UC at “near-zero” risk as coronavirus spreads


Locations with confirmed Coronavirus cases are: China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, The Republic of Korea, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam. Source: cdc.gov

Maria Montero Silva, Editor-in-Chief

As the new respiratory illness known as Novel Coronavirus continues to spread, the World Health Organization reported 20,000 people diagnosed and 426 deaths globally (as of Feb. 4), the risk is still low for the United States and UC, said Shad Crowe, director of Emergency Management.

The virus originated in the city of Wuhan, in the province of Hubei in Central China. The first case was detected last December and described as a pneumonia-like infection because of their similar symptoms, according to the South China Morning Post.

Of the 11 cases of coronavirus that have been confirmed in the U.S., there are six in California, two in Illinois, one in Washington state and Arizona and another one in Massachusetts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As researchers rush to develop a vaccine and the treatment, the origin of the coronavirus is believed to be associated with bats.

What makes the coronavirus different is the fact that authorities are still unsure how it is transmitted, said Health Center nurse Dawn Degironimo. The WHO indicated that the virus seems to be transmitted through human-to-human contact.

As news about the coronavirus spread, Crowe sent out an email to the UC community last Friday, Jan. 24, which listed updates on what students, faculty, staff and family members should know regarding the new coronavirus. The email, which was done in collaboration with a team of public health experts including DeGironimo and the Oneida County Department of Health, stated that no cases had been diagnosed in NY State despite being an evolving situation. 

“There is no risk for UC. You would have to be in contact with people from the Wuhan province infected with coronavirus for you to get the virus.”

Dawn DeGironimo, UC Health Center nurse

DiGironimo stated that releasing a health alert to the campus was necessary, especially because some students and faculty might have traveled to China.

“There is no risk for UC,” DiGironimo said. “You would have to be in contact with people from the Wuhan province infected with coronavirus for you to get the virus.”

Another aspect that contributes to the confusion is that the coronavirus kind of mimics flu-like symptoms, DeGironimo said.

The symptoms that were listed in the email range from fever, coughing and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

“This is a very serious situation,” Crowe stated. “However, by taking some simple precautions the risk of exposure can be mitigated significantly.”

The precautions to prevent the coronavirus from spreading do not differ from the ones of a regular cold, DiGironimo said, which are washing hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizer, sneezing into elbows as well as avoiding contact with sick people and staying home in case of illness.

“I think more has to be done in terms of research and finding a cure for the coronavirus,” DiGironimo said. 

The nurse mentioned how with other outbreaks, there has been a time of public concern until it eventually fades out from the public’s attention. DiGironimo stated that this could also happen with the coronavirus but that she does not see a quick solution to the outbreak in the near future.

Senior Madeline McIlnay said she was “nervous” when she first heard about the coronavirus outbreak but after doing some research, her fears went away.

“The virus itself is in the same class as the common cold,” she said. “Yes, it is new and rare and we have a lot to learn but millions catch the common cold yearly without dying. I’m not saying that this novel coronavirus and the common cold are the same, in fact, I do think it is a bit more serious than a cold but I do not think it is a death sentence.”

McIlnay also mentioned that millions of people are affected by the flu yearly with thousands dying as a result of it.

“I feel like the biggest difference between this outbreak and any other outbreak in history is the popularization of air travel,” she said. “In the past, it would take a long time for a disease to travel because it would be by boat, train, car, or foot. Now, you can travel across the entire world in a day. This makes it very easy for diseases to travel and could make them, therefore, harder to contain.”

“I’m not worried about most college students because most of us are relatively healthy. I’m worried about the elderly, babies and children and the immunocompromised.”

Madeline McIlnay, senior and nursing student

In the event of the coronavirus spreading in large numbers to the U.S., McIlnay said she thinks it would cause a “mass hysteria situation.”

“I’m not worried about most college students because most of us are relatively healthy,” she said. “I’m worried about the elderly, babies and children and the immunocompromised.”

With a coronavirus vaccine still developing, McIlnay said that will take “months” to produce.

“I fill (the outbreak) will get bigger and more serious but I’m not too concerned overall for the general public,” she said. “I think the CDC are really taking this seriously and are doing all they can to prevent the spread.”

On Feb. 3, the State Department issued a Level 4 warning –the highest one– for China, telling citizens to “not travel to China due to the novel coronavirus,” as it is “rapidly spreading” and it constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

To put it in perspective, the number of diagnosed cases at night on Tuesday, Jan. 28 was 6,057. By Monday, Feb. 3, the number increased to over 20,000. While the death toll has also climbed to 426, the people who have recovered are 684, according to the World Health Organization. Based on this data, the mortality rate is 2% while the chances of recovery are higher.

So far, one patient has died in the Philippines, the first death of the coronavirus outside of mainland China.

Zihao Zheng studied at UC in the Spring of 2018 during an exchange program with Guangdong Police College, located in the province of Guangdong, China, which is approximately 600 miles away from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. That is almost as close as Utica is from Indianapolis, Indiana.

Zheng said that Guangdong is also affected by the outbreak, where 797 people have been infected. In the region, officials have asked the public to wear masks to avoid transmission of the virus, according to the New York Times.

In Hong Kong, where main points of entry have been closed, former UC student Tam Kwo Tim said hundreds were lining up outside pharmacies to purchase surgical masks and hand sanitizer despite the limited supply.

“I think the outbreak is really serious if it cannot be handled immediately and carefully,” she said.

Nao Tamai is a former international student from Japan, where there are 20 people infected. She said that while only “a few” people are sick, that number is increasing. 

Tamai also described the situation back home where people wear face masks to prevent catching the coronavirus. After being outside, Tamai said she always washes her hands and gargles as a measure of precaution.

“I’m scared,” Tamai said. “I think (the virus) is going to spread out.”

This is a developing story. All information was updated on Feb. 4, 2020.