UMass keeping a ‘close eye’ on coronavirus outbreak

No diagnosed cases in Amherst

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Kathrine Esten, Assistant News Editor

After the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern on Jan. 30, the University of Massachusetts announced it is “keeping a close eye” on the outbreak of coronavirus.

The virus, known as 2019 Novel Coronavirus or 2019-nCoV, was first identified in Wuhan, China. According to a University health alert, campus officials are working with officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. As of Feb. 2, eight cases of the virus have been reported in the United States, including one at UMass Boston.

“The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has advised that the current risk to Massachusetts residents is low,” the health alert states.

On Feb. 1, UMass Boston interim chancellor Katherine Newman sent a letter to students, faculty and staff informing them that a member of the UMass Boston community had tested positive for 2019-nCoV.

“I want to remind everyone that all members of our community are valued and respected,” Newman wrote. “On occasions like this, it is possible for fear to get the better of any of us. Let’s remember that viruses are no one’s fault and anyone can find themselves ill.”

The Massachusetts Department of Health announced the diagnosed individual was a man in his 20s who was returning from Wuhan and who resides in Boston. In a press release, Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel said the commonwealth had been preparing for a possible case and “were fortunate” that clinicians took appropriate action quickly.

“We are grateful that this young man is recovering and sought medical attention immediately,’’ Bharel added.

According to a January 30 press release, nobody on the UMass Amherst campus has been infected with coronavirus or exhibited symptoms. As a precaution, the International Programs Office suspended planned study abroad programs in China for the spring semester. The seven affected students were supposed to start next month at locations in Beijing and Shanghai but have been offered alternative study abroad programs or the option to remain in Amherst for the semester.

Mary Dettloff, the Deputy Director of UMass News and Media Relations, told the Daily Hampshire Gazette that two UMass graduate students and two faculty members are currently in China. None have reported experiencing symptoms of the virus, and the university has been in touch with the individuals to provide health precaution advice and other information about the virus.

Similar actions were taken at the other colleges in the Five College Consortium, according to the Amherst Bulletin. Mount Holyoke College students who had planned to participate in the school’s Shanghai program chose not to go. Amherst College and Smith College do not offer study abroad programs in China but spokespersons for both colleges told the Bulletin no students would be traveling to China through other providers during the semester. According to the same article, Hampshire College suspended its study abroad program in China for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus.

2019-nCoV causes respiratory illness. Symptoms include a fever, cough, congestion, runny nose, stuffy nose, difficulty breathing, severe weakness and pneumonia. The UMass health alert noted that symptoms “may develop rapidly and be much more dramatic” than a typical cold. Members of the community who may have come in contact with the virus and who have symptoms were advised to call the UHS Triage Advice Nurse at 413-577- 5229.

“While the likelihood that the coronavirus will appear on our campus is minimal, we are nonetheless prepared to respond and will provide updates to the community as needed,” a webpage for University Health Services states.

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter at @KathrineEsten.