Students, faculty talk impact of coronavirus spread

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 - 11:42am

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Design by Lauren Kuze

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread to countries around the world and across the United States since its identification in Wuhan, China last December. Yesterday, two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the state of Michigan, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency.

One of the two patients with COVID-19 in Michigan is an inpatient at Michigan Medicine.

University President Mark Schlissel announced Wednesday all classes starting on Monday will be moved online. Classes for Thursday and Friday have been canceled. Study abroad programs for spring have also been discontinued. In the days prior to the announcement, students, faculty and staff waited for updates, sometimes frustrated by the lack of information. 

Emily Toth Martin, associate professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health who studies virus epidemiology, said COVID-19 will likely not affect a majority of people who contract it. The main concern is containing its rapid spread. 

“Most people that get this virus aren't going to be severely ill,” Martin said. “When you've got a new virus that's potentially going to affect large numbers of people, what you want to do is try to slow things down as much as possible, and a good way to do that is to stop people from congregating in big groups. The University could do a whole lot by being as flexible as possible with allowing students to recover from at home when they’re sick.”

Sue Anne Bell, assistant professor at the School of Nursing and a specialist in the effects of health disasters, added that COVID-19’s effect on the young, healthy demographic is minimal while the risk for elderly populations or those with chronic diseases is much greater.

“For people that have no significant health issues, young adults who are healthy in general, and also in children, there have been fairly low rates of serious complications,” Bell said. “The bigger issue is that, while a college-age student might contract the virus, it's the spreading of the virus to other groups of people who have those chronic diseases, or an older population where they're much more susceptible to some of those serious effects.”

Sandro Cinti, professor of infectious disease at Michigan Medicine who is involved in preparations for emerging infectious diseases, commented on the misconceptions he has encountered in comparison to the reality of the virus. 

“I know a lot of people have visions of many people dying and being in the hospital, but very likely most people will be fine, they won’t ever have to even go to the doctor,” Cinti said. “It’s a disease that we need to pay attention to, but generally, people will do pretty well even if they get infected with it, and there are no treatments and there’s no vaccine at this time, so it’s really all about community mitigation.”

Cinti explained some of the measures that Michigan Medicine is taking to prepare for COVID-19 patients and how they plan to keep other patients safe.

“We’re looking at how we’re going to manage patients within the hospital, where we’re going to put patients, where we would cohort patients, putting them in certain parts of the hospital where they will be so they wouldn’t be exposed to other patients,” Cinti said. “There’s only limited testing right now. So if somebody wants to come in and get a test, they won’t be able to get it … unless they have symptoms and a very positive screen for having been exposed to Coronavirus.”

With the apparent minimal threat to a young and healthy demographic and the high potential for spread to higher risk populations, University epidemiologists and health care professionals said the best courses of large scale action against COVID-19 are collective efforts to lower community’s health risks. 

Arnold Monto, the Thomas Francis Collegiate Professor of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health and an international expert on transmission prevention, said in similar flu outbreaks, pharmaceutical resources have been available but are lacking in the current situation.

“What is really most pertinent in terms of what’s going on now is the attention on what are called non pharmaceutical interventions because the three pillars of response to a flu pandemic were antivirals, vaccines and non-pharmaceutical intervention,” Monto said. “We don’t have two of the pillars for COVID-19.”

With the evident necessity for non-pharmaceutical intervention, Bell proposed taking the idea of serious social distancing within the University community as opposed to mass quarantines. 

“I think we have to move from this idea of these large scale quarantines to thinking about social distancing,” Bell said. “We don’t have the systems in place to just flip a switch and turn to an online class or cancel classes, but when it boils down to it, promoting and preserving the health of our community might be the more important thing to think about than missing class.”

In the past week, multiple universities across the country have canceled in-person classes in response to the virus, including Harvard University and Ohio State University. Many professors at the University have said they are preparing to move classes online in the event that the administration instructs them to do so.

STAMPS Professor Susan Funkenstein has already moved her ARTDES 151 class online for a period of two weeks after being asked to explore alternative lecture delivery modes. 

