As coronavirus spreads worldwide, what is Lindenwood doing?

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Merlina San Nicolás Leyva

Photo illustration.

Updated 10:05 p.m. March 4 with comments from a public health professor.

Lindenwood officials are taking steps to prepare in case the coronavirus outbreak spreads in the Midwest or affects students overseas.

With cases of the coronavirus reported on every inhabited continent of the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning businesses and colleges in the United States to prepare for a possible outbreak within the country. The virus, also known as COVID-19, is a respiratory disease that first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but has spread around the world. The CDC provides a map where cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed. According to the New York Times, there are now more than 90 confirmed cases in the U.S. There have been 20 people tested in the St. Louis area for the virus, but all have been negative as of March 4.

Shane Williamson, dean of students and chief diversity officer, sent an email to the university Monday saying Lindenwood is monitoring guidance from the CDC and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services about the coronavirus.

“Because the early symptoms of influenza and COVID-19 are similar, undergraduate students experiencing flu symptoms should go to the Student Health Center in Evans Commons, where they can be tested for influenza (there is currently no test for COVID-19),” the email said.

The Wellness Center said that any students presenting symptoms – regardless of which ones – are required to use face masks when entering the clinic. The coronavirus cannot be tested in a health clinic, so if the workers suspect the virus, they will contact a local hospital.

Public Health Assistant Professor Amy Estlund said it’s easy to get hysterical, but students should remember basic health standards.

“We do not take health precautions seriously,” she said. “I often see students in class who are sick and coughing and maybe coughing into their hands, not their elbows.”

Estlund warned especially for student athletes to stay home from class if they are sick, even if that means missing practice.

“You’re not toughing it out. You’re not a hero,” she said. “If you are sick, you should stay home and Lindenwood should promote that and support that. Not only in classrooms, but on athletic teams as well.”

The email listed the following steps to prevent the spread of the flu:

  • Seek medical attention when you experience flu-like symptoms, especially if you or someone you have been in close contact with has travelled outside of the USA within the past 14 days.
  • Do not go to class, work, practice, etc… until the symptoms are gone (especially the fever).
  • If you become ill, throw your current toothbrush away. Use a new toothbrush, but discard it within five days of being on the 10-day antibiotic. After the last day of the antibiotics, get another new toothbrush. (Lindenwood has FREE toothbrushes in the Little Free Pantry).
  • Disinfect your room, books, computer, cell phones, vehicles, athletic equipment, etc… using Lysol or other disinfectant.
  • Wash recently worn clothes in hot water.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and wash your hands frequently.

According to the email, Lindenwood is anticipating a potential spike in cases of strep and influenza after Spring Break because of travel.

Williamson’s email also said Maintenance will disinfect high-traffic campus buildings over Spring Break next week.

Sara Evers, assistant director of St. Charles County’s Division of Health Services, said the agency is watching for potential symptoms of the coronavirus in the county, which they would then investigate and work to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Based on the communicability we’ve seen in Asia, in China, I think we would be negligent if we didn’t prepare for that type of a situation,” she said. “This virus is very, very communicable, so it’s spreading very easily to different people, especially those that are in close quarters.”

Evers said college students are at risk because they go to large gatherings including classes, but everyday health precautions play an important role in staying safe from the coronavirus.

Organizations should have a plan for what to do if a pandemic hits, she said, which may include telling people to work from home to prevent the disease from being shared.

Jacob Gossage, sports information coordinator for Lindenwood Athletics, said that Lindenwood Athletics is still talking about the issue. Currently, teams like women’s rugby and men’s volleyball travel to California, the state with most cases, 27, confirmed in the U.S., according to the New York Times.

According to the CDC, an outbreak in the U.S. is almost inevitable given the number of cases around the world. According to the New York Times, one case in California tested positive without traveling overseas or having a connection to other cases.

Currently, Lindenwood has not postponed or cancelled any study abroad trips aside from the ones in China and South Korea.  However, the school has been in close contact with the five students who are currently studying in Italy, Elizabeth Snell, the assistant director for study abroad and academic engagement, said in an email. Italy is the country with the fourth-most cases confirmed, at 650.

“We are ready to support and assist our students abroad as needed,” Snell said. “We will continue to follow the recommendations of our study abroad partners as well as the Department of State and other official agency guidelines to ensure the safety of all of our students.”

Snell said there are two full-time health providers and safety officers “who are constantly monitoring situations around the world.”

Anna Miyagi, a sophomore student from Okinawa, Japan, said her plan is to still go home for summer break, but she is afraid of contracting the coronavirus.

“My mom is worried about me not being able to come back [from] Japan after summer because if the virus spreads widely in Japan, the United States might deny Japanese people entry,” Miyagi said in a text message.

Miyagi said she hopes that the virus won’t spread as much as it did in China, and that the warm weather for summer will help alleviate the problem.

According to the New York Times, Japan has 894 confirmed cases and three deaths. China has confirmed 78,498 cases and 2,744 deaths.

Lindenwood’s Office of Admissions and Services for International Students did not immediately respond for comment.

This is a developing story, and it will be updated with more information.