The 2019 novel coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan China in December of last year. The virus can cause an upper-respiratory infection with symptoms including shortness of breath, cough and fever. The severity of the disease varies widely with some that experience only mild flu-like symptoms while in others the disease can lead to severe illness and even death. People with weakened immune systems, like the elderly and the young are the most susceptible to the coronavirus according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Scientists suspect that the virus came from an animal, most likely a bat, and mutated to infect humans as well. As of Feb. 9, The New York Times reports that there are 37,198 confirmed cases of the coronavirus globally which have caused 811 deaths. The majority of infections and deaths have taken place in China, however, the disease has also spread to 25 other countries around the world.
Nations with those infected by the virus are monitoring and quarantining these individuals to curtail its spread. The United States government has instituted a policy of voluntary quarantine on US military installations until residents have shown no symptoms for 14 days (the incubation period for the coronavirus).
Many Americans including St. Mary’s students have left China as the severity of the outbreak and travel restrictions have increased. The Point News interviewed three students that studied abroad in Shanghai, a city about nine hours from the epicenter in Wuhan.
Gracie Balzar, a sophomore, who intended to study at Fudan University for her Fall and Spring semester left China at the end of January after China canceled all of its exchange programs and SMCM requested that she come back. Gracie, like the other students interviewed, stated that people in China weren’t panicking but were concerned and “[took] precautions like wearing face masks and keeping to themselves.”
Another sophomore, Fatima Bouzid, left China on Feb. 2, hours before travel restrictions increased, and stated that Chinese media was “[trying] to give the people a sense of calm.” Public service announcements reminded people to wash their hands. Simultaneously, China has quarantined several cities containing tens of millions and generally restricted movement. Fatima recalled the eerie feeling around Beijing where she said “no one was on the roads.”
Since the St. Mary’s students did not travel to Hubei province and left before the new quarantine rules went into effect, they were not placed under quarantine. However, before Fatima and Gracie left they had to complete a form that asked if they had any flu-like symptoms, if they had been in the affected areas and other questions along those lines. They are also obliged to report if they begin to experience any symptoms associated with the virus.
Overall, Gracie, Fatima, and Graham Bos, a senior who left China on Jan. 10, said that SMCM was very helpful in their transition back. Graham left before the extent of the outbreak was known, but Gracie and Fatima had to quickly find classes and housing after they learned that they would come back to St. Mary’s. Fatima stated that SMCM “made every effort” to get her into the classes that she wanted to take. Gracie also confirmed the efforts the school made to assist her with housing and classes.
Other students have not been this lucky. Graham stated that some English students also studying in China left to travel around Cambodia and were not allowed to come back, becoming effectively stranded in Cambodia.
Despite the severe measures countries around the world are taking to fight the coronavirus, health experts and organizations are stressing another deadly virus that is spreading around the world: influenza. The common cold has already infected over 13 million Americans and in a bad year, it can kill 61,000. The CDC still stresses the need to fight the coronaviruses but says the best way to avoid getting ill from any infectious disease is to wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.
The St. Mary’s students have also cautioned against sensationalism or hysteria. Gracie criticized the way American media has covered the coronavirus and encouraged people to get “informed before making accusations.” Fatima quoted a Youtube video that she watched on the subject stating that people should “stay alert, not anxious.”