Recently, a new strain of the coronavirus, referred to as COVID-19, originating from Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, has started to look like a pandemic, creating a worldwide panic. With tens of thousands of cases across the globe so far, a few of which have been in the U.S., the possibility of the coronavirus spreading through schools has been a major source of worry for parents and students across the country, though the health risk for the American public is still considered low at the moment. Some schools have canceled their Chinese exchange programs for the time being, but other schools, students, and/or parents have gone to great lengths to prevent the spread of the virus. William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, the Alhambra Unified School District, and Arizona State University have made headlines for either a case of the coronavirus or a false alarm that gathered much attention.
First, What is the Coronavirus?
This coronavirus, though it only made the news recently, is not a new virus, but a strain in the coronavirus family that the world has not experienced before and is therefore unprepared for. The novel coronavirus is a respiratory illness, ranging from mild to severe symptoms, including a fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The most severe cases have led to organ failure. The first report of the virus was in Wuhan, China, and the cause is predicted by some to be seafood, as many of those who were infected in the city came in contact with a seafood market. (Many viruses that we have encountered or continue to encounter have originated from animals, including ebola and the flu.) The spread of the illness is being caused by human-to-human contact. So far, over 1,700 people have died across the globe after being infected, the majority of who were Chinese citizens.
Penn Charter and Alhambra’s Schools
Both William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia and the Alhambra Unified School District have made the news for false alarms regarding the coronavirus, though the situations are very different.
In Philadelphia, a Chinese exchange student, fell ill but later tested negative for the coronavirus. However, the panic that ensued was immense. When parents and students heard the news, many children stayed home from school. Schools in the area halted any athletic events or service projects with the school. A school bus driver tried to refuse students who needed a ride to school. A health professional even cancelled an appointment with one of the students from Penn Charter due to the “coronavirus” at the school. Despite the fact that this whole ordeal was a mistake, it symbolizes a grave issue, which Bloomberg refers to as “panic-based suspicions of people of Asian descent.” Schools are not the only locations where this is occurring. There have also been incidents of shaming those of Asian heritage at airports, restaurants, other businesses, and by Uber and Lyft.
In the case of the Alhambra Unified School District in California, a petition has been signed by over 14,000 individuals calling for all schools to close for a period of time on the grounds of the spread of the novel coronavirus. Yet, there have been no cases of the coronavirus in the district, and it is still unclear who created the petition, though some believe it to be started by a student. The petition itself tells students to wear “protective face masks” to “protect students and others from receiving or transmitting the sickness.” Nonetheless, the school district has no plan to shut down their schools with no facts or evidence of a problem with the coronavirus in the area. According to their public information officer Tony Gilbert, “What we do have is families and students who are relying on rumor and hysterical social media posts that are not fact-based.”
University of Arizona
At the University of Arizona, however, someone has indeed become infected with the coronavirus, and others have been petitioning to cancel classes at the school. Students have little information about the matter, as they have no idea who this individual is or whether they are a student or professor. The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) has informed the public that those who may have been exposed to the patient will be notified and seen by a medical professional and claimed that the patient is not extremely ill. But this has not eased the worries of many attending the school. Freshman Taskina Bhuiyan and friends put together a petition, believing students have the right to know which areas to avoid on campus, depending on where this individual visited, and that the school wasn’t following the CDC protocols. With the university’s strict attendance policy, Bhuiyan says that students will fail their classes if they miss them due to trying to stay healthy. Therefore, 21,000 nervous students have signed this petition as of the end of January in hopes of learning more information regarding the matter at the school and ultimately keeping themselves in good health.
The coronavirus is a pressing issue, and it is only becoming more of one as time passes. For that reason, the disease should be treated with seriousness if there are cases of it in a region, but individuals shouldn’t jump to conclusions when they don’t have much information. In cases like that of the University of Arizona, students do have the right to be aware of situations of the coronavirus when they don’t feel safe to go to class every day because of it. On the other hand, though those in situations similar to those of Penn Charter and Alhambra have every right to be afraid and feel as they do, quickly going to the extreme can be harmful and target individuals of a certain race or school systems in general when nothing is abnormal. Overall, with time, and more knowledge, panic should begin to decrease in the world regarding the coronavirus, but for now, it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep a cool head in all instances where individuals are becoming ill (as more scares are bound to happen during this winter season!) and more information is gathered. But this doesn’t mean that staying safe and using caution isn’t very important!
This post was written by one of U4SC’s Educators 4SC Research Assistants, Samantha.