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SFU community frequently asked questions about COVID-19

Last Updated: February 26, 2020

Q: What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses found mostly in animals. In humans, they can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

In January, 2020, a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) was identified as the cause of an outbreak of pneumonia originating in Wuhan, China.

More info: http://www.bccdc.ca/about/news-stories/stories/2020/information-on-novel-coronavirus

Q: What is the risk to the public?
Currently, the risk to people in British Columbia and the rest of Canada is considered low. BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and provincial and federal authorities are monitoring the situation closely and providing updates as more is learned about the virus.

The evidence to date shows that the virus is spread by large droplets which are produced primarily during coughing and sneezing. You would need to be in close and prolonged contact, like what you would expect to occur within a household, to transmit the virus.

SFU is monitoring the situation closely and actively reviewing its infectious disease protocols, pandemic plan and meeting with key stakeholders to ensure our three campuses are prepared and able to respond if needed.

SFU is also taking precautions to prevent the spread of communicable illnesses on our campuses including:

  • Promoting good hygiene practices among members of the university community (e.g., handwashing) and providing appropriate hand-cleaning facilities and/or alternatives like alcohol hand rubs;
  • Ensuring SFU premises are appropriately cleaned and maintained to prevent the spread of communicable illnesses, and informing members of the university community in the use of appropriate disinfecting materials.

Q: How do I protect myself?
There are measures that all students, faculty, and staff can take to help reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses such as coronavirus, colds, and influenza:

  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds using soap and water.
  • If a sink is not available, 60-90% alcohol-based hand rubs (hand sanitizer) can be used to clean hands if they are not visibly soiled. If they are visibly soiled, you can use an alcohol-based disposable hand wipe to remove the dirt and then use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Do not touch your face/eyes/mouth with unwashed hands.
  • When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue or the crease of your elbow, and then wash your hands.
  • Stay home when you are ill.

Q: Will wearing a mask protect me?

  • When sick, wearing a mask helps to prevent passing on illnesses to other people.
  • If you are not sick, we do not know if wearing a mask will prevent infection. People wearing a mask may also touch their faces more often, potentially increasing the risk of having the eyes, nose or mouth come into contact with the virus.
  • Wearing masks in public, with a goal of preventing spread of illness, can be a way some communities show respect for others. While we do not recommend wearing masks for healthy people, it is important that anyone who does wear a mask is treated with respect and not fear.

Q: Can you get sick from someone who is not showing symptoms?
There is still a lot we don't know about COVID-19 and studies are underway to better understand it. There have been a few instances of transmissions before the person became sick or the symptoms were mild that the person did not know they were sick. Those are exceptions,  as most people became ill from being in close contact with someone who showed symptoms such as coughing and sneezing, therefore transmitting the virus through droplets. This is why B.C. health officials are focused on putting protection around people who are ill and showing symptoms, in order to decrease the spread to others.

Q: What do I do if I think I have been exposed to, or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19?
All B.C. cases have a recent history of travel to affected areas or close contact with a traveler. There has been no evidence of  sustained community transmission.

Those who develop symptoms during the 14-day monitoring period after returning home from travel should immediately self-isolate (stay in a room that is not shared with anyone else) and call their health-care provider or the provincial health line 8-1-1 to discuss any need for testing and follow up.

Students, faculty, or staff who have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 by laboratory testing should stay home or self-isolate in their residence/room alone for 14 days after their last encounter. Individuals should monitor themselves daily for symptoms (fever, cough, muscle aches, difficulty breathing).

More information on self-isolation is available at https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/2019-novel-coronavirus-information-sheet-travelled-hubei-province-china.html.

Q: What if I recently returned home after traveling to China? Do I need to self-isolate?
We are now aware that this virus can cause a range of mild to severe symptoms, and it is possible that people will not recognize symptoms that are mild. Given this new information, the BC Centre for Disease Control is recommending steps that people at risk of COVID-19 can take to reduce the chance of spread to others.

