1,257 cases and 37 deaths. That’s the most recent count for those affected by COVID-19 in the US, according to the New York Times. Originating in Wuhan, China in late 2019, coronavirus has now spread to 102 countries and 42 US states, raising alarm around the world.
The White House is holding regular press conferences regarding COVID-19. In a briefing on Monday, March 9, President Trump announced several steps being taken to address the United States economy, namely efforts to support individuals and businesses that are directly affected by the virus. The most notable step mentioned was the possibility of providing small loans to airlines, cruise lines and hotel chains struggling in the wake of travel restrictions and fear. The president also noted that he is considering payroll tax cuts to bolster the economy in light of the recent stock market decline, and even working with employers to ensure that quarantined hourly workers are not left without paychecks.
In the same briefing, Vice President Pence also spoke on behalf of the White House coronavirus task force. Passengers are slowly being allowed off the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Oakland, California. Only 21 out of over 2,400 passengers have contracted COVID-19 and are in isolation for treatment. American citizens aboard the ship will be taken to Travis Air Force Base and foreign citizens will be flown to their home countries.
In the wake of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring COVID-19 a “global pandemic” on Wednesday, March 11, the president addressed the nation from the Oval Office, stating further action by the United States. President Trump announced that in addition to the restrictions on travel from China and Iran, all travel and cargo from Europe, with the exception of the United Kingdom, is being halted for 30 days. He also announced a number of economic steps being taken to support America’s businesses and citizens, the most notable of which include the confirmation of his previously mentioned plan to work with the Small Business Administration to offer low interest loans to affected small businesses. This action will carry an up-front cost of 50 billion dollars, but is promised by Trump to eventually “provide more than $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy.”
The President also announced that insurance companies will be covering all copays for coronavirus treatment and extending patient coverage to all COVID-19 related treatments.
Currently, laboratories are also working on developing vaccines for the virus as well as new treatment options for those already infected. The federal government is also working with laboratories in every state to make testing for the virus available everywhere. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has emphasized that the average age of those who have died from COVID-19 is 80, and those over 60 are most at risk of contracting the virus. Of the 118,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide, 66,000 patients have completely recovered.
The severity of the virus has caused over 100 universities to cancel in-person classes according to Forbes.com. The most notable universities include the University of Washington (the first to halt classes), University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. All the universities on the list are near areas where outbreaks are the worst, but it begs the question: How will MSU respond?
Fortunately, zero cases have been reported in the state of Montana. But, with over 100 new cases reported daily since Saturday, it seems that thoughts have shifted from if it reaches Montana to when it reaches Montana.
What is MSU doing?
On March 3, President Waded Cruzado announced through an email to students and faculty that, “Out of an abundance of caution, Montana State University is activating an Incident Management Team to address questions and to plan for potential contingencies on our campus.” The incident management team is composed of representatives from over 20 MSU units including, Academic Affairs, ASMSU, Dean of Students, Emergency Management, Safety and Risk Management and University Health Partners.
As the situation has evolved, MSU has made changes to its university-affiliated travel policies. On March 9, Cruzado sent out an email stating that the university has elected to cancel all university-sponsored and affiliated international travel by students, faculty and staff through Sunday, March 22 (the last day of spring break). Cruzado also added that, “Montana State University is making this decision based on the evolving situation with international quarantines as a measure to contain COVID-19. The university does not want to put our faculty, students and staff at risk of being stranded abroad or forced into a quarantine upon return.”
The email also advised students choosing to travel to countries with a Level 3 Travel Health Notice to not return to campus in any capacity and perform a 14-day self quarantine upon returning.
Most recently, Robert Mokwa, Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, emailed students about a change to the protocols regarding class absences starting Monday, March 23. In the email Mokwa states that:
“Students are encouraged to stay at home if they are sick, and most especially if they think they may have an infectious disease. Students who need to miss a class, or series of classes, due to illness or 14-day quarantine are responsible for emailing their course instructor, to let them know of the need, as soon as possible. There is NO need for a medical excuse to be provided, at least initially. MSU University Health Partners will continue their policy of NOT providing students with medical excuse documentation as part of their commitment to maintain patient confidentiality.”
The email continues to state the responsibilities that students have to communicate these absences with their instructors and complete all assignments and tests on time. Mokwa cites that these modifications are being made to better align MSU’s guidelines with those provided by the CDC on how to limit the spread of infectious diseases. The email also encourages faculty to provide online course lectures and resources for students who are unable to make it to class.
The Exponent reached out to both the Provost’s office and University Communications with further questions about the university’s preparedness and plans for if the virus reaches Bozeman. Michael Becker, the News Director for University Communications, directed us to MSU’s webpage dedicated to the matter, stating, “As the university makes decisions, please know that they’ll be communicated via email to students, staff and faculty and posted as updated to the MSU informational webpage at www.montana.edu/coronavirus.” Becker provided the Exponentno other information outside of the university’s creation of a task force (mentioned earlier).
On Wednesday, March 11, as President Cruzado announced that the National Conference of Undergraduate Research (NCUR) will be canceled. In the email she stated, “While at this time there is not a confirmed COVID-19 case in the state of Montana, as a responsible community member, canceling the conference is the right decision.” The Exponent reached out to the NCUR 2020 Conference Director, Colin Shaw, for comment regarding the status of the conference, butdid not receive comment back from Shaw before publishing this article. NCUR is an annual conference that would have welcomed over 4,000 undergraduate researchers and faculty mentors from around the country to present their research at MSU. It remains unknown how/if any aspect of the conference will be pushed online.
In the next few days, many MSU students will be traveling for spring break. While this is a time to enjoy a much-needed break from school, there are a few things to keep in mind while away. The CDC has posted the following guidelines for Watch Level 1 locations (the US is currently designated as a Watch Level 1 location):
Watch Level 1
CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel to destinations with level 1 travel notices because the risk of COVID-19 is thought to be low. If you travel, take the following routine precautions:
Avoid contact with sick people.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
Clean your hands often by washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains 60%–95% alcohol. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty.
It is especially important to clean hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.