by SABINA IDRIZ
An emergency committee assembled by the World Health Organization declared the novel COVID-19 outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Jan. 30. The next day, the United States declared its own public health emergency.
About two months after the first cases of the virus cropped up in Wuhan, a city in China with a population of over 11 million, about 40,000 people have been infected and it has spread to over 20 other countries.
The novel coronavirus, now officially named COVID-19, has symptoms similar to many upper respiratory infections, but has an increased potential to be deadly and appears to be very contagious. The signs include a fever, shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pain. Complications include pneumonia and organ failure.
This is an entirely new COVID-19 to the medical world, and as such, there is no specific treatment or cure – the current protocol is to treat the symptoms themselves and wait for the immune system to battle the virus.
Researchers have estimated about a 3% mortality rate for the virus, but nothing can be deduced for certain as so much of the outbreak is still underway.
The outbreak is contained for now, but WHO’s classification of it as a public health emergency is a warning sign that wide spreads have the potential to occur internationally. Research centers around the globe are hard at work trying to develop a type of direct treatment or vaccine.
Drake has responded to the virus by prohibiting all university-sponsored travel to China until at least spring break. The United States has had twelve cases of the novel COVID-19 but so far, Iowa has stayed off the radar. At least two people in the state have shown symptoms and are being tested for it, so this may change.
Many possible cases of the virus are awaiting test results. The CDC is attempting to prevent any spread of the virus, and is helping state health departments reach out to and monitor those who were in contact with any of the infected individuals.
Senior Brandon Wheelock, a news journalism major, heard about the outbreak in mid-January. He remembers living through similar outbreaks, such as SARS, MERS, and Ebola.
Wheelock believes the COVID-19 will fizzle out thanks to the increasing awareness on the issue and efforts being made by health workers and the government.
“I do have trust in the strength and professionalism of the United States medical community and the CDC,” Wheelock said.
President Trump has made several statements on social media regarding this new virus, assuring citizens he is working with the CDC to prevent any further spread of the infection. A presidential task force has been created to work with Trump on its containment.
The United States government has issued a level four “do not travel” warning for China, the highest travel warning possible. In addition, any foreign nationals who have been to China at any point 14 days prior are barred from travelling to the U.S.
“[President Trump] has many governmental advisors with extensive histories of working with potential pandemic diseases, and I trust that they are working closely with the administration in order to limit travel if and when the situation requires it,” Wheelock said.
The infection rate has surpassed SARS, another type of COVID-19 which also received WHO’s designation as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (to date, the warning has been issued six times). SARS resulted in an estimated 8,098 infections worldwide.
The potential of the virus to lead to this large of an outbreak was not immediately apparent, but after hundreds of infections cropped up, Wuhan was placed under quarantine on Jan. 23.
Donation funds, such as Give2Asia, have been set up online to support health workers and hospitals in China.
Sophomore Sean Cusick has been worried about the sharp increase in cases he’s read about in the news, but is staying positive.
“There’s a big risk of it spreading,” Cusick said. “I know in Wuhan the numbers were doubling for several days in a row. But I’m optimistic and I trust that the CDC and the taskforce Trump assigned will work very hard to keep it from spreading. I also know the government of China is working very hard to help those infected.”
Since news about the virus reached the U.S., some individuals have seen themselves treated differently, or even avoided, because they appear to be Chinese.
The university has encouraged any students who experience this racist or otherwise bias-related behavior to report any incidents or microaggressions to EthicsPoint, a confidential online reporting tool. Administrative staff are also available to speak to.
Though Drake students have no reason to be worried about this particular virus, it would be wise to take general measures to keep germ-free, like covering coughs, washing hands with soap and water often and perhaps getting the flu shot. The common flu is widespread in Iowa, according to the CDC, and can lead to dangerous complications like pneumonia.
Students are able to schedule an appointment at Drake’s Student Health Center if they’re feeling under the weather, but the novel COVID-19 doesn’t pose a risk to campus at this time.