COVID-19 (2019 novel coronavirus) — FAQs

What is the coronavirus/COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that originate in animals but are known to cause respiratory illness in humans, particularly during the fall and winter months. Other novel coronaviruses have included Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV).

In January, 2020, a novel (new) coronavirus (2019-nCoV, now called COVID-19) was identified as the cause of an outbreak of pneumonia originating in Wuhan. The latest statistics for Ontario are available at:

What is the risk? What is McMaster doing?

Public Health Ontario advises that the risk to Ontarians is still considered low. The situation is rapidly evolving and McMaster is following the guidance from public health agencies at the local, provincial and federal level, who are closely monitoring the outbreak, conducting surveillance and appropriate laboratory testing, and providing public health and infection control advice.

To date, cases have been reported in individuals who have been in Wuhan, China, and those who have had personal contact with infected individuals. The risk of more severe illness may be higher for individuals with weakened immune systems such as older people or chronic diseases such as diabetes, or heart, renal or chronic lung disease.

What are the symptoms of novel coronavirus?

Symptoms range from common to severe respiratory illnesses and include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • difficulty breathing

Many of these symptoms are similar to seasonal influenza. Should you experience these symptoms and have recently travelled internationally, avoid contact with others and follow up with your health care professional. Students can go to McMaster’s Student Wellness Centre. Advise your health professional in advance of attending clinic of your symptoms and travel history.

What can I do to protect myself?

As usual, continue to practise good hand washing techniques and hygiene practices. This includes:

  • washing thoroughly with soap and water
  • using hand sanitize if soap and water are not available
  • coughing or sneezing into your elbow
  • staying at home or in your residence room if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms

Should students, staff or faculty with flu-like symptoms attend class/work?

Those with severe symptoms should stay at home or in their residence room. Students in residence should inform residence staff. For staff, please report your absence promptly to your supervisor per normal practice.

I live in residence and think I may have flu-like symptoms. What should I do?

Your residence life area coordinator can answer questions. If your symptoms escalate, go to your health care provider or the Student Wellness Centre. As it is also influenza season, you may want to keep the following items on hand as a precautionary measure:

  • Over-the-counter medication to reduce aches and fever (e.g., acetaminophen or ibuprofen)
  • Cough medicine and throat lozenges
  • Any prescription medicines you take
  • A thermometer (non-mercury)
  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitizer (should contain at least 60% alcohol)
  • Disinfecting wipes or cleaning products to clean your shared and personal space
  • A water canteen or bottled water, and juice

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 are encouraged to stay home, but some may choose to attend classes and work. At this time, the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus is low.

Should anyone with a travel history to an affected region be excluded from class/work?

Students, staff and faculty with symptoms who have visited the affected region recently should contact their health care provider or visit the nearest emergency room. At this time, the risk of contracting novel coronavirus is low

Should I wear a mask?

Generally, a mask is not required at this time although some may choose to wear one. Surgical masks, such as those sold in pharmacies, have limited value. Those in health care settings will follow the requirements of their facilities with respect to appropriate protective gear if they are working with suspected or confirmed cases.

Will classes be cancelled? Should events be cancelled?

At this time, there is no significant risk of community transmission of COVID-19 in Canada.  Should the situation change, we will provide information and advice on McMaster Daily News  or McMaster’s social media channels.

I am a student with a placement in a hospital or healthcare site off-campus. Are there additional precautions I should take?

Students, faculty and staff in a health science setting should follow the directions provided by the facility.

I am affected by the current travel restrictions and cannot return to Canada. What should I do?

If students are unable to return to McMaster as a result of the travel restrictions, they should contact International Student Services by emailing

I am planning to travel in the coming days. What should I do?

Students, staff and faculty should refer to the Government of Canada’s travel advisory website. On January 29 the government updated its travel warnings advising people to avoid non-essential travel to China and to avoid all travel to the province of Hubei. This level three warning triggers McMaster’s Risk Management Policy regarding student travel. The policy restricts undergraduate student exchanges, placements and official trips to the country. Such trips will no longer be permitted until the risk level is lowered by the federal government.

Graduate students who wish to travel to China will be considered on a case-by-case basis and will require the approval of either the provost or the vice-provost, International.

Important Contact Numbers:

Telehealth Ontario: 1-866-797-0000

Telehealth Ontario is a free, confidential service you can call to get health advice or information. A Registered Nurse will take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Student Wellness Centre: 905-525-9140 ex. 27700

Employee and Family Assistance Program: 1-800-663-1142

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