Initial Public Health Response and Interim Clinical Guidance for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

United States, December 31, 2019-February 4, 2020

Anita Patel, PharmD; Daniel B. Jernigan, MD


Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2020;69(5):140-146. 

In This Article

Clinical and Infection Control Guidance

Additional information about 2019-nCoV is needed to better understand transmission, disease severity, and risk to the general population. Although CDC and partners are actively learning about 2019-nCoV, initial CDC guidance is based on guidance for management and prevention of respiratory illnesses including influenza, MERS, and SARS. No vaccine or specific treatment for 2019-nCoV infection is currently available. At present, medical care for patients with 2019-nCoV is supportive.

On January 31, CDC published its third Health Advisory with interim guidance for clinicians and public health practitioners.††† In addition, CDC issued a Clinical Action Alert through its Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity network on January 31.§§§ Interim guidance for health care professionals is available at Health care providers should identify patients who might have been exposed and who have signs or symptoms related to 2019-nCoV infection, isolate these patients, and inform public health departments. This includes obtaining a detailed travel history for patients being evaluated with fever and lower respiratory tract illness. Criteria to guide evaluation and testing of PUIs for 2019-nCoV include 1) fever or signs or symptoms of lower respiratory tract illness (e.g., cough or shortness of breath) in any person, including health care workers, who has had close contact¶¶¶ with a patient with laboratory-confirmed 2019-nCoV infection within 14 days of symptom onset; 2) fever and signs or symptoms of lower respiratory tract illness (e.g., cough or shortness of breath) in any person with a history of travel from Hubei Province, China, within 14 days of symptom onset; or 3) fever and signs or symptoms of lower respiratory tract illness (e.g., cough or shortness of breath) requiring hospitalization in any person with a history of travel from mainland China within 14 days of symptom onset. Additional nonhospitalized PUIs may be tested based on consultation with state and local public health officials. Clinicians should evaluate PUIs for other possible causes of illness (e.g., influenza and respiratory syncytial virus) as clinically indicated.

CDC currently recommends a cautious approach to the examination of PUIs. These patients should be asked to wear a surgical mask as soon as they are identified, and directed to a separate area, if possible, separated by at least 6 ft (2 m) from other persons. Patients should be evaluated in a private room with the door closed, ideally an airborne infection isolation room, if available. Health care personnel entering the room should use standard precautions, contact precautions, airborne precautions, and eye protection (e.g., goggles or a face shield).

Clinicians should immediately notify the health care facility's infection control personnel and local health department. The health department will determine whether the patient needs to be considered a PUI for 2019-nCoV and be tested for infection. If directed by the health department, to increase the likelihood of detecting 2019-nCoV infection, CDC recommends collecting and testing both upper and lower respiratory tract specimens.**** Additional specimen types (e.g., stool or urine) may be collected and stored. Specimens should be collected as soon as possible once a PUI is identified regardless of time since symptom onset.

For persons who might have 2019-nCoV infection and their close contacts, information and guidance on how to reduce the risk for transmitting and acquiring infection is available at Close contacts should immediately call their health care providers if they develop symptoms. In addition, CDC is working closely with state and local health partners to develop and disseminate information to the public on general prevention of respiratory illness, including the 2019-nCoV. This includes everyday preventive actions such as washing your hands, covering your cough, and staying home when you are ill. Additional information and resources for this outbreak are available on the CDC website (

¶¶¶Close contact is defined as 1) being within approximately 6 ft (2 m) of a 2019-nCoV patient for a prolonged period while not wearing recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g., gowns, gloves, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health–certified disposable N95 respirator, and eye protection); close contact can occur while caring for, living with, visiting, or sharing a health care waiting area or room with a 2019-nCoV patient; or 2) having direct contact with infectious secretions of a 2019-nCoV patient (e.g., being coughed on) while not wearing recommended PPE.