Coronavirus information for immigrants and refugees

CDC coronavirus image
Photo courtesy of CDC

USAHello’s founding board member Tej Mishra is a US public health professional and epidemiologist. Read his advice about how to stay safe from coronavirus.

— Last updated March 23, 2030

What is Coronavirus (also known as COVID-19)?

Coronavirus is a family of viruses that are found in animals and humans. When these viruses infect people, they can spread to other people. This causes an outbreak, which is when a large number of people suddenly get infected, like the one we are seeing now.

The novel (new) coronavirus that is spreading infections now has been given a name: COVID-19. The COVID-19 virus is very like coronaviruses that caused illness and deaths in the past – for example MERS and SARS.

How does it spread?

how coronavirus spreads infographicWe believe the virus spreads mainly from person to person. When an infected person sneezes or coughs and releases droplets, these droplets can land in the mouth or nose of person nearby and go into the lungs. When these droplets land on clothing or another surface, and a person touches the surface with their hands, the person can be infected when they touch their face. It is very important that you wash your hands thoroughly and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The virus causes respiratory symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, and fever.

symptoms of coronavirus

If you are having any of these symptoms, or have recently traveled to/from an area with ongoing spread of the COVID-19, you should contact a healthcare provider (doctor).

Who’s at risk?

Everyone who comes into close contact with an infected person or surface is at risk. However, older adults and people with chronic medical conditions, like heart disease, diabetes or lung diseases, are at increased risk of getting infected.

What should I do?

handwashing to avoid coronavirusStay clean. Wash your hands often with soap, or use sanitizers, especially after using toilets, before and after eating, sneezing or coughing, and coming into close contact with others. Wash for at least 20 seconds. If your hands are dirty, using soap and water to clean is the best option. Inform others around you of risks. For older adults and adults with chronic diseases, risks are higher, so you must be even more careful. Do not travel unless absolutely necessary; avoid public gatherings and public transportation as much as you can.

Practice “social distancing”

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“Social distancing” means keeping 6 feet (2 meters) away from other people. To help with this, many cities and states are closing public places, such as restaurants and theaters. Grocery stores are still open, but some have different hours or special shopping hours for older or at- risk people.

If you have symptoms or an increased risks, you should always keep space between you and others. Keep away from people who are sick.

Keep supplies of food

Especially if you are older than 70 and/or sick, make sure you have enough household items and groceries in place to last for some time. Then you will be prepared to stay at home, even if things get more serious and stores are closed.

Do not travel

avoid travel imageIf you have been to China, Italy, Iran or other highly affected areas, including US states with many infections already reported, OR if you have any of the symptoms of the COVID-19, you should contact your doctor. Your doctor may ask you to visit, or they may ask you to stay at home.


There is no specific treatment for coronavirus. However, your healthcare provider may provide supportive care to help reduce or relieve the symptoms, like medications for fever.

Watch a video about coronavirus

See this video in Arabic, Pashto, Karen, Burmese, and Swahili.

Listen to and follow guidance from the CDC and your state and local public health agencies

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes the most up-to-date and accurate information about the disease and the spread. During times of panic and uncertainties like this, misinformation (incorrect and bad information) spreads very quickly through social media like Facebook, Twitter etc. It is best to avoid following social media information when there are more reliable sources of information, like CDC, WHO and other websites of local and state government public health agencies.

Can I trust the government?

For those of us who have been betrayed by governments in our country of origin, especially those that used false information to suppress our lives, it is not uncommon to mistrust government agencies. But the CDC is a US government agency with highly dedicated and knowledgeable scientists who put their lives at risk to understand diseases like this and keep the public safe. It is very important that we trust their information during times like this.

If you’re confused with conflicting information, or have questions about the disease and what you should do, almost every state, county and city government has a public health agency that you can call. You can talk to epidemiologists (people who study diseases and their spread) and other public health experts.

What if I am undocumented? What if I do not have health insurance?

In most communities in the USA, you can find a health clinic that serves low-income and uninsured patients. If you have symptoms, contact a community clinic near you for advice. Health clinics and hospitals that help immigrants and low-income Americans are not required to report legal status, and patients are protected by US confidentiality laws.

Here are some trusted resources in many languages

What about testing for coronavirus?

Here is information about testing for COVID-19 in several languages. The information is from the state of Oregon, but it is useful for all people in the USA.

A note from USAHello about discrimination

Across the USA, people are being targeted because of fears about COVID-19. You can report discrimination to your local government or to your local ACLU affiliate.  You can also learn about your rights. If you are discriminated against at work, you can file a formal complaint. You can explain that Americans of Chinese ancestry are no more likely to carry the virus than anyone else. Find anti-stigma resources from Washington state.

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About Tej Mishra
Born in Bhutan, Tej Mishra lived as a refugee in Nepal from the early 1990s until 2010, when he came to the USA. Tej graduated from Boston University in 2014 with a Masters in Public Health. In the past, he’s worked as a Surveillance Epidemiologist for State of Massachusetts and for US Navy and Marine Public Health. Today, Tej is a Surveillance Data Manager at the Washington DC Department of Health.