University prepares for Coronavirus

Framingham State University has taken action to keep the campus healthy after Coronavirus was reported in Massachusetts.

FSU President F. Javier Cevallos sent out an email Feb. 29 which said, “As the coronavirus continues to spread around the world, I am writing to assure you that we are closely monitoring the outbreak and have been in regular contact with government and public health agencies, as well as our fellow Massachusetts state universities.” 

On March 3, Dean of Students Meg Nowak sent out an email discussing spring break travel information, additional facts about the disease, and – tips on how to stay healthy. 

“We understand this situation personally impacts members of the FSU community and that you may be concerned about friends, family, and loved ones around the world. It is vital that we support each other, avoid uninformed assumptions, and base decisions on the best information available,” said Nowak. 

She also provided a link to the Centers for Disease Control and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health websites. 

The COVID-19 Coronavirus is an upper-respiratory disease that originated in Wuhan, China and has spread internationally. 

A UMass Boston student was the first person in Massachusetts with a confirmed case of the virus.

According to NBC Boston, there are over 250 people in Massachusetts who are self-quarantined. 

The CDC has categorized the virus as a public health emergency.

Students need to be cautious since people are living in close quarters, and our campus environment makes it easier for one to catch an illness, according to Ilene Hofrenning, Health Center director.

“People are eating, living in dorms, and going to classes together, making it easy to contract viruses,” she added.

Hofrenning said she is working with other schools to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. 

“I belong to a group called College Health Association of Directors, Administrators, and Nurse Directors. We meet once a month and stay in contact through email,” said Hofrenning. 

“Framingham State has a pandemic preparedness plan, and we are updating that considering the Coronavirus,” she said. “If there was an outbreak on campus, we would know how to communicate with the students, how to isolate infected students, and how to provide medical attention.” 

The Coronavirus is considered dangerous because there is little known about the disease and it is contagious.

“The fact that it is so easily transmissible from person to person is scary. Also, we don’t know exactly how it is transmitted or the duration of the incubation period, though we can make good guesses,” said Hofrenning. “Being transmitted from animals to humans is another concerning aspect.” 

When asked the best ways students can stay safe, Hofrenning minimized the value of medical masks. 

“Masks are not recommended by the CDC. Once a mask gets wet and you breathe air, it is humidified. Once it gets damp, viruses can sneak through. You also must take the mask off for eating and other instances. They kind of give you a false sense of security,” said Hofrenning.

Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development, told The Gatepost the Health Center reached out to those who could have travelled to China. 

“In January, the Health Center talked to the director of International Programs to get a list of people who have travelled over the winter break – particularly, people who travelled to China,” said Holloway.

“We reached out to a list of students who studied abroad, who lived in China, or might have travelled to China. The Health Center emailed all of those students just to let them know what they need to be doing before they go back to campus,” she added. 

“There’s a general protocol for communicable diseases,” Holloway said.

She said the University would track an infected student’s class schedule, campus involvement, and whether they are a commuter or resident to help the University develop a response.

Holloway said since athletes travel more than most students during spring break, they are at a higher risk of contracting Coronavirus.

“I went to talk to the director of athletics to see if NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) has issued any advisories about domestic travel, because athletes travel the most of students domestically,” said Holloway. “We are making sure people are informed and are taking care of themselves – not just students – but everyone in the campus community.” 

Academic Affairs has a plan in place for students studying abroad. 

“Academic Affairs is working on a plan where if a student comes back and their program is not providing them with an online class, we can figure out how we can do directed study with them. It’s not their fault this once-in-a-lifetime outbreak is going to get them behind a semester,” said Holloway. 

Cevallos said the University has a plan in place for an epidemic. 

“It was a plan that started in 2013 when we had the H1N1 virus, so we have the contingency plans in place,” he said. “There is an emergency management team that meets on a regular basis and updates those things.”

The president said the University is advising students who are studying abroad to return.

“We have sent emails to students studying abroad with advice to, ‘Please, come back,’ and that’s specifically been for students in Italy. I think we have 12 students in Italy. Some of them are already back, and some of them will be coming back. 

Cevallos said the University advised students to come back, but cannot force them to return.  

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