Coronavirus travel restrictions block some students from returning to campus, virus not considered immediate health threat
Associate News Editor
Health officials and the university administration say that coronavirus warrants caution, not panic, but about 225 students “are delayed or not able to return to campus due to travel restrictions imposed in response to this outbreak,” Dean of Students Adam Cantley said in an email.
University President Dennis Assanis, the president of the university, sent a separate email statement on Feb. 5 regarding the situation.
In the statement, Assanis said “For our Chinese students in particular, we extend our compassion and concern for this situation and the impact this may be having on their loved ones back home.”
Assanis encouraged any students who are struggling during this “unsettling time” to reach out to the Center for Counseling and Student Development.
The university sent another email statement directly to the international students. In the statement, the university said that it would provide “guidance if [the students] are not able to return to campus for this semester due to travel restrictions related to the 2019-nCoV.”
“The university has developed a special website for coronavirus and is updating it as information becomes available,” Cantley said.
The students can either take a leave of absence or take classes electronically according to Cantley.
If the students choose to take a leave of absence, they must fill out the necessary form, state the reason is related to coronavirus and submit it to the registrar. University emails and UDSIS will remain active during this period.
If the students wish to take classes electronically, that must be done through either their instructor or their academic advisor. Faculty were encouraged to make such accommodations, but this is not possible for courses such as ones that require a lab component, Cantley said.
“We have no reason to believe there is any risk to the members of the university community,” Cantley said. “We hope that the Blue Hens will take advantage of the resources on campus and support one another.”
Health officials mirror the university’s caution, but they also say that it is not the most immediate threat for students.
“It’s concerning, but it’s too early to say where this will go,” said Rick Hong, a doctor and the state medical director for the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH). The DPH is a department within Delaware Health and Social Services that aims to protect and promote the health and well-being of Delaware.
Coronavirus, officially called 2019 novel coronavirus, is a respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, Hubei, China.
The origin is currently unknown, but it is similar to the coronavirus strain that was linked with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) about two decades ago.
Chinese scientists determined that horseshoe bats transferred the SARS-related virus to civets, which are small nocturnal mammals native to Asia and Africa. The civets then transmitted it to humans.
Scientists theorized that bats once again started the transfer of the virus between organisms and that pangolins, an armored anteater-like mammal native to Asian and Africa, transmitted the new coronavirus strain to humans.
As of this story’s publication, there are more than 40,000 reported cases and 908 deaths worldwide. Those amounts continue to rise.
“It’s more infectious than SARS, however the death rate is not as high,” Hong said. “It’s not SARS concerning, at least not yet.”
According to Hong, the death rate for the current strain of coronavirus is around 2% whereas SARS-related strain had a death rate around 9%.
Hong said that the DPH is working closely with both the federal and local health organizations to keep the public safe.
“We’ve had conferences and talks about this,” Hong said. “I’m sorry to say that we were kind of expecting something like this to happen, especially after the [swine flu] outbreak.”
Hong said that the symptoms of coronavirus are similar to the flu, so it is difficult to determine whether someone has it without testing. He also said that anybody who is concerned about it should talk to their health care provider.
“We’ve had deaths from the more common diseases like influenza, but no deaths from coronavirus [in Delaware],” Hong said.
There was a potential coronavirus case in Delaware, but the patient tested negative for the virus and is no longer under observation, Hong continued to say.
Hong encouraged the public to take normal flu precautions such as covering mouths while sneezing and coughing, cleaning surfaces and frequently washing hands. Anyone who is feeling sick should stay home to avoid infecting other people even if they do not have coronavirus, he added.
Many airlines such as Delta, British Airways and Lufthansa either halted all flights to China or cut down on the frequency of flights for the time being. Some governments closed their borders to anyone who is not a national or a legal resident.
“China is more proactive, but I think the United States has the right approach,” Hong said. “Cutting the number of flights limits how many people come in contact with the virus.”
The United States government will screen any travellers arriving from China at one of 20 airports. This list includes John F. Kennedy, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington Dulles among others.
On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization released a statement regarding the coronavirus situation. Although the committee “expressed divergent views” about whether coronavirus should be declared an international emergency, it warned every nation to be on high alert and to be prepared for the worst.
“I hope there won’t be a negative stigma regarding the Chinese,” Hong said. “All we can do is educate the public that race is not a factor in the spread of the virus and emphasize how to keep people safe,” Hong said.
Dr. Tim Dowling, the director of Student Health Services, weighed in on the university’s readiness to deal with the outbreak.
Dowling, a physician, oversees all the operations of Student Health including the other nurses and doctors.
“Flu season is a bigger concern right now,” Dowling said. “We fortunately … or unfortunately went through our supply of vaccines during the fall semester.”
According to Dowling, the custodial staff will work to frequently disinfect “high-touch” surfaces such as doorknobs and handrails. Dowling reiterated Hong’s recommendations to take normal flu precautions.
Dowling said that if a student went to Christiana Hospital and tested positive for coronavirus, the hospital would call him and inform him of the situation. The next step would be to look up the student’s information to find out if they have roommates and who they may have “come in close contact” with.
“If we take the student and we draw a six-foot circle around them, anybody within that radius is considered ‘close contact,’” Dowling said.
Dowling said that Student Health frequently does drills for these kinds of emergencies and is prepared to handle it should the need arise.
“Can I say with 100% certainty that we won’t have a [coronavirus] case in Delaware?” Dowling said. “No, but we frequently drill for this.”