Here’s What You Need to Know About the 2019 Novel Coronavirus

By Annie Chen, Dormitory Life Division Head. Image found here.

Concerns responding to the outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus in China have travelled all the way across the sea to our community, especially to the international student body whose families are in various parts of China. This FAQ article is aimed at providing the LCA community with a general definition of the virus, summaries of current situations in China and in the U.S., and ways to effectively protect ourselves from the virus or cold and flu in general. As a community, we should be concerned but not fearful, and we ask that you please support our international student body as they are going through this stressful period of time.

What is Coronavirus?

According to the CDC, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface.” An animal virus is one type of pathogen that might cause illness. In general, viruses are simply genetic information wrapped in a protein coat. When a cell is infected, the protein coat fuses with the cell membrane, and the genetic information takes over the cell’s protein synthesis process to make replications of the virus itself. “Human coronaviruses, which include the common cold, are common throughout the world and most are not dangerous.  They do cause more severe symptoms in people with cardiopulmonary disease, people with weakened immune systems, infants, and older adults.” However, there had been more severe cases of coronavirus (ex. SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012) in recent years that have caused severe illness leading to pneumonia and cases of death, and this is what we are currently facing in China.

What is 2019-nCoV?

    2019-nCoV is short for 2019 Novel Coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, Hebei Province, China. According to China Netease News, January 29th, 2020, there are 5997 confirmed cases in China, 132 cases of death and 104 cases of cure. According to CDC, there are 5 confirmed cases and 73 pending cases as of January 28, 2020. 

    Common symptoms can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. CDC believes at this time that symptoms of 2019-nCoV may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 after exposure. This is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS viruses.

How does the virus spread?

    The virus spreads from person to person, and “it is thought to have happened mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes,” meaning that the virus can spread when one closesly contacts an infected person by talking at a close distance without coverage, eating from the same plates, traveling long-distance in closed spaces, etc.

How is it different from the flu or SARS-CoV?

Unlike the flu, there is currently no vaccine available for 2019-nCoV. 

Different from SARS where “no cases of SARS have been reported among persons who were exposed to a SARS patient before the onset of the patient’s symptoms,” 2019-nCoV is said to be contagious even before any symptoms are shown. There is an incubation period of at most 14 days during which person-to-person spread could happen. This means that an infected person may not show any symptoms, yet people in close contact with this person could become infected.

What is currently happening in China?

The outbreak of Coronavirus happened mid-december in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, a city located in the central south part of the country. The city of Wuhan was quarantined in the morning of January 23rd, 2020, and almost all schools and workforces in China except for hospitals have announced to extend winter break to mid-February. Doctors and nurses were called back to work on Lunar New Year’s Eve day (01/24/2020) and have been working ceaselessly since then.

As of the morning of January 30th in China, “coronavirus cases in China surpass those of SARS.” People in China have been trying to stay home as much as possible to minimize person-to-person contact; protection tools like face masks have been sold out, and factories are currently working to support hospitals and research teams.

What is currently happening in U.S.?

As shown in the map, the five positive cases of Coronavirus in the U.S. are in Arizona, California, Illinois, and Washington. There are currently no confirmed cases in MA. However, it is worth noting that there is a 14-day incubation period where no symptoms will show but the patient can spread the virus, meaning there is potentially more cases in the U.S. than what is shown in reports. “The White House tells airlines it may suspend all China-US flights,” and it is said that “the restrictions could affect flights into and out of China, as well as airports across the United States.”

What can we do to protect ourselves and to support each other?

Similar to what we do to protect ourselves from the flu, it is important to 

1) wash hands regularly; 

2) use >75% alcohol to clean our hands and belongings; 

3) open windows to ensure air circulation in the room for at least 30 min per day;

4) wear face masks when in public to protect yourself and to protect others.

It is crucial to understand face masks are effective tools to prevent cold, flu or the virus from spreading, and it is far more than a Chinese stereotype. If you see anyone in LCA that is wearing a mask, please understand that it does not mean he or she has the virus; it simply means that he or she is being cautious about the environment that he or she is in and is trying to protect him/herself as well as those around in our community.

Mrs. Walter is closely following instructions given by CDC and is actively monitoring students who have recently travelled internationally. As a community, it is important that we understand the issue, treat it rationally, and stay healthy!