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By Mikey Halligan

Managing & Visual Design Editor

The Vermont International Film Festival (VTIFF) along with the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival (MNFF) will be hosting their Split/Screen series on Feb. 19 to Feb 28.

Saint Michael’s College along with Middlebury College and Champlain College will be hosting the event which features 6 films directed by African American women as well as two separate recorded conversations with the directors Natasha NGaiza and Ashley O’Shay.

“As February is Black History month, sponsoring this month’s series felt like an important thing for the college to support”, said Alex Bertoni, Director of Marketing and Communications. “We hope that students, faculty and staff will take advantage of this opportunity to see and discuss these films.”

Split/Screen Monthly Passes are usually $40 but because of the school sponsorship, 250 students, faculty and staff will be able to view the event for free via a virtual screening site on both the VTIFF and MNFF websites.

  • VTIFF Now: watch.vtiff.org
  • MNFF Online: watch.midfilmfest.org 

The films that will be featured include:

  • LOSING GROUND by Kathleen Collins | 1982 | Fiction
    • One of the first movies directed by an African American woman. Sara Rogers (Seret Scott), a black professor of philosophy, is embarking on an intellectual quest to understand “ecstasy” just as her painter husband, Victor (Bill Gunn), sets off on a more earthy exploration of joy. Over the course of a summer idyll in upstate New York, the two each experience profound emotional and romantic awakenings. 

  • FAREWELL AMOR by Ekwa Msangi | 2020 | Fiction
    • After 17 years apart, Angolan immigrant Walter is joined in the U.S. by his wife and teen daughter. Now absolute strangers sharing a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, they struggle to overcome the emotional distance between them.

  • ILLUSIONS by Julie Dash | 1982 | Short Film
    • The time is 1942, a year after Pearl Harbor; the place is National Studios, a fictitious Hollywood motion picture studio. Mignon Duprée, a Black woman studio executive who appears to be white and Ester Jeeter, an African American woman who is the singing voice for a white Hollywood star are forced to come to grips with a society that perpetuates false images as status quo.

  • BLACKOUT by Natasha NGaiza | 2013 | Short Film
    • A sudden power outage leads to an impromptu shadow performance that inspires an African immigrant to revisit the past and confront her marriage. Blackout explores the intricacies of transnational African identity, motherhood and memory.

  • A MOTHER by Natasha NGaiza | 2020 | Short Film
    • As a town copes with the disappearance of a little girl, a mother of two must come to terms with her own decision to abort an unexpected pregnancy.

  • UNAPOLOGETIC by Ashley O’Shay | 2020 | Documentary
    • captures tensions between a police board led by Lori Lightfoot (now Chicago Mayor) and abolitionist organizers at Chicago Police Department Headquarters in a polarizing moment in Chicago’s fight against racial injustice after the slaying by police of two Black Chicagoans – Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald.

For more information about the event, go to: https://vtiff.org/vtiff-now/splitscreen/

By Ashley DeLeon

Executive Editor

Preparations for the Spring semester are underway, and the Saint Michael’s College administration is mandating the adherence of stricter COVID-19 guidelines this up-coming semester compared to the Fall.

On Jan. 13 at 4:30 p.m., the Emergency Planning Group (EPG) hosted a Town Hall to provide students with information about COVID-19 guidelines for the Spring semester.

“New and updated policies are created to benefit the student body,” said Lorraine Sterritt, president of Saint Michael’s College. Though new strains of the virus are more infectious, Sterritt shined light on the anticipated effectiveness of vaccines. “New strains are more infectious. The good news is that the vaccines are expected to be effective against them,” she said.

Mary Masson, executive director of Bergeron Wellness Center, says the virus’ impact in our community and state is being watched carefully. “Although the COVID rate is lower than three percent, we’re watching it with concern,” she said. “Last week’s numbers equaled the total number of cases from May to October. Why we’ve done so well is because we have a very conservative commissioner and governor. It is the reason behind things we’ll do moving forward.” Decision making from the State of Vermont is the reason why many of the College guidelines are in place, Masson explained. She specified that Saint Michael’s College follows directives from the State of Vermont, though there may be discrepancies with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).

