University prepares for coronavirus
Jacob Waring – News Editor
On Feb. 26 university leaders gathered to discuss a plan to deal with the coronavirus or as it is now officially known, COVID-19.
According to CNN, there have been 89 confirmed cases of the virus in ten states: California, Massachusetts, Washington state, Arizona, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oregon, Rhode Island, New York and Florida.
In Washington state, two fatalities were also reported.
Although Connecticut has yet to have any confirmed cases of the virus, university leaders have heeded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning that it is not a matter of if the virus will spread but when.
Medical Director of Student Health Services, Diane Morgenthaler said President Joe Bertolino called some of the people that would be involved if the university needed to respond to a case of the coronavirus.
“We just wanted to bring all the parties in one setting and the kind of review where things were,” she said.
Bertolino said he assures there have been no confirmed cases at the university, the city of New Haven or the state of Connecticut. He said he thinks it is important for the university to be proactive and have a plan in place to respond to a pandemic or any emergency that may arise.
“We did bring university leaders together this morning, our health professionals. Student affairs professionals. Police department, academic affairs center to review where we are,” said Bertolino.
Later that afternoon on Feb. 26, Bertolino sent a university-wide email informing the Southern community about the status of COVID-19 and what the university is doing thus far.
“I assure you that Southern remains diligent in monitoring the most up-to-date information. Collaborating with the CSCU System Office and guided by our Emergency Management Plan,” stated the email, “we are prepared to respond quickly and appropriately, should the situation escalate.”
One such response, Bertolino said was he is currently working with the Office of International Education.
“At the moment, we are coordinating the return of some of those students,” said Bertolino, “[and] what the government will require of those students in order for them to return.”
He also said Southern is working very closely with the public health officials in the city and the state. Morgenthaler, according to Bertolino, said she is working closely to monitor the situation by working closely with public health officials as well as her colleagues at other colleges and universities.
With spring break almost two weeks away, Bertolino said he has some concerns about where students may be going.
“We will also provide some counseling and advice to students that are headed out on spring break,” said Bertolino, “in terms of where they may have plans to go and what they may want to consider.”
Morgenthaler said she one of the challenges now, is that by the time students get back three weeks from now from spring break, the status of COVID-19 could change significantly.
“My assumption is they’re going to be some of the places where people may have to be required to self-isolate,” said Morgenthaler. “If you did have to isolate for a time upon return. What would that look like for [students] academics, that sort of thing.”
Health Services, Morgenthaler said are considering additional screening services at the center as a precaution when students return from their break.
She also said the university has been paying close attention to the cleanliness of areas of high traffic volume such as the residence halls, adding that Health Services has been in contact with Facilities Operations to try to be sure that everyone is doing everything possible as a preventative measure for the sake of the community’s safety.
Chief of University Police Joseph Dooley said if they had to implement a plan then the university would be prepared. The campus police, he said in conjunction with the university is monitoring the situation at an international level, nationwide level, statewide level and regional level.
“Providing guidance to international students, providing guidance to our own community, which is done by e-mail,” said Dooley. “If the outbreak seems to increase if it’s a confirmed case, [the student] could be a quarantine initially [at Southern].”
Dooley said that sending people home and just being cognizant of the virus is key. Since the U.S. is currently amid flu season and COVID-19 has symptoms similar to that of the flu, he said he admits that may create a bit of a complication in properly addressing the virus.
“So really what we’re doing is with an abundance of caution, being prepared on many fronts on the campus,” said Dooley.
Sport management major, Nick May, a sophomore said the email made him feel like the university has not taken any extra steps to keep students safe.
“I didn’t feel like they really like went out of their way to do anything,” said May, “to keep us from any potential outbreaks.”
May said he is concerned about the probability of the virus infiltrating the campus.
“I think it’s very scary because I think when it’s outside of the country, it’s kind of seems far away like an issue that doesn’t affect us,” said May. “But when it starts popping up around the United States, it’s kind of shocking.”
Fitness Manager for the Fitness Center and front desk attendant, Lorenzo Burgos, a senior said he thinks a lot of fear about the virus comes from a lack of understanding.
“We should be scared, and we should be worried about it and we’re all going to get sick and stuff like that,” said Burgos. “I think it’s a lot of fear only because it’s something that not a lot of us know about.”
Burgos said although the Fitness Center gets a high volume of traffic who leave deposits of sweat behind, staff members make sure to wipe the equipment down thoroughly.
“Every hour or so, we do have pads at the front desk. Attendants have [the pads] says there are certain tasks on it, on that say, well, exactly what time certain pieces of equipment have to be wiped down,” said Burgos. “All cardio equipment, the mat and the stretcher room and all of the machines have to be wiped down.”
Ultimately, Bertolino said the university will take care of its students and its community.
“Our hope is that we won’t have to pull the trigger on any of these plans,” said Bertolino, “but it’s important to have everything in place and to be prepared to act at a moment’s notice.”
Photo Credit: Jacob Waring