January 31, 2020

New coronavirus: Cause for caution, not alarm

A message from David Witt, MD, and Skip Skivington, co-chairs of the National Healthcare Continuity Clinical Workgroup, Kaiser Permanente.

Given the significant attention and concern in the media and around the world about the 2019 novel coronavirus, we wanted to provide some perspective. While Kaiser Permanente leaders and clinical experts are taking it seriously, we should not panic.

At present, the likelihood of Americans contracting this illness remains low. We are confident we can safely handle and treat patients who have symptoms of the coronavirus anywhere throughout our health care system.

For weeks, Kaiser Permanente leaders in multiple disciplines have worked on contingency plans for confronting the flu-like disease among our members, employees, and physicians. Staff at all our medical centers regularly drill using various disaster scenarios, including detection of infectious disease, and have been advised about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols to be used with the coronavirus.

Kaiser Permanente is a recognized leader in the prevention and treatment of influenza, which kills about 35,000 Americans every year and is a much greater risk. And the same practices that stop the flu’s spread are recommended for this virus. In fact, we encourage you to help us promote these safe practices so that we can help address the ongoing threat of the flu.

As with any evolving situation, it is critical to make decisions based on the most up-to-date, accurate information. It’s important to get the facts and avoid spreading false or misleading information. Below you will find answers to the most common questions about the coronavirus, and what you can do to help protect yourself and others.

Novel coronavirus information

What is 2019 novel coronavirus?

The 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, is a new virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person to person. This virus was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China. On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global health emergency. The same day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first human-to-human transmission in the United States. The CDC and Kaiser Permanente National Healthcare Continuity Clinical Workgroup continue to closely monitor the situation.

Is novel coronavirus spreading in the United States?

The novel coronavirus appears able to spread from person to person although it’s not clear how easily this happens. Limited person-to-person spread among close contacts has been detected with this virus in the United States. At this time, this virus is not spreading in communities in the United States, so the likelihood of someone in this country getting sick with this virus is very low. Right now, the greatest risk of infection is for people in China or people who have traveled to China within the past 14 days.

What are the symptoms of the novel coronavirus?

Patients with the novel coronavirus have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

How can I help protect myself and others?

It’s still cold and flu season, and the same practices that stop the spread of these common illnesses are recommended:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Cover mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away and wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch.

What should members do if they recently traveled to China and got sick?

Kaiser Permanente members who were in China within the past 14 days and feel sick with fever or cough or have difficulty breathing should call the advice number on the back of their Kaiser Permanente membership card for instructions. It’s important to call us before coming in. Calling ahead helps us direct members to the most appropriate care, and take precautions to protect other members, patients, and employees.

Is there a vaccine or treatment?

There is currently no vaccine to protect against the novel coronavirus. The best way to prevent infection is to wash your hands frequently and avoid being exposed to this virus. And while there is no specific antiviral treatment, people with the novel coronavirus can seek medical care to help relieve symptoms.

What is Kaiser Permanente doing?

Kaiser Permanente is committed to the health and safety of our members, patients, employees, and physicians. As in all cases of emerging infectious diseases, we monitor closely and follow CDC recommendations. As more is understood about this virus, recommendations may change.

Where can I get the latest coronavirus information?

For the latest information, visit the CDC website.


  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Kaiser Permanente National Healthcare Continuity Clinical Workgroup