For individuals who were diagnosed with COVID-19 over winter break, the College requests a copy of the testing result sent to mmasson@smcvt.edu for medical record purposes. Those who were previously diagnosed do not need to undergo surveillance testing for a full 90 days. Administration will notify these individuals when they are due for testing. Though surveillance testing may not be mandatory for this time period, they are expected to follow all other COVID-19 guidelines on campus, Masson explained.

If someone has fallen ill or is a contact of a positive case, quarantine will occur in Ryan Hall, differing from the College’s previous policy of quarantine inside of an individual’s Fall housing. Contacts with a history of a COVID infection within the past 90 days are still required to undergo a full quarantine. This guideline is mandated by the VT Department of Health.

The full duration of isolation is 10 days, with a planned release on Day 11. If symptoms are developed during isolation, “the clock restarts and it becomes 10 days from the start of symptoms,” Masson noted. “There is a new strain coming out of the UK called the B117 strain, which is more contagious. They are finding that because it’s more contagious, it can affect larger communities, increasing the risk for a larger subset of the community to be hospitalized,” she warned. Luckily, testing provided by the Broad Institute can detect this specific strain. 

According to Masson, Mark Levine, Vermont Health Commissioner, stated that no plan is in place for college students to receive the vaccine until the late spring or early summer at this point in time. If there is an uptick in doses or more companies approved by the FDA for vaccination administration, then this may change. “The COVID vaccine does not prevent us from being exposed to the virus or potentially sharing it with our community. It won’t be effective until 70% of the population receives it. If you get the vaccine, you must still continue the guidelines of testing, quarantining, masking, etc.” Masson said.

 ”We learned a lot from the Fall,” said Dawn Ellinwood, vice president for student affairs. A survey conducted by the Student Government Association (SGA) provided the EPG with feedback and data to consider in their Spring semester planning. 

“We have received lots of feedback and data recently. The SGA leadership met with the EPG group from a survey they just did. We are continuing to work and there are works in progress. It was important for the EPG to share what we have so far and it may not change a lot, but it may,” she said. 

Ellinwood notes the biggest protocol change is the mandate for quarantine in Ryan Hall. “Meals will be delivered, and the hall will have more pantries. We are trying to make that space more than it was in the Fall,” she said. Additionally, are encouraged to only socialize with their households.

Saint Michael’s College administration and student leaders of the COVID Action Network hosted a Town Hall via Zoom to address student concerns and increased safety measures

Testing changes

Faculty and staff are encouraged to receive testing weekly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., though testing is not mandatory. 

“The configuration of what you experienced last semester will be different. Testing will be conducted around the track, because the numbers of people coming in will be dramatically different.” Students must bring their KnightCards to testing, as they will be swiped upon entry to record attendance. “If you do not show up, we will find you,” Ellinwood warned. 

The virus is fully expected to be present on campus upon arrival, therefore, the precaution and vigilance are crucial until the arrival testing is completed. 

Mental Health and Wellness

Kathy Butts, director of counseling at Bergeron, encourages students to contemplate whether returning to campus in-person is in their best interest. “When you think about coming back, knowing what the challenges are, think about how that will work for you and if you have the supports and capacities available to take on that challenge,” she said. Butts notes that learning remotely can be beneficial for many students. 

If anyone is in need of support in making this decision, reach out to kbutts@smcvt.edu.

In addition, individual counseling will be available by appointment, and urgent needs can be accommodated on the same day.

Communication and messaging

Alex Bertoni, director of marketing and communications, explained new changes to the College website. There is a new section titled Information and Resources, with newly integrated alert levels. “Alert levels give people a level of where we’re at. Some of the requirements for orange are spelled out there. If there is a lower incidence of COVID, we can get to yellow.” The administration can’t specify what guidelines can be relaxed with yellow and green levels, as they may be subject to change. To access the dashboard, it will no longer be linked on the landing page. It can be found under COVID Alert Levels.

Additionally, information that defines terms such as “household,” further details of quarantine and isolation, and information about hygiene can be found on this page. 

