Masked from Panic

Airmen+assist+one+another+in+donning+their+personal+protective+equipment%2C+while+on-board+an+Air+Force+C-17+Globemaster+III+during+transportation+isolation+system+training+at+Joint+Base+Charleston%2C+South+Carolina.+Engineered+and+implemented+after+the+Ebola+virus+outbreak+in+2014%2C+the+TIS+is+an+enclosure+the+Department+of+Defense+can+use+to+safely+transport+patients+with+diseases+like+novel+coronavirus.

Military Health System / U.S. Air Force photo / Senior Airman Cody R. Miller

Airmen assist one another in donning their personal protective equipment, while on-board an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during transportation isolation system training at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. Engineered and implemented after the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, the TIS is an enclosure the Department of Defense can use to safely transport patients with diseases like novel coronavirus.

By Brianna Cheng, Anita Beroza, Isabella Wesson, and Kasey Liu

A new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) emerged from Wuhan, China, at the beginning of the new year. According to the CDC, the reported symptoms are varying, but common ones are fever, coughing, and shortness of breath.

What makes this strain different from the last major coronavirus outbreak is the reports of transmission from non-symptomatic patients. Vaccines and antiviral drugs are being developed to combat this new strain of the virus, but they are unlikely to be ready for public use until mid-to-late 2020.

The infection has spread from the epicenter in Wuhan to about 28 other regions, including the United States, South Korea, Vietnam, and France. There have been over 60,000 cases confirmed, and about 1,000 have died from the virus. China has clamped down on the outbreak, issuing partial or complete travel restrictions to cities in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared this outbreak a global health emergency. People are storming into local pharmacies and stockpiling face masks, causing shortages in protective gear. With all this uncertainty and chaos, it’s hard not to be afraid.


Interview with John Nicholls, clinical professor in pathology at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), member of SARS research team at HKU 2003

Nicholls: Three things the virus does not like: sunlight, temperature, and humidity. To make you guys really worried, a coronavirus can survive on a stainless steel surface for 36 hours. It hangs around for quite a bit.

Sunlight will cut the virus’s ability to grow in half, so the half-life will be 2.5 minutes, and in the dark, it’s about 13 to 20 minutes. Sunlight is really good at killing viruses. That’s why I believe that Australia and the southern hemisphere will not see any great infection rates because they have lots of sunlight and they are in the middle of summer. Wuhan and Beijing are still cold, which is why there are high infection rates.

In regards to temperature, the virus can remain intact at four degrees or 10 degrees for a longer period of time. But at 30 degrees then you get inactivation. The virus doesn’t like high humidity either. That’s why I think SARS stopped around May and June in 2003 – that’s when there’s more sunlight and more humidity.

The environment is a crucial factor. The environment will be unfavorable for growth around May. The evidence is to look at the common cold – it’s always during winter. So the natural environment will not be favorable in Asia in about May.

The second factor is that of personal contact. With SARS, once it was discovered that the virus was spread through the fecal and oral route, there was much less emphasis on the masks and far more emphasis on disinfection and washing hands. Hong Kong has far more cleanliness than China and they are very aware of social hygiene, and other countries will be more aware of social hygiene than China. So, in those countries, you should see fewer outbreaks and spread.

A couple of days ago, the fecal-oral route of transmission was confirmed in Shenzhen. In China, most of the latrines are open. But in other countries, the sanitation systems tend to be closed. My personal view is that this will be a bad cold and it will all be over by May.


Outbreak affects education in infected regions

By Kasey Liu

Schools in China have been shut down for two weeks in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and the government may even extend the time if they see fit. Though this has been done to preserve students’ health, it takes a toll on their education.

Michael Pan, an American citizen and teacher at BASIS International School in Shenzhen, China, was put on self-quarantine by the school. Self-quarantine is when one isolates themselves, as to not spread the disease. However, people in self-quarantine aren’t directly supervised by the government.

“A self-quarantine doesn’t really make sense. Nobody’s prepared to quarantine themselves for two weeks with one day’s notice,” Pan said. “There’s some support for the teachers there now, but you still have to go out, you still have to see people. China wasn’t ready for this at all.”

