Editorial: What does coronavirus mean for UD?

IMG-6358 Kayleen Aures /THE REVIEW
It must be noted that the outbreak of the coronavirus poses many questions to the university regarding how an international, viral epidemic affects UD.

This past week, the university confirmed that two students were being tested at an area hospital for the 2019 novel coronavirus. They have both since been cleared and released from the hospital. A while ago, when news of the virus first began to trickle into the American consciousness, I remember my mother watching the news before silently going out to the car and driving off. She returned a few hours later with a trunk-full of canned food and gallons upon gallons of water. I emphatically reassured my doomsday-prepper mother, like we must emphatically reassure anyone reading this: there is no reason to panic whatsoever.

However, it must be noted that the outbreak of the coronavirus poses many questions to the university regarding how an international, viral epidemic affects the university.

Swine flu and ebola are fresh in the minds of many Americans, but it’s more than a decade since China has dealt with such a widespread and deadly disease, harkening back to its
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak of the early 2000s. Most college students were still in diapers then. In the years since, no country comparable in population and global integration has experienced such an easily transmissible and deadly pathogen.
So what does it mean for a new generation to face its own global health emergency? And what does it mean specifically for university students?

While the vast majority of the infections and deaths from the 2019 coronavirus have been centralized in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak originated, and surrounding regions, there have been 24 countries and territories with confirmed cases. However, the study of the spread of the virus is crucial to accurately portraying its threat.

Many have asked us if we believe that the university is “prepared” to deal with the coronavirus if it reaches Delaware in larger numbers of infected. The short answer is “no.” The university is not designed in any way to hinder the spread of a viral infection, but no college is. Communal bathrooms, communal dining halls and other facets of any institution’s campus life are conducive to speeding the spread of a disease through dense concentrations of people.

But is the University of Delaware uniquely at risk of infection? An answer to that is going to require a more thorough analysis by the university administration of whether or not their study abroad and international exchange programs presently pose any heightened risks.

According to Jennifer Horney, a founding director of the university’s epidemiology program, the risk level of coronavirus is very low here. Horney has a Ph.D. in epidemiology from University of North Carolina specializing in disaster response. She has conducted research on both the swine and the avian flu epidemics in Southeast Asia. Like coronavirus, swine and avian flu are zoonotic, however coronavirus has a slightly higher proclivity for human-to-human transmission.

Horney stated that control measures on campus in the event of an infection include isolation for those already infected and a quarantine for those who might have been exposed. If it were found on campus, Horney notes that the first priority is to vaccinate “close contact” (when a vaccine becomes available) and to cancel large gatherings.

She speculates that coronavirus could become more seasonal or die out on its own, however there is also a possibility that the alternating flu seasons in multiple hemispheres could create a year-round flu season.

The symptoms and preventative measures of coronavirus are similar to the common flu, coronavirus just has a much higher fatality rate. Yet, just like the flu, the people most susceptible to having a severe case or dying from the virus are those with “underlying health conditions … that weakened their immune systems,” according to the World Health Organization.

University President Dennis Assanis reported last year at the Annual Board of Trustees Meeting that the university was aiming to add 1,000 new undergraduates from abroad by sending an international admissions team to visit and recruit from “key markets” in East Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. The majority of the university’s international students come from China, with 805 undergraduate and 554 graduate students. The near-total quarantine of China following the coronavirus’ eruption has probably brought a complete halt to these recruitment projects. The university, which, let us remember, is in no way at fault in this situation, must answer questions regarding how their study abroad and international recruitment projects will be affected in a real-world sense.

A halt to overseas recruitment efforts in that region would certainly mean major financial losses to the university’s investments there. Additionally, undergraduate and graduate students from East Asia are probably now left in a strange limbo.

All the while those students are stuck here in the U.S., the coronavirus’ inextricable link with China in the public understanding has likely changed some university students’ perception of their East Asian counterparts negatively.

The university has repeatedly warned students to not let coronavirus affect how they treat each other. Every email update the university sent about the students tested for coronavirus, included this empathy reminder.

“It is understandable to feel uncertain or anxious during a public health event, and we need to remember to care for one another and not make assumptions about others’ perceived symptoms or any characteristics of identity,” the emails stated. “This is a time for the community to support one another. Your compassion and empathy for each other makes a difference.”

We applaud the university’s call for compassion and understanding. No student should question whether their peers accept them because of where they were born. Given that we have a significant population of students from China, we encourage the campus community to remain empathetic and look at each other as friends, not dangers.

We here at The Review would like to take this opportunity to ask university students to please not allow the outbreak of the coronavirus to negatively impact their view of those East Asian students with whom we share this campus.

The Review’s weekly editorials are meant to express the majority opinion of our editorial staff. This week’s editorial was written by Mitchell Patterson and Jacob Baumgart with reporting contributed by Victoria Calvin. They may be reached at JMPatter@udel.edu, Baumgart@udel.edu and VCalvin@udel.edu, respectively.

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