Academics

Jeffrey Trumbower, vice president for academic affairs and professor of Religious Studies, reminded students that classes begin virtually on Jan. 25, for those who quarantined both at home and on campus. Classes with in-person components are expected to begin on Feb. 4. 

“We didn’t plan break days well in the Fall because we never experienced a semester where the only break day was in the middle of the week. There was a sense of not having any breaks, and we stressed to faculty that break days are actually break days, and no assignments should be due the day after or the day of,” he said. Department and committee meetings should not meet either, as these are meant to be breaks from the normal routine.” 

If a student is contemplating remote learning for the semester, they must contact Tim Mackin, Associate Dean of the College. 

“One caveat is that not every course is available remotely. One-third are fully virtual, one-third are mixed, and one-third are in person. Some mixed and in person models can make accommodations for fully remote students, however. It is not too late to decide if you want to be virtual,” Trumbower stated.

The EPG later addressed specific questions submitted by students, highlighting, re-iterating, and supplementing specific information previously provided in the informational session.

For more information on health and safety protocols for the Spring semester, visit https://www.smcvt.edu/return-to-campus/

By Ashley DeLeon

Executive Editor

If there’s anything we can learn from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, it’s that spiders are capable of teaching humans valuable lessons. Neuroscience research with the eight-legged creatures at St. Michael’s College now shows that the high volume sound that pumps through many earbuds is causing irreparable damage to hearing in young people.

Through complex experiments with Central American Hunting Spiders, biologist Ruth Fabian-Fine, associate professor of biology and neuroscience, has researched sensory mechanisms in spiders that are strikingly similar to hearing in humans. 

Fabian-Fine describes hearing as “one of the least understood sensory modalities that we have.” Therefore, she devised a model system to further explore hearing, and discovered that spiders are similar to mammals. 

The hairy legs of spiders are attached to sensory neurons. These sensory neurons are chemosensory, meaning that spiders can smell chemicals with them, she said. For example, pheromones, scents emitted by some animals that trigger a response in members of the same species, are tactile (mechanosensory). If you touch or place pressure on a tactile area of a spider, you are coming in contact with these hairs. What we don’t see are tiny slits in their cuticles hidden inside an exoskeleton (the outer hard part of the spider). “These slit-sense organs are the equivalent to ears in humans. With slit-sense organs, spiders can detect vibration and ‘hear,’’ Fabian-Fine said, explaining that they “hear” the same auditory waves we hear. Through the study of sensory neurons and slit-sense organs, Fabian-Fine offers a new way to study hearing, showing the long-term implications of overstimulation.

You’re driving home one evening from a long day at work, listening to your favorite radio station while a steady breeze brushes upon your face from the open  windows. The next morning, you turn on your car radio. You are startled by its volume. “Why does my car always do that?” you question. Fabian-Fine explained that this is not the fault of your vehicle, but rather, changes to your ear’s sensitivity. The sensitivity in your sensory neurons were down-regulated by the central neurons the evening before, as a way of protecting your ear from this loud stimulus. “You’ve had this same experience with vision, and when you suddenly turn on a bright light at night, it hurts your eyes. This is not the case when you’ve adapted to it, because the sensitivity of your photoreceptor cells is down regulated,” she said.

Fabian-Fine then explained how these signals are transmitted from the organ to the brain.

“When you sit in a restaurant, and you talk to the person sitting across from you, which can be done easily, you can hear the conversations of people from neighboring tables. We’ve all done that, right? We had a conversation and sensed something in our environment. We then focus our hearing on what’s going on outside of the conversation,” she said. The reason we can do this, she said, is because the neurons in our brain can signal our ears, and say, “down-regulate the sensitivity of this part of the ear, and up-regulate the frequencies of this other conversation that I want to listen to.”

Risks of hearing loss in youth

According to the American Academy of Audiology, “The average, otherwise healthy person will have essentially normal hearing at least up to age 60,” assuming that one’s unprotected ears are not exposed to high noise levels above 85 decibels. With headphone use prevalent among youth, risks for compromised hearing at an earlier age greatly increase.

