Student Concerns Surrounding the Coronavirus

It appears the world has been sent into a frenzy over coronavirus, an illness with origins in Wuhan, China. Affected people reside in multiple countries across the world, including the U.S. There have only been deaths reported in China and in the Philippines. Currently, there are currently at least twelve confirmed cases in the United States.

The first infected person in the United States was located about 30 miles from Seattle, in Everett, Washington. This sparked many concerns, especially as three students at the University of Washington were sent in for screening. Living in such close proximity can already be scary enough when it comes to sickness, as a dorm room can act like a bacteria ridden petri dish. An email was sent out by the director of the Student Health Center with information about the virus.

Jennifer Fricas, a professor in the College of Nursing, during an informative session said that coronavirus is a fairly new virus that causes respiratory illness.

“There is not currently any vaccination against this novel coronavirus and there likely will not be for quite some time, as we’re just now learning about the characteristics and behavior of the virus, since it’s novel,” Fricas said.

Fricas cites that fever, cough and shortness of breath are symptoms of the illness. The severity of the illness depends on the age and underlying circumstances of the person infected. Fricas clarified that it is not new for the medical field.

“Yes, the coronavirus is getting a lot of attention because it’s a new organism that has emerged and we don’t know much about it yet,” Fricas said. “So while we are trying to learn about it, care for those who are sick, coordinate across jurisdictions and countries and develop prevention and control measures, there are a lot of unknowns. However, this is what public health officials are experts at.”

Fricas attested to her previous involvement in the investigation of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003 where she responded, tracked and learned about the illness until it eventually ran its course. She mentioned that the global reaction to SARS is similar to the prevalent reactions regarding coronavirus.

“According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), SARS spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the SARS global outbreak of 2003 was contained. As of 2004, there were no more SARS cases. So, we’re in a learning period with the novel coronavirus,” Fricas said. “That’s why it’s doubly important that people, including the media, get their information from reputable sources.”

Information on the internet spreads fast. Social media has caused widespread panic more than the actual facts. Junior Linh Vo stated that a lot of her information came from the internet.

“I know the basic info of the virus. There were posts on social media, and I did read some of them. I feel like when [Seattle University] sent out an email, that was pretty informative,” Vo said.

In fact, there is reason for people in the United States to be more concerned about influenza than coronavirus. According to Fricas, for this flu season—between October and January— there have been 8,633 laboratory confirmed cases of the flu. The CDC is reporting widespread and high flu activity in most states and estimates that around 180,000 people have been hospitalized and 10,000 people have died.

One of the major issues surrounding coronavirus, besides the health dangers, is the ignorance coming as a result of the epidemic. Coronavirus originated in China, but many have responded with xenophobia towards those of an Asian ethnicity.

Vo shared that even though she has not experienced the discrimination herself, she has seen people being discriminated against due to their ethnicity based on the fear that, because they are Asian, they must be infected.

In relation to mystery and wording people are using, Fricas responded with clarification about the illness.

“I would not call this a ‘foreign illness,’ as it has the potential to associate infectious disease and its accompanying stigma with people from other countries,” Fricas said.

Junior Maya Viloria also expressed concern over how it may be interpreted if she were to display sick- like behavior.

“I don’t feel like people treat me differently yet, but maybe it is because we are in Seattle and there is a lot of diversity, but if I wear a face mask and cough a lot, then maybe people would steer clear of me,” Viloria said.

Fricas is incorporating coronavirus into her discussion of infectious diseases in her Global Health class. Regarding precautions that are taken in the medical world against infectious diseases such as coronavirus, they are the same as others.

“In nursing we use something called ‘universal precautions,’ which means we interact with patients assuming that anyone could have a communicable disease at any time,” Fricas said. “That’s why we always use gloves where there is a chance to come in contact with body fluids, for instance.”

Concluding the informative session on coronavirus, Fricas added tips and advice to ease worried minds.
“Like with all respiratory illnesses, good respiratory and hand hygiene helps us stay healthy. So be sure to cover your cough, stay home when you’re sick, and wash and/or sanitize your hands frequently. Also, be aware that for those of us living outside of China, our chance of being exposed to someone with the coronavirus is very low, and that is how one gets coronavirus. So if you have not recently traveled to China and you have not recently been in close contact with someone who was in China and is now sick with a respiratory illness, then you have little to worry about.”

Michaela may be reached at [email protected]