Brad Smith, associate dean for academic programs at the Stamps School of Art & Design, wrote about efforts the school was making to determine the best way to continue the semester when classes are moved online in an email to The Daily.

“Like the rest of the University, the Stamps School of Art & Design is taking a look at our current course offerings and evaluating alternative modes of delivery should the need arise,” Smith wrote. “As part of this exploration and at the request of our Dean, Guna Nadarajan, two Stamps lecturers, Susan Funkenstein and Melanie Manos, were asked to explore alternative modes of course delivery for the lecture component of their courses.”

Smith also addressed how University administration had instructed faculty to proceed with planning in the event that in person classes are not permitted to meet. 

“University administration has been asking units to consider how we might deliver classes to students under conditions where students or faculty might not be able to attend in person, in order to be prepared for a range of conditions,” Smith wrote. “For students who are currently self-quarantining or ill: faculty at Stamps are ready to provide accommodations. This is being addressed on a 1-1 basis.”

Students discussed varying views on COVID-19 with The Daily, specifically regarding the health risks it poses to campus and the necessity for either school closure or online classes instead of in-person meetings. 

LSA sophomore Ryan Fisher, secretary of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, sent an email out to the organization Sunday night dismissing concerns that coronavirus is the “end of the world.”

“Also, don’t worry so much about the Coronavirus: the idea that this is the end of the world is FAKE NEWS! It’s a virus, not far removed from normal flu,” Fisher’s email reads. “Even if you get the virus, if your immune system is half-functional, then you’d likely survive regardless. Don’t fall for the HOAX of world destruction. Literally wash your hands and stay home if you’re sick. Easy.”

LSA freshman Nick Schuler, spokesman for College Republicans, told The Daily the statement was referencing the panic that the media is portraying about the coronavirus.

“Ryan said ‘the idea that Coronavirus is the end of the world is fake news!’ This is in reference to the hyperbolic fearmongering done by the media that has inspired nothing but panic, making matters worse,” Schuler said. “He also points out that the survival rate is very high for those with functioning immune systems, also true. We feel that the school has created a culture of fear around the virus rather than one of understanding and that the outlook for the virus is much better than the doomsday narrative being put out by alarmists.”

In an email sent to members on Wednesday, LSA senior Maria Muzaurieta, College Republicans chair, announced the organization's executive board decided to suspend weekly meetings and all other club events.

On Tuesday, it was announced that an EECS 280 midterm exam initially scheduled for Wednesday will now be online as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

LSA freshman Hadley Samarco, who is enrolled in EECS 280, said there was a lot of backlash to this decision and gave her personal reaction to the change. 

“There is a lot of confusion and backlash right now, because originally you were supposed to still abide to just having a note sheet and not cheating, and there was a lot of concern as to how that'll work,” Samarco said.  “I appreciate the concern, but I think it's more trouble than it's worth.”

LSA freshman Deanna Dwyer said she thinks the University’s emails about COVID-19 have been a good way to stay informed and that while certain professors are changing their attendance policies, she does not wish to take online classes. 

“I would be really upset if we have to go to online classes, just because I feel like clubs would have to stop meeting then too,” Dwyer said. “And not everyone has access to computers and this could really affect those who are not as economically stable.”

In an effort to keep campus healthy for community members who are not self-isolating, the department of Environment, Health & Safety and Custodial & Grounds Services are expanding their efforts to clean heavy-trafficked areas. 

Danielle Sheen, executive director of EHS, explained the precautions EHS and the Custodial and Grounds Services are taking to sanitize buildings at the University in an email to The Daily.“For main campus buildings served by Custodial and Grounds Services, they have been increasing their frequency of cleaning of the high touch point surfaces,” Sheen wrote. “Dorm rooms are cleaned by students, but common areas in dorms are cleaned by Housing Custodial Staff. They ramped up their efforts for cleaning as well with the return of students from Spring Break.”

Reporter Jasmin Lee can be reached at itsshlee@umich.edu. Reporter Hannah Mackay can be reached at mackayh@umich.edu.