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Campus grapples with pandemic

Since its outbreak, the coronavirus has caused widespread fear and panic among the nation. Conferences are being cancelled, events are being postponed, and universities are canceling classes or suspending in-class instruction.  

The virus first appeared in Wuhan, China in December, and since then the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has spread internationally, and thousands of people have died. 

As of Wednesday, March 18m the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that there has been a total of 7,038 cases of COVID-19 in the United States and there have been 97 deaths. All 50 states are reporting cases of COVID-19 as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reports that there are 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kansas. 11 are in Johnson County, five are in Wyandotte County, two in Leavenworth County, and Butler County, Douglas County, and Franklin County are reporting one confirmed case.

The first case in Kansas was reported in Johnson County. A woman who had recently travelled in the Northeastern U.S. reported symptoms of COVID-19. The testing was confirmed by the KDHE’s Kansas Health and Environmental Laboratories. Testing was sent to the CDC for verification but at this moment the state is presuming the test to be positive. There are two person under investigation in Topeka.  Since then, COVID-19 has spread to surrounding areas outside of Johnson County.

While there are no confirmed reports in Pittsburg, the presence of COVID-19 in the United States and in Kansas has promoted university officials to respond. PSU Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Abigail Fern is a member of the PSU Critical Incident Management Team which meets every day to discuss contingency plans.  

“We’re working through all contingency plans now,” Fern said. “So, we do have a crisis response plan in place already… We’re not in crisis mode right now but we’ve activated the team to begin looking at contingencies should someone get sick or should we have to take stronger measures to limit the exposure of our campus to this virus.”  

Director of Physical Plant Services and Grounds Tim Senecaut says that custodians are disinfecting frequently used surfaces and high traffic areas on campus such as door handles, light switches, bathroom surfaces, frequently used counters and handrails in stairwells. 

“What we’re doing is following the CDC and KDHE guidelines,” Senecaut said. “…Like I said, it kind of gives us some direction and guidance on cleaning… We were doing a lot of that beforehand. It was just kind of those commonsense things… After events that we have at the Bicknell Center, we go in and do a thorough cleaning of those surfaces there too… Some of those areas (are areas) that we are able to spray, it’s a disinfectant that’s put on, but you have to let it dissipate, dry on its own. So, we’ll do those late at night or early in the morning to where we actually disinfect the surface before the crowds get in or after they’ve been in in preparation for the next day of an event or the upcoming classes.” 

In a Saturday, March 7 press conference, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly addressed fears of COVID-19 spreading across Kansas.  

“Kansas has been prepared for positive cases of novel coronavirus and will continue to work alongside local and federal public health partners in addressing the potential spread of the virus,” Kelly said. “It is our main priority to keep Kansans healthy and safe. We want Kansans educated on all aspects related to COVID-19.” 

According to the CDC, coronavirus is a large family of viruses. The most recent examples of coronavirus outbreaks are the South Asian Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2013.  

Some coronaviruses can cause people to become ill and some only affect animals. In some cases, animal coronaviruses can mutate and infect people. The CDC suspects that this has occurred for COVID-19 as the first infections were linked to a live animal market in Wuhan, China. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2.  

The symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. The CDC says that symptoms can manifest anywhere from as few as two days to as late as 14 days after exposure. If you experience these symptoms, have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 or have recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread, the CDC recommends that you call your doctor.  

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a pandemic, which is a disease that is prevalent over a whole country or the world.  

Over 100 locations have had confirmed cases of COVID-19. According to WHO, as of Wednesday, March 18, there are 191,127 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally. There has been a total of 7,807 deaths. 

Schools and universities around the U.S. are cancelling classes and moving online for a short period of time or for the semester. Many countries are restricting travel or closing borders such as Italy. On Wednesday, March 11 President Trump announced a 30-day travel ban from most of Europe.  

CNN reports that Stanford, Yale, Georgetown and Harvard are among the many schools to cancel classes or suspend in-class instruction.  

The spread of COVID-19 is also beginning to affect the economy. According to the Los Angeles Times, “A number of conferences, conventions and trade shows around the world have been canceled or postponed as attendees and organizers voice concerns about coronavirus,” Sherriff Karamat, chief executive of PCMA, a trade association representing the business events industry, told the Times. “In Europe alone, 260 conferences have been canceled due to coronavirus.” 

Tuesday the Ivy League announced it was cancelling its conference basketball tournament, and Wednesday the NCAA announced that national championship tournament games will be played with only “essential staff” in attendance. The NBA also announced on Wednesday that they are suspending the current season after a player for the Utah Jazz contracted the virus.  

In addition to curtailing large sporting events, the CDC is suggesting that universities should consider postponing or cancelling upcoming student foreign exchange and study abroad programs and should consider asking current program participants to return to their home countries.  

“Those overseeing student foreign exchange programs should be aware that students may face unpredictable circumstances, travel restrictions, challenges in returning home or accessing health care while abroad… IHEs should consider asking students participating in study abroad programs to return to the United States. IHEs should work with state and local public health officials to determine the best approach for when and how (e.g., chartered transportation for countries or areas assessed as high-risk for exposure) their study abroad students might return. All plans for returning study abroad students should be designed to protect participants from stigma and discrimination.” 

Pittsburg State has suspended all university-related travel outside of the U.S for the spring semester including upcoming study abroad programs, national travel by student groups and international faculty travel. 

According to Fern, there are currently five students from PSU studying abroad and they have been offered help in returning to the U.S. if they choose to. As of right now, PSU is still planning to accept international students in the fall.  

“We are evaluating how we handle incoming and outgoing international trips and students in the fall, but we can’t make decisions until we see how the virus situation evolves,” Fern said.  

A Bulk-E was sent out with information for those who are planning to travel during spring break. If you are planning to travel within the U.S., you should be aware of the current status of your destination and follow the travel recommendations from the CDC. If you plan to travel internationally, be aware of the current situation and be prepared for sudden changes. Countries can implement new exit and entry regulations which could impact your trip and your ability to reenter the U.S. without quarantine or restrictions.  

According to the CDC, there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. However, there are steps you can take to prevent illness. People should avoid close contact with others who are sick, avoid touching their face, stay home when sick, cover their cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw it away, clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, only wear a facemask when they are showing symptoms of COVID-19 and wash hands with soap often especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Currently, there is no antiviral treatment recommended.  

Pittsburg State will continue to monitor the situation and follow guidelines laid out by the KDHE and the CDC.  

“We’re carefully monitoring information from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and reports from our own Student Health Services,” Fern said. “Members of President Scott’s council are actively developing plans to address concerns on our campus and will have more and regular communication and guidance in the coming days.” 

The Bryant Student Health Center and the International Programs and Services office declined to comment.  

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