Following reports that two Miami University students are suspected to have the coronavirus after traveling in China over J-term, the university held a joint press conference with the Butler County General Health District and the Ohio Department of Health to address concerns.
Amy Acton, director of Ohio’s Department of Health, cautioned the Miami community to remain calm. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) maintains that catching the coronavirus is a “low-risk” statewide.
“When fear drives us, it’s important to know the facts,” she said.
The two students suspected to have the virus are not sick enough to be hospitalized and remain in their housing off-campus in isolation, Acton said. The health department took three types of samples, including blood, from both students and sent them to be reviewed by the CDC.
“This mirrors the protocol that is being followed at other universities, including Baylor University, Wesleyan University, Tennessee Tech University and Texas A&M University, who also isolated students while coronavirus tests were being conducted,” University President Greg Crawford wrote in an email to the Miami community.
It will be at least 48 hours until the federal agency can confirm whether the students have the virus, and the state expects to have the results back before the end of the week.
Butler County General Health District’s health commissioner, Jennifer Bailer, explained that both students came back to Oxford a few days ago and went to Miami’s Student Health Services (SHS) on Monday, Jan. 27 after one of the students did not feel well.
SHS reported the students’ symptoms to Butler County, whose specialists took blood, nasal and respiratory samples from the students and sent the specimens to the state health department.
Bailer said after investigating both students’ travel histories, the health district determined the first student — an international student from China — was the main concern. His friend, the second student, was in potential “contact” with the disease.
Both students are being closely monitored and feel “fairly well today,” Bailer said.
Acton explained the department of health is focusing on two areas of concern in Ohio: business travelers who frequent Wuhan, China, the origin of the disease’s outbreak, and international students who attend college in the state.
Typically, the disease spreads within a six-foot range through the air by coughing, she said.
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Acton insisted the Miami community remain compassionate for sick students and not jump to conclusions because the risk for becoming ill is so low.
In an email to the Miami community this morning, Vice President for Student Life Jayne Brownell and Director of University Health Services Terri Buzzell outlined preventative measures that community members can take.
The email details washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before, during and after you prepare food, before eating and after using the bathroom, before smoking or vaping, after handling cash and more frequently when someone in your house is sick as a way to prevent the spread of illness.
There are 2,895 international students who make up the university’s student population, according to university communications. There are about 70 international students who hail from Wuhan, but Miami is unsure of the exact number, director of international student and scholar services Molly Heidemann wrote in an email to The Miami Student.
Some students are concerned the coronavirus will spread in Oxford.
“As soon as I got the email, I rushed to Walgreens and Kroger, and they said they had been sold out of surgical masks since last Friday,” said graduate student Jackie Wang.
Wang said she wishes more American students would wear masks to protect themselves and everybody else.
“I’m afraid to go back to classes because I don’t want to go in big public spaces,” she added.
Senior Preston Polen put on a mask as soon as he read the email notifying students about the coronavirus. He said he is recovering from an illness.
“I’m currently immunocompromised, and so I got the email, and I’m like ‘I’m not taking any risks,’” Polen said. “It’s a little scary … I think because of its viral capabilities.”
Others, though, said they won’t be doing anything differently in reaction to the news.
Sophomore Jack Lichtenstein isn’t ready to panic. He plans to go about business as usual.
“If I’m gonna skip class, it’s not going to be because of this,” Lichtenstein said. “I had joked about it with my parents before coming here, because out of all the places it seemed the most unlikely, but of course it came here.”
The day before word spread of the two possible cases of coronavirus in Oxford, Miami’s Confucius Institute canceled its annual Lunar New Year event, originally scheduled for Feb. 8.
Chen Zhao, director of the Confucius Institute of Miami University, said the decision was made to avoid large crowds of people in one place for two weeks until the incubation period for the virus had passed.
“This is a very scary disease, so we want to make sure all students [are] safe, including Chinese students and American students,” Zhao said. “That’s the whole purpose.”
The Central Michigan men’s basketball team has postponed the game scheduled against Miami tonight due to the possibility of coronavirus at Miami, according to a press release provided by Central Michigan. Western Michigan’s women’s basketball team also postponed tomorrow’s game against Miami, but the reason is unclear at this time.
Jayne Brownell, Miami’s vice president for student life, said during the press conference the university isn’t planning to cancel any other events — including class — at this time.
Additional reporting by Editor-in-Chief Samantha Brunn, News Editors Julia Arwine, Rachel Berry and Erin Glynn and Assistant News Editors Tim Carlin and Briah Lumpkins.