“An estimated 12.5% of children and adolescents aged 6–19 years (approximately 5.2 million) and 17% of adults aged 20–69 years (approximately 26 million) have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise” according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This hearing loss is a consequence of damaged structures and/or nerve fibers located in the inner ear that respond to sound. This specific form of hearing loss is known as noise-induced hearing loss, and is a result of excessive exposure to loud sounds. This is often irreversible, and cannot be corrected medically or surgically. This form of hearing loss can occur from exposure to a dangerously loud sound or blast, or listening to loud sounds over an extended period of time.

A study conducted by Siemens Hearing Instruments (SHI) notes that teen hearing loss may be on the rise, with 1 in 6 teens having hearing loss symptoms “often or all of the time,” and nearly 9 in 10 engaged in activities that place them at risk for hearing loss. SHI notes that a survey of 500 teenagers, aged between 13 and 19, found that “46% reported experiencing ringing, roaring, buzzing or pain in their ears after engaging in risky hearing practices, including listening to excessively loud music and using lawn and power tools with no hearing protection.” One in 6 teens admitted to experiencing these symptoms often or all the time. 

Interestingly enough, for many teenagers, this information is not new. The study reveals that teenagers are aware of these risks, yet make a conscious decision to not protect their hearing. Almost 88% of teens in this study admitted to engaging in activities they know may lead to hearing damage, with listening to loud music being most popular. “When asked what their parents or teachers would do if they knew how loud their music was, 78% of teens confessed they would tell them to lower the volume or wear protective gear,” the study found.

“Oh no, is my music too loud?”

Music plays an integral role in the lives of many teenagers. This past decade, however, earbuds have been cause for concern among hearing care professionals. So, how do you know if the volume of your headphones is too loud? 

Apple has implemented software within the Health app to measure headphone audio exposure, and provides statistical data to show if the volume is too loud.

To access this data, in the Health app, scroll to “Show All Health Data,” “Headphone Audio Levels,” and a range of audio exposure information will appear. This data will explain if the volume of your headphones is unhealthily high, average, or under the health recommendation. Additionally, it provides data surveying your exposure over the past seven days, and notifies you if you are over the limit.

On an Android, a warning will appear on your device if the volume is harmfully loud, stating that listening above the level may cause hearing damage. 

This information is vital for monitoring volume limits, while encouraging mindful listening to prevent irreversible hearing damage in the future.

If we don’t protect our ears nor understand the sensory systems that impact our hearing, we may face irreversible damage, Fabian-Fine expressed. By educating ourselves and others, we can protect people from the devastating reality that millions of children, teens, and adults will face in their lifetime.

By Kit Geary

Politics Editor

On January 20, 2021, the United States will transfer the power of the presidency from one political party to the other. On this day Donald Trump is scheduled to exit the White House along with his cabinet. Over the next several weeks president-elect Joe Biden will be creating his own cabinet, a group of appointed officials to lead departments in the executive branch. The appointees are rolling in daily as the composition of America’s most diverse presidential cabinet comes together.

Who to choose who to choose
The truth is the thought process behind choosing a cabinet varies greatly for each president-elect. Trump’s 2016 appointments were familiar faces to the American public, whether they be former governors or some of the nation’s most prominent business moguls. “The Trump cabinet had more people well known to those who followed politics, they were prominent members of the Republican establishment,” said Paul Heintz of SevenDays VT, who was recently named one of the nation’s outstanding political reporters by the Washington Post. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was a face people knew as being a former opponent of Trump’s during the Republican primaries. More recently, in 2019 Eugene Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, was appointed Secretary of Labor.

A president-elect’s cabinet appointees give insight into what the executive branch is going to look like. Who an elect chooses reflects on the values and ideologies they are going to take into office with them. We are learning more about Biden’s cabinet each day as we grow closer to that Jan. 20 transition day. What values and ideologies can we gather from his early picks?

“We see Biden’s priorities reflected not only in the personnel but in the offices themselves. There is a clear emphasis on expertise and experience. The choosing of cabinet members is a fascinating process because we learn a lot about the president and how they tend to govern,” said political writer and blogger Steve Benen, who is also the producer for The Rachel Maddow Show.

