Update on coronavirus (COVID-19) and how you can protect yourself

February 21, 2020

A Washington state resident who traveled to Wuhan was the first known case of the disease in the U.S. Here's what you should know about the new virus.

By Regence

Updated Feb. 21, 2020

You likely have seen headlines about the growing outbreak of a new virus that began in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global health emergency as the coronavirus – renamed by the WHO as COVID-19 – has made more than 75,000 people sick and killed more than 2,000, since the outbreak began. Most reported infections and all reported deaths have been in China. The disease has spread to more than 25 countries, however, and the U.S. government has issued an official “Do Not Travel” to China advisory.

A Washington state resident who traveled to Wuhan was the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in the United States. He has since fully recovered, while 800 people remain on the state’s watch list. There are more than 25 positive cases across the United States, and more people are being investigated for possible infection. Refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s COVID-19 page for the most up-to-date numbers.

The risk to the public is low, but the new virus causes a respiratory illness that has many of the same symptoms as the flu, which is also widely prevalent this time of year. "Exposure to coronavirus causes symptoms of a runny nose, headache, sore throat, malaise, similar to the flu,” said Dr. Cheryl Pegus, President of Consumer Health Solutions and Regence’s Chief Medical Officer.

“If you are sick, please stay at home. If you have traveled to Wuhan, you may be screened when you re-enter the U.S., and if you have symptoms, please see a physician right away. If your symptoms aren't going away, please seek medical care immediately."

It’s important to note that people are far more likely to be become sick from the flu this time of year than contract COVID-19. Since the flu season can last through May, it’s not too late to protect yourself by getting your annual flu shot if you haven’t done so already—and most health plans cover the vaccination with no out-of-pocket cost.  

Coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. (Map courtesy CDC)

If you have travel planned to Wuhan, the CDC has recommendations for protecting yourself while there. Officials in China and the U.S. have begun health screenings for travelers to help prevent the virus’s spread.  If you’ve recently traveled to China and aren’t feeling well, you should call your physician right away.

Frequently Asked Questions

Regence has prepared the following FAQs with more information about the COVID-19:

What is the new coronavirus (renamed COVID-19 by the WHO)?

This is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause illness in humans and animals. In humans, the viruses can cause illness ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Where has COVID-19 been found?

The disease was discovered in Wuhan, China, and infections with the new coronavirus have been confirmed in more than 25 countries, including the United Kingdom, Thailand,  Japan, and The Republic of Korea. A total of 15 cases of the virus have been confirmed in the United States – including one in Washington State on Jan. 21. This individual has fully recovered from the virus. A number of countries, including the U.S., have been actively screening incoming travelers from Wuhan.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

In confirmed cases of illness in humans, common symptoms have been acute, serious respiratory illness with fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. The infection generally presents as pneumonia. However, the current understanding of the illness is based on a limited number of cases and may change as more information becomes available.

Can it be transmitted from person to person?

So far, it’s uncertain. Cases occurring in the same family raises the possibility of limited human-to-human transmission. It’s also possible that infected family members were exposed to the same source of infection, for example, in a household or workplace.

How could I become infected with this virus?

It’s not yet known how humans have become infected. Health officials are investigating the source, types of exposure that lead to infection, how it’s transmitted and other details about the disease.

Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?

There is no vaccine currently available.

Is there a treatment for COVID-19?

There is no specific treatment for disease caused by the coronavirus. However, many of the symptoms can be treated. Treatment of those symptoms would depend on the patient.

What can I do to protect myself?

Though the exact way people become infected is not known, the best measures are avoiding close contact with anyone who shows symptoms of illness like coughing and sneezing, and to wash your hands carefully with soap and water. If you can’t wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

What should I do if I have symptoms of COVID-19?

If you have respiratory symptoms like those listed above, limit your exposure to others and contact your provider. If you need help finding a provider or need other assistance, call the number on the back of your Regence member ID card.

What should I do if I believe I was in contact with someone with COVID-19?

If you think you have been around someone with COVID-19, take precautions to limit the spread of the virus, such as washing your hands frequently. Watch for development of any respiratory symptoms such as cough, sneezing or fever. If you develop symptoms, contact your provider or call the number on the back of your Regence member ID card for assistance or nurse advice.

What is Regence doing to address this new virus?

Regence is working to provide information to providers, care managers and customer service professionals to ensure they have the latest information about the virus so we can work together to inform and support our members who have questions or concerns.