Coronavirus outbreak strikes fear globally, locally

January 30, 2020 — by Harshini Velchamy and Anouk Yeh

On Jan. 11, China announced the first death of the coronavirus, the first of now more than 100 deaths and widespread panic and disruption. There have been over 4,500 confirmed cases as of Jan. 28.

Worse, the virus has spread to the U.S. and recent reports have pinpointed it appearing in California, though not yet in the Bay Area. 

If the virus continues to spread more widely in the state, principal Greg Louie has said that the school is prepared to follow the guidelines put out by national and county health officials, adding that these precautions will be taken once they get a notice from either the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the county.

“In the grand scheme, there might be a situation where we end up with a crate full of Clorox wipes and everybody has to wipe down their desks and doorknobs every day until the risk is abated,” Louie said.

According to the SF Gate, the coronavirus is a class of viral respiratory diseases that can evolve from the common cold to serious illnesses such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).

The symptoms of coronavirus include fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia. 

A majority of the cases have been in China, but there have been others confirmed in countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. 

Media Arts teacher Joel Tarbox said that although many SHS students have recently traveled to China, he’s not taking any special sanitary precautions in his classes.

“As a teacher, one thing that I do in particular this time of year is a lot sanitizing and handwashing, but I’m not doing anything different because of [the virus],” he said.

The first confirmed case of the virus was a 61-year-old man. He was hospitalized and died of heart failure on Jan. 9.

The coronavirus has also shed a light on some flaws of the Chinese government and its response to the outbreak. Critics have pointed to the slow initial response as one reason the outbreak gained traction.

In North America, there have been six reported cases as of Jan. 27: two in Southern California, one in Canada, one in Chicago, one in Washington and one in Arizona.

The two cases in Southern California have occurred in Orange County and Los Angeles County. However, officials aren’t worried yet about the illness spreading to the Bay Area. Alameda County Public Health Department spokesperson Neetu Balram said that the only risk for Bay Area residents would be if they have traveled to Wuhan in the last 14 days or have come into contact with someone who has traveled there. 

SHS students are now also being extra cautious after hearing about the cases in California.

Over the weekend, sophomore Selina Chen competed at a speech and debate tournament in Fremont, while donning a face mask. She is hardly the only one wearing a mask.

“The people at the tournament were from places with suspected cases of the coronavirus, so I just felt like it's better to be cautious about it and wear a mask,” Chen said. 

In order to prevent the spread of this disease in the U.S., the CDC is screening passengers in China in major airports of five cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.

The CDC is now advising U.S. travelers to avoid non-essential travel to China. 

Specific facemasks have been designed for the purpose of shielding the Coronavirus. The N-95, according to the Washington Post, filters out 95 percent of pollutants and is “highly effective” in preventing the transmission of the virus. The flaw with these masks, however, is that they must be specifically fitted and often aren’t worn out of the medical context. The masks themselves are in a severe shortage, and prices have increased fivefold.

U.S residents and other countries with family in China have reported to have been stockpiling on masks in order to send to their Chinese relatives.

Senior Kai Zhang said that his mom recently bought six or seven boxes of facemasks to send back to relatives in China. 

“Although my relatives don't live in the areas where people are being quarantined, it's still out there, so I think they just want to take precautions,” Zhang said. 

Chen’s family is taking the same precautions, also ordering facemasks online to send to relatives in China. 

“My mom saw a message on this WeChat group that the virus-prevention face mask sold out in China,” Chen said. “So we’re now buying masks on Amazon and mailing them back to China.”

While most of the deaths of the virus are so far centered in China, the impacts and fears are spreading. 

“I first thought it was just like a distant thing in China but I’m worried about my relatives,” Chen said. “They’re living in the second largest city (Zhejiang Province) of outbreaks.”