A new White House position that was created –Climate Envoy– was telling of Biden’s plans for the future. John Kerry was appointed to this position that will lead a national security council. This position is within the executive branch, it is not a cabinet position and does not require Senate confirmation. Kerry will be focusing on foreign policy as it relates to climate change. Gina McCarthy will be taking a similar role as a climate czar taking the role of Biden’s top domestic climate coordinator. Making a point to elevate positions such as these sheds light on the fact that for Biden climate change is a threat to national security and tackling it is a major priority.

Illustration by Kit Geary

In terms of filling the longstanding cabinet positions, Biden’s approach differs greatly from Trump’s. Trump had many of what Heintz refers to as “razzle-dazzle candidates” who were great on camera and who had impressive credentials and name recognition.

Biden’s cabinet does not hold as many recognizable shining stars, in fact, many people might not be familiar with these candidates at all. “Biden’s current appointments and suspected appointments, they know the job pretty well, even if the public doesn’t know them very well,” Heintz said. Many of these people held deputy positions in Obama’s administration. Rather than being in the spotlight, they were behind the scenes. They have experience and an understanding of what the job demands.

Diverse Decisions
NPR accused Donald Trump of “breaking a trend towards diversity” with his 2016 cabinet picks and despite some changes made since 2016, the cabinet still mainly consists of white men. Biden’s on the other hand has representation from many demographics. While Trump’s cabinet resembled America’s elite, Biden’s represents the general American public.

“Biden is bringing different voices to the table, voices who usually don’t have a seat at the table,” said Michael Bosia, Professor of Political Science at St. Michael’s. Biden has committed to having half of his cabinet be women. Already the U.S. is seeing a few firsts including Janet Yellen who will be the first woman to serve as the Secretary of the Treasury for the first time in the treasury’s 231 year history and General Lloyd Austin who will be the first person of color to serve as the Secretary of Defense.

“There are certainly constituencies within the Democratic party, particularly communities of color, who have made it clear to the incoming president that they want to see a new administration reflect the diverse communities who supported him getting into office in the first place. The president-elect appears to be listening,” Benen said. One notable community is black women. 90 percent of whom voted for Biden when they showed up to the polls with historic numbers.

On Dec. 15 Biden appointed Pete Buttigieg to be the Secretary of Transportation. Buttigieg will be the first openly gay cabinet member. Buttigieg will be the first millennial added to Biden’s cabinet, this makes him one of the youngest cabinet members in history.

Closing Critiques
Some prominent Republicans are not pleased with Biden’s picks. Senator Marco Rubio leading the pack tweeting that Biden’s cabinet picks will be “polite and orderly caretakers of America’s decline.”

“You saw critics early on in this process of the Biden administration saying he is choosing from the same old Washington insiders who are well connected and may not bring independent views to their position,” Heintz said. Critics are coming at Biden not only from the opposing party but his own as well.

Progressive members are watching Biden closely as he has not appointed many progressive Democrats to be a part of his cabinet. Prominent progressives such as Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders rallied for Biden when he needed the support most. Anticipate that the members will feel a sense of betrayal if Biden does not gather some more left-leaning politicians to serve on his cabinet.

By Victoria Zambello

Executive Editor

On Dec. 14, Vermont Governor Phil Scott announced the incoming of 1,950 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. With the recent news of the vaccine, 90.2 percent of the St. Michael’s Community said they would take the vaccine and 9.8 percent said they would not take the vaccine based on a Defender poll with 173 responses. 

“Of all the vaccines that are being developed right now, this is the most rigorously studied and watched,” said Tracy Dolan, Deputy Commissioner for Public Health in a recent interview. “The best minds in the world have been contributing to this. The effectiveness is unprecedented, with a 95 percent effectiveness rate coming out of the gate and we do trust the FDA and CDC in terms of their protocols.” 

But college students shouldn’t toss their masks away yet. The vaccine will be given out based on a list of criteria created by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). With initial doses provided to high-risk health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, the typical college student will be far down on the phase list for the vaccine. Based on Oct. 23 Vermont Governor’s press release, college-aged students will be vaccinated in phase three.  

