Written by: Therese King Nohos
A new strain of coronavirus (2019-n-CoV), believed to first have been diagnosed in Wuhan City, China, has been declared “a health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization. As of February 2, 2020, the U.S. Department of State raised its travel warning for China to Level 4, advising citizens not to travel to China and, for those citizens in China, to attempt to depart by commercial means if possible (while noting that most commercial air carriers have suspended flights from China). The White House issued a new travel ban and screening measures, which took effect at 5 pm on February 2, for travelers coming from China or who had been in China within the previous 14 days. Some news outlets are now reporting that the outbreak could soon be declared a pandemic.
All of this has colleges and universities wondering how to respond when 350,000 Chinese students pursue higher education in the United States and 10,000 U.S. students are enrolled in Chinese programs, reports The New York Times.
The Chicago Tribune reports that some Illinois institutions have halted any academically-sponsored student trips to China for the spring semester. The University of Illinois, where 5,900 Chinese students were enrolled last fall, has been in close contact with its Chinese student population to encourage them to seek treatment if they exhibit symptoms. The University of Chicago announced that its China campuses will be closed at least through February 19 and “strongly discourages” anyone from traveling to mainland China or Hong Kong. Last week, Inside Higher Ed directed readers to existing resources on how to respond to a pandemic on a college campus should 2019-n-C0V reach that level, available here.
Illinois colleges and universities are mandatory reporters of infectious diseases. That means they should report suspected cases of 2019-n-CoV within three (3) hours to their local health department. They also should carefully monitor this rapidly-evolving issue through the CDC and the Illinois Department of Health, both of which have set up webpages dedicated to this issue. An effective campus communications plan should relay the key information found on the CDC’s website, including encouraging sick people to stay home or, if they believe they may have the virus, to phone ahead to their healthcare provider for instructions on how to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to healthcare workers. Care should be taken not to create undue alarm or to subject individuals of Asian descent to prejudice on the mistaken belief that they are more likely to carry the virus.