By Melissa Schill
Although the epicenter of the coronavirus is thousands of miles away from Wheaton, for some students and faculty the news of the virus’ rapid spread has hit close to home.
Associate Professor of Economics Nick Lei Guo is from Wuhan, where the outbreak began, and received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wuhan University. He said that though his parents and relatives still live in Wuhan, none have contracted the virus and remain in “good spirits.”
Leilani Lu, a junior from Beijing, does know some people who have been affected by the virus. A student at her alma mater high school in Beijing died, as well as one of her former employers at an environmental protection organization.
Officially referred to as the Wuhan coronavirus, the strain was first identified on Dec. 31, 2019 in Wuhan, China. Since then it has spread internationally, with 12 confirmed cases in the United States and over 31,420 cases across 26 countries. Two cases have been confirmed in Chicago.
Symptoms of the virus include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. As of Feb. 6, the Wuhan coronavirus has caused over 638 deaths worldwide. It is transmitted via respiratory droplets, similar to how influenza is spread. According to the CDC, an estimated 25,000 deaths have been caused by influenza during the 2019-2020 flu season.
Student Health Services (SHS) sent out a campus-wide email updating students on the potential risks of the virus. Director of SHS Beth Walsh said that there is currently no need for students to change their behavior in response to the coronavirus outbreak. SHS is monitoring the situation and will update students if anything changes. Students are encouraged to continue practicing healthy habits such as washing their hands, eating a balanced diet and sleeping to keep their immune systems strong.
“China is suffering. I’ve been crying. I can’t focus in class. I don’t get much sleep these days,” sophomore Esther Chen said. She is from Guangzhou, China, which is about 425 miles from Wuhan, or an 11-hour drive, and her family still lives there.
Chen and junior Chloe Liu said that the coronavirus has resulted in discrimination as many blame the Chinese for the outbreak. One of their friends who is from China and attends the School of the Art Institute of Chicago was recently called “virus” by a man on the street and told to go back to China. “I don’t think people should be against the Chinese. We should not hate the whole country. They are victims, too,” Chen said.
Liu suggested that the campus pray in response to the coronavirus. “We need to remember that there are other countries besides the United States suffering, too. We can’t keep ignoring that fact.”
“It’s not only about the coronavirus itself,” Liu said. “It’s about paying attention to and praying for China and international issues in general.”