As a virus outbreak originating in Wuhan, China spread to the U.S. this past week, Cornell Health announced that it will closely monitor the situation in Ithaca in an email sent out to the Cornell community on Thursday morning. Currently, there are no cases of the coronavirus at Cornell.
“While we do not believe that there is any risk to our campus at this time, Cornell Health is proactively working closely with campus partners, as well as local and state resources, to monitor the situation and to protect the health and wellbeing of the Cornell community,” the email read.
The coronavirus has so far infected at least 600 people in Asia, killed 18 and there is at least one reported case in Washington state. Symptoms of the coronavirus include a high fever, cough or shortness of breath. The virus can also cause pneumonia in more severe cases.
Cornell sent out the email because it had been monitoring the disease since December and wanted to assuage anxieties about the risk the disease poses to the University. While the disease does not currently pose a risk to those on campus, it is protocol for the University to reach out when there is a mysterious disease outbreak.
“This is a normal response whenever we face the unknown,” said Sharon McMullen, assistant vice president of student and campus life for health and wellbeing, in a statement to The Sun. “Our goal in reaching out to the campus community was to address the issue directly, and to point people to specific resources available to them here on campus.”
The University also confirmed that there are no cases of the coronavirus on campus as of Jan. 23. No patients that Cornell Health has screened have met the criteria for testing.
This criteria is defined by the Centers for Disease Control as a history of travel from Wuhan 14 days before showing symptoms, or coming into close contact with a person showing symptoms. Other criteria include coming into contact with “an ill laboratory-confirmed 2019 [coronavirus patient].”
President Martha E. Pollack also addressed concerns about the coronavirus at a Thursday Student Assembly meeting, stating that she spoke to senior medical experts who do not view the virus as a serious threat to Cornell at the moment.
“I want to ensure people that we are looking into it, but that our senior medical expert thinks there is no need to panic,” Pollack said at the meeting.
Anne Jones, director of medical services, told The Sun that Cornell Health is equipped to handle any changes in guidelines that come its way when monitoring the coronavirus.
“We understand that some students and community members may feel anxious,” Jones said. “I want to reassure the community that Cornell Health is following guidance from the leading health authorities [the CDC and World Health Organization], has implemented their recommendations promptly, and is fully prepared to adjust operations for any change in recommendations as is required.”
Cornell is closely monitoring the outbreak by tracking WHO and CDC recommendations, and will adjust its protocols accordingly. Jones added that staff is prepared to respond to patients calling or coming in with concerns about the disease, and will stay “vigilant” in the event that any patients do meet the criteria for the illness.
It is unclear how this disease is transmitted, but it appears that it can spread through person-to-person contact. Jones said that Cornellians should take similar preventative measures as they would for the flu, which would include frequent hand-washing, getting adequate sleep and not sharing food or drinks.
This is not the first time Cornell has addressed an international outbreak. Over the past two decades, the University has dealt with and monitored contagious diseases like SARS, ebola and swine flu, according to McMullen.
On Tuesday, the CDC confirmed that a man in Washington had been infected with the coronavirus, The New York Times reported. The man began to develop symptoms after returning from a trip near Wuhan.
Health officials also isolated a Texas A&M University student on Thursday to see if he had contracted the virus, The New York Times reported. Similar to the case in Washington, the student had traveled from Wuhan.
WHO held off on declaring a global health emergency for the disease.
In light of the recent outbreak, federal officials said they would expand screenings for the illness at three major airports in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Passengers traveling from Wuhan will also be screened.
McMullen added that while not much is known about this disease, she said that Cornellians should “take good care” of themselves.
“This is a time for all Cornellians to pull together,” McMullen said.
Marin Langlieb ’20 contributed reporting to this article.
This story has been updated.