Student Affairs addresses false coronavirus reports on campus

On Jan. 29, Student Affairs sent an email to the student body addressing a false report that the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was present on Wilkes campus.

Student Affairs stated in the email, “With growing concerns about the coronavirus, false reports of the spread of the virus are occurring across the country. These reports tend to be shared through social media or by text through unofficial sources. Please be assured there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus at Wilkes University.”

They also addressed that any health and safety information would be distributed to the student body through official Wilkes University channels, like last week’s notification of the flu virus on campus.

One way to stop the spread of false information is to be aware of what is going on with the coronavirus globally and in the United States.

As of Feb. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed six cases of the virus in the United States. Only four states have had confirmed cases: Arizona, California, Illinois and Washington.

Although person-to-person spread of the virus has been confirmed in the U.S., the CDC notes that the virus is not spreading in U.S. communities.

While there have been no reports of virus deaths in the U.S., in China, where the virus was first detected, the death toll has been reported at 304 deaths as of Feb. 4.

Diane O’Brien, a family nurse practitioner and director of Health and Wellness Services, said, “Elderly people, people with compromised immune systems, people with previous health conditions are certainly more at risk, but if a healthy person contracts it they seem to be doing fairly well. The symptoms are treated and they are doing very well.”

The death toll in China has been attributed to poor immune systems of those who contracted the virus and a lack of readily available health services.

The Wilkes Health and Wellness staff is both prepared and experienced to deal with potential outbreaks if the need were to arise. O’Brien was working for Wilkes when immunizations were provided for the community and student body during the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak in 2009.

Some of the best ways to prepare against a virus like the current coronavirus are to take care of yourself the same way you would during flu season.

“Living in this community setting is a petri dish for bacteria and viruses,” O’Brien said. “Be cognizant of this time of year. You have to have your Clorox wipes and wipe things down: doorknobs, T.V. remotes, phones, anything that is mutually shared. It is easy to not do it.”

Other important ways to stop the spread of germs are covering your mouth, disposing of tissues, wiping down equipment after use in the gym and washing your hands thoroughly.

If you are sick the best course of action is to follow all the same advice as if you weren’t sick, while also keeping yourself to your room and avoiding common areas places with large amounts of other students.

“The probability (of the coronavirus being on campus) is very low, symptoms are very similar to cold and flu symptoms. So basically the same rules would apply,” O’Brien said. “If for some reason we had suspicion of the coronavirus, that information would be distributed rapidly throughout campus.”

Knowing the likelihood of the virus being on campus is low and how to take care of yourself are both ways to lessen the panic felt during times of outbreak. Another way is to learn about and understand viruses.

Dr. Caroline Fortunato, professor of microbiology, said, “The coronavirus is a single-stranded RNA virus that infects eukaryotic cells like our own. Viruses will infect a cell by injecting its genome into the cell or it will fuse with the cell in some way, and highjacks a cell’s machinery. So our cell membrane takes in the virus and uses our ribosomes to replicate itself.”

“Coronaviruses are not new. This is just a new strain of it,” continued Fortunato. “I would not say viruses die out, they just become less virulent and our bodies react and our immune systems begin to produce antibodies to fight them. So since this is a new strain of coronavirus, our bodies are not set up to deal with them which is why people are getting sick. Viruses appear in outbreaks and then they die out like SARS.”

Outbreaks like the coronavirus are not uncommon or unnatural. Like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), the 2019 coronavirus will eventually see a decline and the human body and vaccines will catch up to deal with it.

Students and members of the community should follow the advice of medical experts and get a flu shot if they have not already, and follow advice on how to avoid the flu.

Anyone with questions related to campus should contact Student Affairs and/or Health and Wellness Services at Wilkes.

The campus will also provide flu shots on Feb. 4 in the SUB until the flu season ends in April.