Words spread faster than a virus


Talk about the coronavirus has taken KO like a plague in the few weeks that school has been in session after winter break. It has become even more serious after a scare at a Model U.N. competition at Yale University over the weekend of Jan. 24-26.

On the last day of the event, the end of the conference was cancelled due to an international student showing flu-like symptoms, which alerted the Yale New Haven doctors of a possible coronavirus outbreak. In an “overabundance of caution,” Yale decided to call off the last day’s events, in the small chance the student did have coronavirus. The chances of the student having it were low, especially because they had been diagnosed with influenza. A week later, the student’s results came out where they tested negative for corona.

As this virus is new, research for it has not been well-developed. Scientists say that it does spread like the flu (person to person) and that each person who is infected, if not quarantined, can infect anywhere between 1.5-3.5 people. It also affects the same demographics as most strains of the flu: infants to young children, and the elderly. This virus can be caught by breathing in air around a sick person (which then drops to the ground), making it harder to catch than illnesses like tuberculosis and chickenpox, but more contagious than an illness like hepatitis, which can only be caught through direct contact with someone’s bodily fluids.

It is also less “scary” than the flu, as it is much less widespread and deadly. However, the flu is less contagious. The death rate of coronavirus is around 3% as of right now, but it is difficult to understand how lethal new diseases are. As of Jan. 30, the first (and only) diagnosed spreading of the virus in the United States has been announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The disease spread between a couple living together, one of whom had not gone to Wuhan (where the disease spread from) recently.

There are currently six confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, with 92 cases pending. Most of the 12,000 cases (as of Feb. 1) have been on Mainland China, and 259 people have died from coronavirus. There is currently a “level 4” travel advisory put in place by the United States recommending that citizens do not visit China right now. A level 4 is the highest level.

While the chances of catching coronavirus are low, students are still scared, especially those who went to the Model U.N. conference.“It was very scary,” senior Bella Leuschner said. “I was especially scared because during the first session on Friday I had kids coming in with masks on, and then all of a sudden my chair had to leave due to a medical emergency.” At the time that they left, students did not know that the student had tested negative for coronavirus, but did know that he had tested positive for the flu. To calm down students who might have been a little scared about the outbreak, Head of School Thomas Dillow sent out notices to faculty directly after the incident.

“I have spoken to the lead doctor at Yale Medical who is fielding calls from participants of the Model UN Conference,” he said in his letter. “She reiterated that they do not believe the student has the Coronavirus as the student has already been positively diagnosed with a common form of influenza. They are testing further ‘just to be extra safe’, and indicated that they would be very surprised if the student was also carrying the Coronavirus. They are not quarantining anyone at Yale nor are they recommending that the participating schools need to do so at this time.”

No one at KO has been quarantined per this recommendation, however a school in Miami, Fla. has decided to keep 30 students and three teachers home until the test results came back from the student at Yale.

KO did put in place policies to prevent the disease, however. They are the following:

“1. We are not hosting anyone on campus who is from or has traveled recently to Wuhan city Hubei province.

2. We are not hosting anyone on campus who is experiencing symptoms of any illness (this is not a departure from past policy).

3. Travelers from other parts of China are welcome to campus, as are guests from any other part of the world, as long as they are not experiencing any symptoms of illness. At this stage, the CDC has labeled areas of China outside of Hubei province as a Level 1 travel advisory, which is ‘business as usual but take precautions if you encounter symptoms of illness.’” (The travel advisory has since changed to a Level 4, as stated above)

Nurse Beth Scully mentioned the best way to avoid catching the flu (and the coronavirus, by extension) is to wash hands frequently and stay home if you’re sick. Something else that has generated conversations was that it might not be as big of a deal as some people are making it out to be. On campus, people have been making jokes about the disease, on two different ends of the spectrum. Senior Alyssa Pilecki mentioned that she has heard jokes about drinking the beer Corona and being cured. A common joke is students saying that they have the virus.

With the developments about the disease, some people claim that despite how horrible it is for the victims, the chances of someone nearby having the illness is extremely slim. “I think that although this is an emergency and I feel very bad for the people who died, I think the world is blowing this out of proportion,” said Alyssa.

Evidence seems to back this up, as diseases such as SARS, or Severe Accute Respiratory Syndrom are much more deadly than coronavirus. SARS, which emerged in 2003, is an illness caused by a coronavirus. It had a lethality rate of 9.6%, and has since become extremely rare.

Something to note: a coronavirus is a type of virus that can cause mild-moderate diseases in humans. The coronavirus in question is called either the Novel coronavirus or the Wuhan coronavirus, but is often shortened.

One thing that has been emerging was an overwhelming concern for our 16 international students, many of whom are from and have family in China. “I am particularly concerned about our Chinese students and how they must be feeling at this time,” said Mr. Dillow in his email to the faculty. “I am thankful we have colleagues like you that can help support them and make sure they are not feeling stigmatized.”

Junior Jane Liang said that due to her family’s location, they are not as affected by the coronavirus outbreak as some others have been, but that because her mom is a doctor, she’s been in the office for two weeks straight. This made it nearly impossible for her family to celebrate the New Year at all. Junior Felix Fei also mentioned that his family has not been able to leave the house at all, because of how many people are traveling due to the holidays in China. Jane added that she wasn’t feeling stigmatized due to this outbreak, which is a good reflection on the faculty and students at KO.

When asked to talk further about the effects of coronavirus on her experience at KO, she did talk about jokes heard around campus, like Alyssa mentioned. “I mean, it’s not about any jokes specifically,” Jane said, “but just the fact that people have been making jokes about it in general kind of hurts since it’s such a serious problem in China right now, and my mom risks so much to help control the problem.”

Senior Jane Wang said that her family has been affected by the disease. “My family had to stay at home most of the days to avoid getting infected,” she said. “When they went outside doing grocery shopping, they had to wear special masks (medical masks or N95 masks) and medical gloves. They washed their hands many times when they went home.”

Both Jean and Jane said that they have heard of masks selling out quickly, and Jane suggested KO students think of donating to help with this shortage. Jean said that food at grocery stores also sold out very quickly since everyone wanted to store food in order to stay home. “I believe my family is an epitome of millions of other families out there in China,” Jean said.

Outside of the KO community, recent controversy has emerged from UC Berkeley in a tweet that they released, explaining how xenophobia can be one of the reactions to the threat of coronavirus with the explanation: “Please recognize that experiencing any of these can be normal reactions and that over the next few days or weeks you may experience periods of…Xenophobia: fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about these feelings.”

A viral tweet reacting to this by Adrienne Shih, an editor at the Los Angeles Times said, “When is xenophobia ever a ‘normal reaction’?”

An outbreak in disease can always lead to racism says TIME Magazine. “Already, movements on social media have sprung up to counter racist stereotyping. For example, in France the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus, meaning ‘I am not a virus’ is widely being used,” said Jasmine Aguilera from TIME.

With the threat of coronavirus rising, it’s more important than ever that KO becomes a community and works together as a whole to prevent racial stereotyping, and on another level, make sure that everyone at KO stays safe and healthy.