It has been recommended by the Provincial Health Officer and the BC Centre for Disease Control that:

  • Students, faculty, or staff returning from Hubei Province, China stay home or self-isolate in their residence/room alone for 14 days after they left Hubei. They should monitor themselves daily for symptoms (fever, cough, muscle aches, difficulty breathing).
  • Students, faculty, or staff who have been in other parts of mainland China (outside Hubei Province) should monitor themselves daily for symptoms (fever, cough, muscle aches, difficulty breathing) for 14 days after they left China. They do not need to self-isolate.

Those who develop symptoms during the 14-day monitoring period should immediately self-isolate (stay in a room that is not shared with anyone else) and call their health-care provider or the provincial health line 8-1-1 to discuss any need for testing and follow up.

More information on self-isolation is available at https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/2019-novel-coronavirus-information-sheet-travelled-hubei-province-china.html

Q: What should I do if I'm experiencing symptoms but have not travelled or been exposed with someone diagnosed with COVID-19?
It is cold and flu season, and it’s important for people with cold and flu symptoms, such as a bad cough, congestion and fever, to stay home and self-care to get better and avoid spreading any illness.
See https://www.sfu.ca/students/health/see-a-doctor/colds--coughs-and-flus.html for more information.

Q: What do I do if I am planning on traveling in the near future?
Anyone travelling at this time should refer to government travel advisories at www.travel.gc.ca to make informed decisions while abroad. International travelers should expect increased health screening measures at points of entry, including airports. Before travelling, verify if your destination's local authorities have implemented any specific entry and exit restrictions that may impact you. See https://www.internationalsos.com/pandemic-sites/pandemic/home/2019-ncov/ncov-travel-restrictions-flight-operations-and-screening#flight%20restrictions for more information.

Current advisories recommend avoiding all non-essential travel to China and to avoid all travel to Hubei Province due to travel restrictions and quarantines to limit the spread of COVID-19.

For safety, SFU is recommending that students, faculty and staff do not travel to China for university-related programs and activities at this time. For staff and faculty who have booked travel through SFU, travel claims for booked trips to China can be submitted here - https://www.sfu.ca/srs/risk-emergency-planning/insurance-risk/claims/air-travel-claims.html

Students, faculty and staff are reminded to register all international trips in the SFU Travel registry https://www.sfu.ca/srs/risk-emergency-planning/travel-safety/travel-registry.html so you can be contacted and supported in the event of an emergency.

Q: Is it safe to receive a package from China or anywhere else the virus has been detected?
People receiving packages are not at risk of contracting the new coronavirus. From experience with other coronaviruses, it is known that these types of viruses don’t survive long on objects, such as letters or packages.

Q: What is SFU doing to ensure safety of the SFU community?
SFU is monitoring information and recommendations about COVID-19 from regional and provincial medical health officers. The university is also actively reviewing its infectious disease protocols, pandemic plan and regularly meeting with key stakeholders to ensure our three campuses are prepared and able to respond if needed. SFU is also taking precautions to prevent the spread of communicable illnesses on our campuses.

Along with our faculty and staff, the safety of our students is SFU’s number-one priority and we have already contacted our students in China to check on their well-being, and to provide support as well as the latest travel advisories and guidance. The university is strongly recommending that current students in China return to Canada. SFU is also working to ensure this disruption does not negatively impact any program requirements and graduation timelines.

We have also contacted our local students from Wuhan, China to check-in about any recent travel or symptoms of illness. Student exchanges to China for Spring 2020 have been cancelled and future exchange and co-op placements in China are on hold/under review. We are in touch with students whose international exchanges may be further impacted by travel restrictions in other parts of the world to offer support and alternatives.

If any SFU co-op or exchange student has questions, contact your program coordinator to discuss your specific situation.

Q: Should students, staff or faculty with flu-like symptoms be excluded from class/work?
No one should be excluded or banned from attending classes or work. Students, staff and faculty with flu-like symptoms should stay home.

Students: Students should continue to report illness as they usually do. Contact your instructor to ask for a modification or accommodation if needed. Should you have concerns about the response, contact the Chair of the department. Finally, if needed, contact the Dean's office.