It will take time for enough of the public to have the community immunity needed to fight this virus, Dolan explained.“Even though we have a vaccine starting now, which is really the very best news for this virus, it will be months before we see real changes in masking and social distancing.”

“This is just the start of a long process to receive and administer enough vaccines to bring COVID-19 under control,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD in his recent press statement on Dec. 14. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of everyone keeping up their efforts to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the virus. This is a time for great optimism and even greater vigilance to make it all happen.”

How it works

The vaccine works with two doses, and unlike vaccines such as the flu shot, experts believe that the vaccine will last long-term. “Coronavirus has a very slow mutation and we anticipate that this round of vaccines, getting the first, and then the second will keep you protected for the long term. We anticipate it to be a long-term vaccine like you would get for measles that require usually one or two as a whole,” Dolan said. 

According to the CDC, a second shot is applied after the first shot, in order to gain immunity from the disease. Common side effects, similar to any vaccine, include fever, chills, tiredness, and headaches. 

St. Michael’s students, attending school on campus this spring, will still need to follow the Vermont guidelines on the vaccine, regardless of their home state. Although some students may have tested positive in the past, the Department of Health will not ask you about your history with COVID. 

“Even though you may have tested positive for COVID and you may have an antibody response, you don’t know how strong that response is. With this vaccine, because we are controlling it, we know that this response will be very effective based on the trials we’ve done,” Dolan said. “For students that will eventually mean they will be less likely to get COVID and even more importantly less likely to pass it along to those who are most vulnerable.”

“I think the vaccine is going to make a huge difference with the fear that a lot of people are facing right now,” said Jordy Fenton ’22. “A lot are nervous about what it will mean, but to me, it’s a hopeful start in getting back some of the normalcy that we’re missing. Of course, it won’t happen all of a sudden and we still need to be careful, but it will feel so much better to be able to hug my grandmother without feeling like I’m putting her at risk.”

When students return back to campus in February, even with the vaccine, normalcy should not be expected. 

Photo Courtesy of Vermont Department of Health

“There is a practical light at the end of this tunnel and where we will come out the other side and hopefully will have a population that has achieved enough immunity that we can go back to what we thought of as normal life before,” Dolan said. 

By Kaitlin Woolery

Photography Editor 

Reducing waste is an important issue to the Saint Michael’s College community. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, faculty, staff, and students are required to wear face masks on campus. Ingrid Boland ’22 has noticed several single-use masks being disposed of improperly. “I’ve noticed masks on the ground more so on campus than at home. When I noticed masks on the ground it was on sidewalks near cars and I don’t know if there could be a correlation there,” she said. 

Photo courtesy of Kaitlin Woolery

Vermont is one of several states that recently passed a single-use product law. This law prohibits businesses from using single-use products such as plastic bags, foam containers, and plastic straws. According to The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, “Single-use items, paper, and packaging make up almost 1/3 of Vermont’s trash.” This law’s intent is to help protect the environment from harmful wastes.

According to the National Institute of Health, disposable single-use face masks are produced from micro-plastic polymers such as polypropylene, polyurethane, polystyrene, polycarbonate, polyethylene, or polyester. Some of the materials used in the masks’ layers which are meant to shield us from germs and water vapor are similar to those found in disposable diapers. 

Clay Williams, assistant professor of environmental studies and science says that in addition to litter reducing the aesthetic appeal to our environment, improper disposal of masks may harm the wildlife.“They can get tangled in wildlife and pose a choking hazard to wildlife on land and in the water,” said Williams. He added, “They break down into micro-plastics which can harm aquatic life.” Humans may also be impacted by the disposing of these masks. “They likely aren’t able to be recycled in our conventional system, and thus would end up in the landfill, ocean or environment after use. They are likely to release toxins into the environment as they break down,” said Williams.

Wearing disposable face masks is an effective way to filter aerosols that may contain the virus. However, proper disposal of the masks in designated trash bins is necessary to prevent unsightly litter on campus as well as protecting our environment, waterways and wildlife.

“It made me frustrated at not only the effects on the environment in terms of the fact that the masks do not decompose, but also in the people’s lack of following the policies to help prevent the virus. It also made me wonder the reason this might be happening,” said Boland.

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