A looming threat? Campus nervous about coronavirus amidst already present flu season

By Elise Lemay

Health & Wellness Editor

Within the past few weeks, the world has been on edge as reports have piled in around  the spread of coronavirus, a respiratory illness with symptoms similar to the flu. The illness began in Wuhan City, Hubei Provence, China, but has spread internationally. As of Wednesday afternoon, at least 362 people have died and more than 17,300 people have been affected, as reported by CNN. On January 30, the International Health Regulations Emergency of the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of coronavirus a “public health emergency of international concern.” 

While there have been no cases of coronavirus reported in Vermont, on campus here at St. Michael’s College, there’s been a buzz of concern from students. But how likely is it to affect us here in Vermont, and how can we protect ourselves? According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), the main symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. “This makes it difficult to differentiate the novel coronavirus from the regular flu,” said nurse practitioner Mary Masson, director of Bergeron Wellness Center.  of the symptoms to be aware of. The latest research shows that most cases have been spread from person-to-person contact, primarily through close contact and spread of respiratory droplets from infected persons. Anyone who has recently traveled to Wuhan or the Hubei Province of China has been screened and may be put in isolation for 14 days after arriving. 

The CDC also recommends what not to do: “do not travel to China, do not wear face masks, and do not show prejudice to those of Asian descent because of fear of this new virus. Do not assume that someone of Asian descent is more likely to have 2019-nCoV.   Indeed, racial prejudice due to the outbreak of coronavirus is prevalent. Saint Michael’s College is home to many international students, some of whom call China home. Professor Patricia Delaney of the anthropology department stressed how important it is that everyone feels welcome on our campus. “Especially our Chinese students might be feeling anxious about how others will interact with them at this time,” said Delaney “We should stand in solidarity with them and we have a responsibility to stand up and speak out against racism or xenophobia if it rears its ugly head.” 

Illustration By Bella Bogdansksi

Instead of resorting to fear surrounding coronavirus that may perpetuate racism or xenophobia, Delaney encourages everyone to consider how the disease might be affecting international students, and students from China in particular. “They are far from home. Their parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, and other relatives are in the middle of a huge epidemic.” She urges American students to put themselves in their peers’ shoes, “Imagine how you would feel if you were studying abroad and an epidemic hit the United States. You would be terrified and would feel helpless.”

No students from Saint Michael’s College have recently traveled to Wuhan, China or the Hubei Province, and we have no students currently studying abroad in China, Masson said. And thus far, there have been no confirmed or even reported cases of coronavirus in Vermont. But that could change. “We live in a very global environment where travel is common so the likelihood is always there that we may see cases in Vermont,” Masson said. On campus, the Bergeron Wellness Center always asks and advises students with the regular flu to wear masks when out in public. This is done to prevent the airborne transmission of the virus, “So, don’t jump to the conclusion that folks wearing masks might be carrying the coronavirus. They are just keeping themselves and others healthy,” said Masson. 

Amidst the concerns over coronavirus, the flu season is running its course on campus, within both the student body and faculty. Flu symptoms to look out for are: fever, chills, sore throat, and muscle aches. How can you protect yourself from getting the flu virus?

Start by getting the flu shot.  It takes a few weeks to build full protection after getting the shot, but this is your best bet of preventing the problem. Bergeron no longer has flu shots available, “But almost all local pharmacies have them and it’s not too late to get the vaccine,” Mary Masson, Director and Nurse Practitioner of Bergeron Wellness Center said in an email.

“The average price of a normal strength flu shot is $19.99 without insurance,” said Nick Lamothe, an intern at the Costco Pharmacy, who  is in the final steps of becoming a Licensed Pharmacist. 

To keep yourself healthy, the Bergeron Wellness Center also recommends the following tips: get enough sleep, wash your hands, don’t share drinks, cups, vape pens, etc., stay home if you are sick or running a fever, and see your healthcare provider if symptoms are worsening. 

The CDC advises that you are contagious 3-4 days after you begin to feel sick, so don’t hesitate to go to Bergeron Wellness Center for a walk in if you’re feeling symptoms. “It’s really hard to get better because everyone else is also sick,” said Ron Russell ‘20, whose been dealing with the flu. The CDC reports that the flu is around all year but peaks in the months of February and December and can last until May. Getting the flu shot can shorten the normal week long flu experience. 

“ don’t jump to the conclusion that folks wearing masks might be carrying the coronavirus. They are just keeping themselves and others healthy.” – Mary Masson, Director, Bergeron Wellness Center 

CDC:  What Not to Do (tips from the Centers for Disease Control)

  • Do not travel to China 
  • Do not use facemasks
  • Do not show prejudice to people of Asian descent, because of fear of this new virus. Do not assume that someone of Asian descent is more likely to have 2019-nCoV.

The Best Ways to Stay Healthy (Tips from Mary Masson, director of Bergeron Wellness Center) 

  • . Get enough sleep
  • ·         Wash your hands
  • ·         Don’t share drinks, cups, vape pens, etc.
  • ·         Stay home if you are sick or running a fever
  • ·         See your healthcare provider if symptoms are worsening