Frequently Asked Questions for the Public About Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
There are many questions surrounding COVID-19. Below you will find the most commonly asked questions. Click on the plus (+) sign to the left of the question to read the answer.
The declaration of a local emergency is a legal document that will mobilize city resources, accelerate emergency planning, streamline staffing, coordinate agencies across the city, allow for future reimbursement by the state and federal governments and raise awareness throughout San Francisco about how everyone can prepare in the event that COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) appears in our community. San Francisco joins Santa Clara and San Diego counties in the state that have issued similar declarations to bolster their preparedness.
Preparedness. This is a global outbreak that is entering a new phase, and we must be prepared. The San Francisco Department of Public Health has been working with elected officials, other city agencies, the public and private health care system, schools, businesses and community organizations to ensure that we as a city are well informed and prepared to respond and mitigate the harm of the new virus, if it emerges in San Francisco. The declaration reinforces that this is not business as usual. We must be confident that our local readiness efforts are as robust as possible to protect the health of San Francisco residents. This declaration gives us more tools to be even more prepared.
Novel coronavirus is a new respiratory virus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019. It has now spread to many other countries, including the USA. Technically, the virus is named SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes is called COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019). See information about 2019 Novel Coronavirus on the CDC website
There are currently no confirmed cases in residents of San Francisco and this new virus is not known to be circulating in San Francisco at this time. Health officials will make an announcement if a case is confirmed here. Given the spread of the virus in multiple countries, there is a growing likelihood that we will have cases here, and we must be prepared.
Individuals can prevent illness:
- Frequently wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
- Always cover your cough or sneeze;
- Stay home if you are sick;
- Get your flu shot to protect against flu or symptoms similar to COVID-19; and
- If you have recently returned from a country with ongoing COVID-19 infection, monitor your health and follow the instructions of public health officials.
Individuals can prepare for the possible disruption caused by an outbreak:
- Make sure you have a supply of all essential medications for your family;
- Make a child care plan if you or a care giver are sick;
- Make arrangements about how your family will manage a school closure; and
- Make a plan for how you can care for a sick family member without getting sick yourself.
Schools should start planning for how to manage a potential closure, in the case of an exposure at the school. However, there are no such cases at this time and no imminent plans to close schools. CDC is developing guidelines for schools: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/preparing-communities.html
Businesses ought to look at their work-from-home policies and sick leave in order to support people who may need to self-quarantine. The CDC has guidelines for businesses: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/guidance-business-response.html
There is no recommendation to cancel social gatherings at this time. However, if you are sick, you should stay home and not attend.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different types of animals including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people. The animal source of COVID-19 is not known right now.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet), and via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. See How Coronavirus Spreads.
In confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death. The most common symptoms are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. CDC believes at this time that symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure.
It is cold and flu season now, and many people have symptoms of illness that are not related to COVID-19. If you have fever, cough, or shortness of breath, contact your medical provider right away and tell them about your symptoms and any recent travel. Be sure to call ahead before you visit the office, clinic, or hospital, so that the medical provider can prepare for your visit.
Good hand washing techniques are the most effective ways to prevent yourself from getting sick. This means washing your hands often with soap and water, and rub for at least 20 seconds. If you have a fever or cough, a face mask is recommended to prevent spread of germs to others around you. Because there is no novel coronavirus spreading in San Francisco, there is no recommendation to wear masks at this time. However, if you choose to wear a face mask, it is important to understand that face masks are not a substitute for hand washing which is the priority.
CDC currently recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China and South Korea. CDC also lists Iran, Italy, and Japan as countries where there is sustained community transmission of COVID-19 and that older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel. The worldwide COVID-19 situation is evolving rapidly and more countries may be added to these lists. Stay up to date by checking the CDC travel health notices related to this outbreak.
No. Efforts to develop a vaccine are underway, but currently, there is no vaccine available to protect against novel coronavirus.
The treatment right now is to take care of the symptoms. There is no specific treatment for novel coronavirus. Patients who are confirmed to have novel coronavirus will be cared for by health care professionals, working closely with the Department of Public Health.
All incoming passengers from China are screened by the CDC at the airport. If any of those passengers have symptoms of illness consistent with COVID-19, the CDC is arranging for those symptomatic passengers to undergo medical evaluation and quarantine at an approved facility. Arriving passengers from China who are not ill are instructed to self-quarantine at home for 14 days. SFDPH personnel are attempting to contact all such arriving passengers to provide instructions about self-quarantine and answer questions. If you have recently returned from China and have questions about your self-quarantine, please call our returning traveler line at 628-217-6260.
- Stay home, do not go out in public, do not go to work, do not go to school, do not go to public gatherings.
- Do not use public transportation (bus, train, Muni, BART, taxi, ferry, Uber or Lyft)
- Monitor your health
- Take your temperature with a thermometer 2 times a day
- Look out for symptoms such as cough, fever and shortness of breath
If you have questions about your home self-quarantine, please call our returning traveler info line at 628-217-6260
The City and County of San Francisco, led by the Department of Public Health, is working on preventing the virus, containing its spread, and reducing harm in the community. We are focused on the most vulnerable groups, including children, people in congregate settings and the elderly. However, every sector has a role to play to ensure community health and safety. The health care system, schools, businesses and individuals can all do their part.
Links and Documents for the Public
Documents and Materials for Printing:
- SFDPH Novel Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions (translations in process)
- Print Resources from CDC (some are highlighted below):
- Infographic Poster – COVID-19 Stop the Spread of Germs [Simplified Chinese] [Spanish]
- Frequently Asked Questions and Answers from CDC [Simplified Chinese] [Spanish]
- CDC COVID-19 Fact Sheet [Simplified Chinese] [Spanish]
- CDC What to do if you are Sick with COVID-19 [Simplified Chinese] [Spanish]
- CDC Infographic: COVID-19 Symptoms [Simplified Chinese] [Spanish]
Links/Websites with Additional Information:
- California Department of Public Health Novel Coronavirus 2019 Page
- US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Novel Coronavirus 2019 Page
- Questions and Answers on Coronaviruses from the World Health Organization (WHO)