Faculty and staff: should continue to report illness as they usually do. Please report absences to your supervisor in accordance with your normal sick leave protocol to ensure sick leave benefits as applicable.  Working from home may be an option but can be challenging in some instances depending on the nature of work, options should be discussed with your supervisor.

Q: Does a student need to get a doctor’s note if they are missing class for illness/if they are contagious?
We recommend that students contact their instructors if they are going to be absent from class due to illness. A note or similar documentation may be required depending on the circumstance. A doctor’s note is required for graduate students seeking a deferred (DE) grade, and the university’s Health Care Provider form is required for students seeking a withdrawal under extenuating circumstances (WE). Some departments or instructors may have listed course specific requirements for medical notes on their course outlines.

Q: People in my classes are sick, how do I know it’s not COVID-19?
Cold and flu season is upon us (typically October to March every year), so it is not unusual for people to get colds and flu during this time. Please follow the usual health precautions such as washing your hands often, don’t share food/beverages with others who are sick, stay home if you are sick and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to prevent the spread of illness.

For more information about cold and flu signs, symptoms and precautions please go to Healthlink BC - https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/center1046

Q: What if I have concerns about someone else who is ill in my work area?
All faculty, and staff can take measures to help reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses, such as handwashing and regular cleaning of shared surfaces. Employees in the workplace who are ill with flu-like symptoms should advise their supervisor/manager, stay home and seek out medical advice accordingly.  If you are concerned about someone in the workplace who is exhibiting flu-like symptoms, speak to your Supervisor/Manager. Supervisors/Managers can contact the HR Office for further information as needed.

Q: Should school events, outings or trips be cancelled as a precaution?
At this time, is not necessary to cancel school events, outings or field trips to public locations.
The Government of Canada has updated travel advisories for China; it is now recommended to avoid all non-essential travel to China and to avoid all travel to the Hubei Province. Student exchanges to China for Spring 2020 have been cancelled and future exchange and co-op placements in China are on hold.

Up-to-date information on travel advisories to China can be found here: https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/health-safety/travel-health-notices/210

Q: If I need to self-isolate because of possible exposure to COVID-19, who do I need to tell at SFU?

Students: If you live in residence, email Residence and Housing at housing@sfu.ca. Residence and Housing will provide further information and support.

Contact your instructors to let them know and ask for a modification or accommodation if needed.  Should you have concerns about the response, contact the Chair of the department. Finally, if needed, contact the Dean's office.

Staff and faculty: Please contact your supervisor. Working from home may be an option but can be challenging in some instances depending on the nature of work, options should be discussed with your supervisor.

Q. What should I do if I have experienced discrimination or harassment in relation to the Coronavirus/COVID-19?
The Provincial Health Officer and BCCDC recommends to not to make assumptions about the risk of students, faculty or staff based on their ethnicity or travel history.

Every member of our university community has the right to be treated with respect and dignity and to be welcomed and supported on our campus. No person should be targeted in any way or subjected to discrimination resulting from a misplaced perception that they may be a carrier of a communicable disease based on their perceived disability, race, ancestry, place of origin or otherwise. This kind of targeting is discriminatory and a breach of university policy (GP18).

If you feel you have been targeted based on any of the above factors, you should discuss the matter with the Human Rights office by emailing hroadmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-4446. This office will invite you in for a confidential conversation about the policies and response options available.

If you need immediate assistance because you fear for your personal safety, contact 911 or for an on-campus safety concern contact Campus Public Safety at 778-782-4500 (24 hrs a day/7 days a week).

Q. I am concerned about my family and friends currently in affected regions. Where can I go for support?
As a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, you may be worried about the health and safety of yourself or your family and friends. This is a challenging and uncertain time. It is not uncommon to experience higher levels of stress and feelings of being overwhelmed. If this is your experience, please seek help and support.

Counselling and other supports are available to members of our campus community. We encourage students who need support at this time to contact one of the following services:

Q. Where can I get more information?
For more information please visit: