The new coronavirus isn’t on campus, University officials say, but that hasn’t stopped rumors and fear from spreading among students about the deadly disease.
The rumors about the disease — which has been given the name novel coronavirus — came just over a week after students returned to UR from winter break.
“We have learned from several schools that students believe incorrectly that the virus is already present here, and the level of concern — especially among our Chinese students — seems to be rising,” Provost and Senior Vice President for Research Robert Clark said in an email to the University community.
“We have no reason to believe there are cases of novel coronavirus on our campuses or in the Rochester area,” Clark continued, before discussing next steps and the precautions people can take to protect themselves from getting sick.
The rumors began when a student fell ill after returning to UR from Wuhan. Soon after, two other students began to feel unwell. Because they had all been in contact at a Jan. 17 meeting of optics professor Xi-Cheng Zhang’s research group, Zhang reached out to several University officials, including one at the Global Engagement Office. After that office recommended to Zhang that students with concerns should reach out to UHS, he sent an email to members of his group saying that a student had returned from Wuhan and had a cold, and that two group members weren’t feeling well. The subject line began: “VERY IMPORTANT!!! precaution, coronavirus concern from Wuhan.”
A screenshot of that email was posted on Facebook in the popular group Ever Better Memes for Meliora Teens.
Meanwhile, UHS was screening the sick student, who on Thursday evening was cleared as not having the coronavirus.
UHS Director Ralph Manchester said that it was not unusual for students to be sick, but that UR was still taking precautions to address the possibility that the coronavirus could appear on campus.
“At this time of year we’re going to have dozens of students who are sick with respiratory symptoms,” Manchester said. “It’s not different this year than any other year. But we’ve put a lot of effort into contacting students who we know have a home address in affected parts of China.”
UHS has taken steps to try and address the possibility of the coronavirus appearing on campus. As of late Friday night, it had contacted 68 of 71 students from Wuhan and nearby locations. All those students have been told to contact UHS immediately if they start experiencing a fever, cough, or shortness of breath.
“We will modify this strategy as needed if the virus starts to spread in other areas that could affect UR students,” Manchester said.
Manchester characterized the risk to UR at this time as low, but reminded people to take care of themselves as usual and to take advantage of UHS’ flu shots. The Center for Disease Control recommends that people get vaccinated against the flu, though they note that there is currently no vaccine to protect against the coronavirus. It also recommends proper handwashing and staying home when sick.
Novel coronavirus was first reported to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31, 2019. It was confirmed to be a new pathogen a week later. Since then, more than 2,000 cases have been confirmed, including five in the U.S.