Coronavirus: the Risks and the Reality

Laura Mitchell's picture
By Laura Mitchell on January 29, 2020

Visit for up-to-date information about Carilion Clinic's response to COVID-19.

For general information, visit official fact-based websites such as:

For information about COVID-19 and your personal health, talk with your primary care provider.

The growing concern over “novel coronavirus 2019” has many people worried about its spread. As of January 282020, a total of 5,578 cases of coronavirus had been confirmed worldwide, with 5,490 from mainland China. A total of 131 deaths have been reported in the same time period due to this virus. The epicenter of the outbreak is Wuhan City, China.

Five cases have been confirmed in the U.S. All the cases identified in the U.S had recent travel to Wuhan, China. There are no deaths reported in the U.S.

The best source of information about the outbreak can be found by talking with your primary care provider or visiting official fact-based websites such as:

What Is Coronavirus?
Human coronaviruses are common throughout the world. The CDC reports that seven different coronaviruses can infect people and make them sick.

Click or tap through to see an up-to-date heatmap showing confirmed cases and other information about 2019-nCoV. It is produced and maintained by the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Much like the common cold, which shares its viral roots with coronaviruses, these viruses usually cause mild to moderate illness affecting the upper respiratory tract in otherwise healthy people. Symptoms may include: 

  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • A general feeling of being unwell

The CDC reports that the infection can sometimes result in pneumonia or bronchitis, especially in:

  • People with cardiopulmonary disease
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Infants
  • Older adults
adolescent girl holding a tissue and coughing into her elbow
Proper coughing and sneezing etiquette, like coughing into your elbow, can prevent the spread of the flu, the common cold and 2019-nCoV.

How Does Coronavirus Spread?
Like the common cold and the flu, human coronaviruses are most commonly spread during the winter months by: 

  • Coughing or sneezing by an infected person
  • Shaking hands or otherwise engaging in close personal contact with an infected person
  • Touching your mouth, nose or eyes after touching an object with the virus on it 

How Is Carilion Clinic Managing Risk?
CDC has determined that the risk of contracting 2019-nCoV in the U.S. is very low. Nonetheless, Carilion Clinic is being proactive and has put enhanced screening procedures in place to identify patients who visit our hospitals and clinics with cold and flu-like symptoms. These include but are not limited to: 

  • A travel questionnaire similar to those used during previous comparable outbreaks, including specific questions about travel to China by them and people close to them in the weeks preceding their symptoms
  • Face masks for patients who have a fever and/or certain symptoms such as a cough or difficulty breathing 

In the unlikely event that a patient’s circumstances suggest a possible connection to the 2019-nCoV coronavirus, the patient will be removed from the general waiting area and cared for by a dedicated team.
Everyone who visits Carilion facilities is reminded to always practice good hand hygiene by washing properly with soap and water or using alcohol-based sanitizers regularly.

sick man staying home from work, wrapped in a blanket and blowing his nose
Viruses like 2019-nCoV are more prevalent in winter because of the time spent indoors together. When you feel ill, stay home from work or school to rest⁠—and to help prevent it from spreading to others.

How Can I Protect Myself from Respiratory Viruses?
As with any virus that humans share through close contact, you can reduce your risk of infection by:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol based hand-sanitizer.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick

If you have cold-like symptoms, you can help protect others by: 

  • Staying home while you are sick
  • Avoiding close contact with others
  • Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • Cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces

And as always, if you are concerned about your symptoms, visit your primary care provider or stop in at an urgent care center like VelocityCare.

This article was reviewed by Anthony Baffoe-Bonnie, M.D., medical director of Carilion Clinic's Infection Prevention and Control Department