yet if there is true airborne spread.
  • Obtain an accurate travel history, including dates and cities. (Tip: Get the correct spelling, as the English spelling of cities in China can cause confusion.)
  • If the patient meets the current CDC definition of “person under investigation” or PUI, or if you need guidance on how to proceed, notify infection control (if you are in a facility that has it) and call your state or local health department immediately.
  • Contact public health authorities who can help decide whether the patient should be admitted to airborne isolation or monitored at home with appropriate precautions.


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