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University Health Center Chief Talks About Steps to Keep Campus Safe
The university provided guidance yesterday on travel, preparations for online meetings and telework and CDC-recommended prevention measures for meetings and events.
While 2019 novel coronavirus seeps beyond China into a growing roster of countries, only 11 cases have been confirmed in the U.S., with none in the state of Maryland.
The University of Maryland continues to take measures to keep the campus community informed, healthy and safe, drawing on expertise from all corners of campus: health care providers, virus experts and leaders in student and residential life and communications. They’re consulting with infectious disease experts from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, increasing cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces and have instituted university travel restrictions to China, where the illness started, among other measures.
Central to this effort is the University Health Center, led by Interim Director Dr. Sacared Bodison, a pediatrician who headed the center for nearly 35 years until her retirement in 2014. She spoke yesterday with Maryland Today about UMD’s preparations, as well as coordination with state and local health agencies.
Since we don’t know of any coronavirus in the area or on campus, what can the university do right now to help keep campus as safe and healthy as possible?
The university's Incident Response Team, which includes representation from leaders in all the relevant departments across the campus, is working together to create the best approach to caring for our community and keeping us safe and healthy. Medical professionals are obviously taking the lead on much of the disease prevention strategy, and we are working closely with our local and state health department partners to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
What is the University Health Center specifically doing to follow the guidelines?
For one thing, we’re monitoring. The most recent information, which we just received from CDC, is anyone coming to the U.S. from China on or after Feb. 4 will be monitored for symptoms by the local health department, while those on campus coming from late January up to that date, we will retroactively monitor. Speaking more broadly, we are also doing more influenza testing. We’re testing everyone with symptoms now, and many are testing positive with influenza.
In the U.S. alone, flu has killed about 10,000 people so far this season, and coronavirus has killed zero. What explains all the concern around this new illness?
We have a new virus, and unlike regular influenza, it’s a virus with characteristics health officials and scientists know little about. So there are concerns about its virulence, about what its mortality rate will be. There’s a history of novel viruses—the 1918 flu epidemic comes to mind—that were very dangerous. And unlike the flu, there’s no vaccine or treatment, so we have no effective way to deal with it. So we have good reasons to be very careful.
Why is it taking so long to confirm possible cases that are cropping up?
Up to now, only the CDC has been doing the testing. As of now, no local or even state labs can do it. And there isn’t a rapid coronavirus test yet, and they are going through extensive testing procedures to make sure the tests are accurate. Yesterday, however, the FDA approved a test developed by the CDC that can be administered by other CDC-approved labs, which many hope will speed diagnosis.
What are your top behavior tips to prevent virus transmission, whether flu, coronavirus or something else?
A lot of handwashing is key, and keep your hands away from your face. Try to avoid environments where there’s a lot of coughing, and if you’re sick, try to stay away from people to avoid transmitting a virus. I also tell people to try to do things to strengthen their immune systems, which if you’re sick means eating nutritiously and getting adequate rest.
What’s your message to anyone who might be worried?
We want the whole university community, and particularly parents, to know we’re alert and proactive—we are monitoring things very closely. We’re looking at every student who comes into the Health Center to spot any trends, which right now is a spike in influenza. We’re looking for people who don’t seem to be handling an infection well, we've offered specific guidance to students with underlying health conditions, and we’re screening for travel history.
Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.
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