Issue/Situation

The CDC and other public health agencies are monitoring a respiratory illness outbreakCoronaviruscaused by a novel coronavirus. The new coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China and has caused thousands of illnesses in China and a growing number of illnesses internationally, including in the United States.

What is the Coronavirus?

The 2019 novel coronavirus is from a family of viruses known as coronaviruses that are common around the world. Coronaviruses are found in different animals such as camels, cattle, cats and bats and some coronaviruses can infect people.[1] The 2019 novel coronavirus is a new strain of the virus that has not previously been identified in humans. Human coronavirus can cause mild to moderate illness; however, some of the newer human coronaviruses can cause severe illness.[2] Examples of human coronaviruses that have caused severe illness in the past include the coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

How is the Coronavirus transmitted?

The initial patients were linked to a seafood and animal market suggesting that the virus was spread from animal to person. However, a large number of patients were not exposed to an animal market which indicates that the virus is spreading from person to person. It is thought that the virus is spread person-to-person through the respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

What are the symptoms of the Coronavirus?

The symptoms of individuals infected with the Coronavirus range from little to no symptoms to severe. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, symptoms include pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. Typically, symptoms appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.[3]

What is being done to prevent the spread of Coronavirus?

CDC and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are conducting enhanced screening of passengers to monitor passengers with symptoms associated with the 2019-nCoV and travel connections to China. On January 31, 2020, the White House 2019 Novel Coronavirus Task Force announced the implementation of new travel policy to combat the spread of the virus. For the first time in 50 years, the U.S. has issued a mandatory quarantine order for U.S. citizens returning to the U.S. who have been in the Hubei province of China within 14 days of their return. These individuals will be subject to a mandatory, 14-day quarantine to ensure that they receive the proper medical care. Additionally, U.S. citizens who have been in other areas of China within 14 days of their return must undergo proactive entry health screening and up to 14 days of self-quarantine with appropriate health monitoring to ensure they have not contracted the virus and are not a public health threat. 

General precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of infection such as proper handwashing, covering mouth/nose with sneezing, cooking food to the proper internal temperatures, and avoiding contact with anyone experiencing respiratory illness symptoms such as coughing and sneezing.[4]

Are packages or products from China likely to spread the virus?

There are currently many unknowns with the 2019 novel coronavirus and how it spreads.  While it is not clear if this new coronavirus behaves similarly to other coronaviruses (i.e., SARS and MERS), these other coronaviruses have poor survivability on surfaces.  Therefore, these products and packages shipped to the U.S. from China pose a very low risk of spreading the virus.  Coronavirus is most likely to be spread via respiratory droplets.[5]

What actions should food establishments take?

Food establishments should ensure that they have strong food safety programs in place and ensure employees are washing hands properly, practicing good personal hygiene, avoiding bare hand contact, cooking food to the proper temperature, and are following cleaning and sanitation procedures.[6]

Additionally, as part of employee health policy, it should be emphasized that food handlers are required to certain report symptoms to a manager.  If a food employee is suspected of having a respiratory illness such as coronavirus, they should be restricted from working around food. If an employee has been diagnosed with coronavirus, they should be excluded from working in the food establishment until they are cleared by a doctor and the local regulatory authority to return to work.

  • Food Safety & Security