As the New York Times reports, the number of globally infected persons has now exceeded 80,000 and death tolls have climbed up to 2,600. The news and fear of a novel coronavirus, officially named COVID-19, has gripped the world. Originating in Wuhan, China, the coronavirus is a respiratory virus that has rapidly spread across both China and twenty-four other countries.
The effects have been disastrous. In China, immediate quarantine procedures have been imposed upon all citizens, leaving normally bustling streets instead empty. Supplies of crucial medical resources such as masks dwindle, leading citizens and hospitals to hoard supplies while they last. And hospitals are overwhelmed as the number of cases soar exponentially.
Internationally, infected persons with COIVD-19 have now reached every inhabited continent, with over 30 confirmed cases in the US. Global conglomerates, such as Apple Inc., and small businesses, have slowed due to the shutdown of factories and absence of workers.
For students with families in China, such shocking news seemed to be unbelievable. “At first, I honestly thought it was ‘fake news’. It only started feeling real when I heard about it from my family members.” Elena Zhao ‘22, with family in Shanghai, China, said as she reflected on the first time she heard of the outbreak. Similarly, Angel Zhou ‘22 said that the news had come “too suddenly” and “out of nowhere” for it to even seem believable.
Aside from its alarming nature, the news of COVID-19 has also disrupted many students’ schedules. It has become a personal struggle for many students. “My grandmother, she went to Hunan at the beginning of Spring Festival; she has cancer but she can’t go back to Shanghai for her chemotherapy, nor can she go to a local hospital because of the higher rates of infection at hospitals,” said Angel Zhou ‘22. “Honestly, it’s not routine. It has disorganized my life. And it honestly feels like I have to scramble up my life again, and put the pieces back together.”
For students with family in China, a recently imposed travel ban prevents all travel back home for an indefinite period of time, complicating plans for times such as spring break and summer vacation. Several international students have had to find other homes to stay in, whether it be with a friend from Deerfield or even a Deerfield teacher. For now, these students remain separated from their families indefinitely.
For others, the risk of coronavirus has also prevented travel to conferences and school-led trips. Deerfield’s annual trip to China for culture and language immersion was recently cancelled. Additionally, Harvard and Yale Model United Nations trips were cancelled last minute due to risks of contracting Coronavirus.
Discussing the cancellation of these trips, Harry Niles ‘21, one of the leaders of the Model UN club said, “I was really disappointed, and disheartened that it was canceled because I prepared for months and it was shut down in less than an hour.”
In response to these complications, the Academy has attempted to resolve the issue in a variety of ways. As the Director of Inclusion & Community Life Marjorie Young said, “Deerfield does a really good job in times of crisis such as these. We strategize and pull together resources and plan about how to move forward as a community.”
In charge of this movement is the Crisis Response Team, which is responsible for coordinating all of the different pieces of addressing the Coronavirus crisis such as communications between departments and student support.
So far, the Crisis Response Team has worked closely with many different groups on campus. Some actions they have taken have included working with the health center to support Director of Medical Services Dr. Bryant Benson in his address to the community and with alliances such as the Asian Student Alliance in creating an affinity space for students who have been affected by these issues.
In the example of disrupted travel plans, the Crisis Response team has reached out to effectively coordinate plans and resources. Working with members such as the International Student Advisor, Francoise Ellis who is responsible for coordinating host family accommodations and travel plans.
And with the Center for Service and Global Citizenship to find opportunities such as travelling with ‘Envoys’, which provide trips similar to the ones offered by the CSGC during March Break.
While the administration’s efforts prepare for the worst case scenario, it is statistically highly unlikely that coronavirus will pose a risk at Deerfield, as Dr. Benson explained, “First of all, you don’t need to be worried about coronavirus. No one on this campus is from Wuhan City, China or from the Hubei province. There is no concern about coronavirus being on this campus or anywhere near it.”
But even then, as part of the Crisis Response Team’s efforts, the Health Center is well prepared for the unlikely scenario of the novel coronavirus reaching Deerfield. “The main thing we’ve done is per the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, is to screen anyone with a fever or cold symptoms and ask them if they’ve either visited Wuhan, China or been exposed to a lab-confirmed case of coronavirus,” said Dr. Benson.
“We are following the recommendations of well-respected federal and state agencies that are involved in monitoring this and managing it. Specifically, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Center for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services.”
Beyond the virus itself, and perhaps spreading even more infectiously, has been the fear surrounding the novel coronavirus. As few facts emerge, the lack of information has led many to speculate and fear the presence of coronavirus in their own communities. From villages in Ukraine to fashion shows in Milan, fears of a pandemic run rampant across the world.
“It’s important right now, as a community, to be empathetic,” Ms. Young said concerning the community response to the news of the Coronavirus.
“Empathy comes from knowing that the person next door, one of your friends, or a teammate may be struggling with some of these issues, the most important thing is to ask, ‘How are you doing?’ as opposed to saying nothing and pretending that it’s not an issue. We are going to be supportive until the situation is over, and that’s for however long it needs to be.”