COVID-19, the name for novel coronavirus disease, is a form of the SARS virus that caused international fears of a pandemic in the early 2000’s. While SARS turned out to be containable, COVID-19 was not and spread to a pandemic level in a span of roughly three weeks. It spreads rapidly and lasts up to four hours in air as an aerosol, according to a study done by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Like the rest of the world, this pandemic has had dizzying effects on Drake University. Classes have been hastily shifted online. Hundreds of student’s living situations changed overnight. Many have lost their jobs and have had to leave home under uncertain conditions.The Drake Relays, which would have brought athletes, alumni, and students from all of the world, have been suspended until summer tentatively based on travel restrictions.
The situation came home when the first students were expelled from Italy, the country hardest hit by COVID-19, following a Department of State level 4 travel advisory placed on February 29. The following week on March 9, the first three confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iowa were announced. All three cases had traveled together on a cruise to Egypt.
Two days later, Drake Provost Sue Mattison announced the closing of campus in an email to Drake faculty and students. In rapid succession, the United States began implementing restrictions on travel, shelter-in-place orders, and mobilization of the National Guard. Drake made the move to permanently switch to online classes for the remainder of the spring semester two weeks later. As of April 5, Governor Kim Reynolds (R-Ia) has refused calls for shelter-in-place orders and continues to stress social distancing and essential-only travel.
The virus has so far infected over 1.1 million people as of April 5. Of those, the mortality rate is uncertain. For example: in Italy the mortality rate is nearly 10%, while in Germany it is .4%. That is a vast margin and scientists are uncertain why the distance between those two numbers is so stark. In the United States, the situation is developing along the same lines as Italy. As of the morning of April 5 in Iowa, which is practicing social distancing and business closures, there have been 22 deaths, and 868 confirmed cases.
This has caused concern; however, understanding the number is important. That number is based on the total amount of confirmed cases, and not in the total number of real cases. In an estimated 80% of people, the virus goes either unnoticed or those infected are not seeking medical care. The 20% of those that do get medical attention are affected at a much higher rate of severity, and in roughly 5% of reported cases life-support is necessary. The uncertainty in reporting though has raised questions over whether or not these statistics are accurate.
Director of the Institute for Human Health and Performance at University College London, Professor Hugh Montgomery estimates that for every one case that has been reported 59,000 people are infected in a “snowball effect.”
“This coronavirus is very, very infectious, so every person passes to it three, now that doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but if each of those three pass it to three and that happens in 10 layers, I have been responsible for infecting 59,000 people,” Montgomery said in the Washington Post.
Testing for the virus, which a few weeks ago was severely limited, is by far the easiest way to get solid data on what the situation looks like realistically rather than supposedly. In an interview with National Public Radio, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House coronavirus task force, confirmed that millions of tests are being prepared at this very moment which will be crucial in properly addressing the virus.
“Today the testing situation is infinitely better than what it was a few weeks ago,” Fauci said. “We now have hundreds of thousands of tests out there. And in the next week or so, we’ll be having like a million a week.”
Throughout the next few weeks, experts anticipate continued surges of cases. The CDC continues to urge social distancing and proper hygiene to “flatten the curve” of increasing infections so that the hospital system remains functional.
On April 5, Dr. Fauci stated in a Face the Nation interview that this week was likely going to be a make-or-break point for our medical system.
“Well, this is going to be a bad week,” Fauci said. “Unfortunately, if you look at the projection of the curves, of the kinetics of the curves, we’re going to continue to see an escalation.”
While Drake has no known cases of Covid-19 yet, the rapid shutdown of campus life is having an impact on students. Junior Britany Freeman, who was studying abroad in Spain at the time, felt the full effect of the international reaction to the pandemic.
“Spain has a very dark sense of humor,” Freeman said. “Everyday we were joking about coronavirus. It wasn’t a normal day if my host brother wasn’t making a joke about it: how one of us had it, how the salad had it, how the dog had it, how everybody had it. Two weeks later, we were in the same position [as Italy.] I was like, ‘uh-oh, how did this happen? And it was in four days that we were sent home.”
Some students that had to leave Drake, such as Junior Rachel Trbovic, are experiencing worse than stir craziness and disappointment from COVID-19.
“Not being able to work is really nerve-racking,” Trbovic said. “I pay my own tuition; I rely on that money a lot for rent, bills, and food in general. So I’m basically on payment lockdown for everything. I had to ask my parents for money, which is unheard of as I’m a pretty independent person.”
Drake has additionally set up the Student Emergency Fund which on a case-by-case basis awards $250 to students struggling financially. One student, a Junior who requested to go by the name of Lyndsey for anonymity, is one such student who depended on and received money from the Fund. In a statement sent by email, she explained her situation:
“I am extremely grateful for the additional money, but obviously, being a newly single mother, it can only go so far. I felt wrong applying for the fund as I know there are so many others in bad situations, and when I have a roof over my and my son’s head, it’s hard to feel like my situation is not nearly as difficult. However, this is not to say that my situation is easy.”
The Des Moines Register reported on Sunday, April 5, despite a unanimous April 3 vote by the Iowa Board of Medicine that Gov. Reynolds refuses to issue a stay-at-home order for Iowa. The Board penned a letter to Gov. Reynolds following the vote to reiterate the severity of the disease.
“We’re not trying to bully her or strongarm her,” Gall said to the Register on Sunday. “Our intent is to tell the public that the medical profession is really quite concerned about the severity of this pandemic.”
Updates on campus closures and event suspensions are available from the Drake University Emergency Operations Center. The university directs questions around community response to Environmental Health and Safety at 515-271-3804, or by email at ehs.drake.edu. There is also a continuously updated COVID-19 response webpage at www.drake.edu/coronavirus.