Two students at Smith College were put into isolation as a precaution after potentially coming into contact with the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). According to a statement from Smith, the first student is currently symptom-free and out of isolation, while the second student is not yet cleared and remains in isolation. There are currently no confirmed cases of coronavirus at Smith or in the five colleges.
The coronavirus epidemic, which originated from Wuhan, China, has claimed the lives of over 1,000 people and infected many more. However, the outbreak has been largely limited to China, and incidents in the U.S. are comparatively low, with only 12 people infected, including a student at UMass Boston. No Americans have died yet from the disease. Comparatively, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that between 12,000 and 61,000 people have died from influenza in the United States each year since 2010.
The Department of Public Health (DPH) and the CDC have advised that there is “no risk of coronavirus to either Smith students or the community,” said Stacey Schmeidel, the director of public relations at Smith, reiterated.
The first student suspected to come into contact with coronavirus at Smith reported “cold-like symptoms” on Feb. 2 and expressed a fear that she was possibly on a plane with another individual exposed to the virus. However, this has not been confirmed. The student was “never considered at risk by DPH or the CDC for the virus,” Schmeidel said.
The student “voluntarily self-isolated for several days” until she was no longer showing symptoms. In an email interview, Amherst Director of Student Health Services Emily Jones wrote that the student “does not have novel coronavirus and never did.”
The second Smith student in isolation reported cold-like symptoms on Feb. 4 after having traveled through Hubei Province, China, which contains the city of Wuhan. The “DPH directed her to an emergency room for evaluation,” Schmeidel said. The DPH did not recommend testing for coronavirus because the student’s “symptoms did not meet CDC criteria.”
According to the criteria to guide evaluation of persons under investigation (PUI) for 2019-nCoV published by the CDC, persons must have a fever and lower respiratory illness in addition to “a history of travel from mainland China within 14 days of symptom onset” before the CDC may designate them as a PUI and test for the virus.
The student is currently in isolation per CDC guidelines. However, Jones emphasized that “according to CDC novel coronavirus clinical guidelines, there is no identified risk to that college’s community. We still have no reason to believe anyone on the Amherst College campus is infected with, or at an increased risk for, the coronavirus.”
“We nevertheless continue to be vigilant about evaluating students who come into the health center with cold-like symptoms and have all of the necessary procedures in place to keep our campus as safe as possible should a member of the community be diagnosed with coronavirus,” she added. “If we had reason to believe that someone on campus has coronavirus we would alert the community as soon as possible.”
While reiterating that the coronavirus posed no risks to residents of Massachusetts, President of Smith College Kathleen McCartney highlighted the effect that the coronavirus had on the college’s Asian and Asian American community members in a letter to the Smith community.
“I urge you all to remember that the human toll of this virus extends beyond those who have been infected,” she wrote. “Many within our community are watching from afar as the borders to their homeland are closed; as their families navigate cities under quarantine; and as fear of the unknown fuels growing xenophobia.”
The Smith College Health Center is asking for “any individuals who have recently traveled to Hubei Province in China or to other risk areas as identified by the CDC,” to be cognizant of these symptoms and call the health center.