Pan continues to teach from America using online resources. Still, the school is required to extend instruction for two additional weeks into the summer, as the education of students is currently hindered.

“We were supposed to have a really big test in two weeks, and now it’s being pushed back. Basically, we’re now two weeks behind schedule. That’s especially bad for students who have AP testing because they’re now two weeks behind, and the AP tests won’t wait for anybody,” Pan said.

Because the schools aren’t able to run normally, students have to take studies into their own hands, which may help to take their mind off of the dire situation. Though the situation in other countries, like Singapore, is not as severe, schools are still taking precautionary measures to curb the spread of the virus.

“The Ministry of Education (MOE) asked schools to minimize mass gatherings in school. Assemblies, sports events, and school events have all been canceled until April. It has even gone as far so that we are asked not to go into the canteen for lunch at school anymore; we have our lunch in classrooms with separated tables to minimize contact,” said Charlynn Chang, a student in Singapore.

Spread of the coronavirus by Brianna Cheng


China and U.S.A. Government Responses to Coronavirus by Kasey Liu


Panic leads to shortage in protective medical gear

By Kasey Liu

Kasey Liu
Pharmacies and other stores are quickly running out of protective medical gear, such as face masks, as panic spreads over the coronavirus outbreak.

People everywhere are afraid of getting the virus and are taking precautions to prevent the spread of it, like wearing face masks. However, supplies are depleting quickly.

“Some people are buying up masks like crazy. I went to Home Depot to pick up some masks, and they’re all bought out. This is in a small rural town too. Nobody needs a mask there,” Pan said.

As Pan mentioned, stores in America such as Home Depot and also CVS are sold out of face masks. Though the average American likely does not need a face mask, they are still buying them just to be safe.

Charlene Chang, a family nurse practitioner at CVS Pharmacy, doesn’t believe it’s necessary for so many people to be buying masks in America because not everyone needs one.

“I just feel bad for the people who actually need a face mask that, for example, might have cancer and are going through chemotherapy. It’s sad that we can’t offer them any,” Chang said.

Especially in China, stores are completely sold out of face masks and even other basic household supplies, like tissues and toilet paper. Some Chinese rely on their families in foreign countries to provide these goods.

Valerie Wong, a sophomore at Proof School in San Francisco, tries to help out her family in Hong Kong as much as she can.

“We’ve gone long measures to ask friends from other places in Asia to ship masks to our relatives in Hong Kong because there has been a shortage of masks. My grandmother lined up for six and a half hours in order to get a mask ticket to purchase a box of masks,” Wong said.


Panic over coronavirus contributes to xenophobia

By Brianna Cheng

A couple of days ago, I was studying with friends at their house. We were exhausted after trying to dissect a reading for the past hour, and I was ready to head home. Their mom came in to help me pack up.

I offhandedly mentioned that one of my other friends, who is Asian, couldn’t come to study with us because they were sick. The mom suddenly grabbed my arm and jokingly said, “I hope it’s not the coronavirus!” She laughed, and I chuckled along awkwardly.

She left the room and I was alone, still slightly shocked by the “joke.”

Constant news reports are inundating people with urgent updates on this severe health emergency, which is leading to rising fears about the virus. To cope, people are turning to black comedy and joking about this terrifying crisis.

These juvenile jokes about international health crises are not helping anyone cope; instead, they are encouraging the media frenzy around the health emergency and stoking xenophobia around Asian people.

One of the first myths to pop up around this disease was a viral video clip of a woman supposedly eating a bat. The publisher of the clip, RT (formerly Russia Today), claimed that bat soup was a popular dish in Wuhan, where the COVID-19 virus originated, and that scientists had found a link between bats and the illness.

The story was picked up by the Daily Mail and soon spread like wildfire all over the Internet. The clip was quickly debunked by Foreign Policy; the video in question was a three-year-old clip from an online travel show where the host, Chinese vlogger Wang Mengyun, sampled the dish in Palau, a small island nation.

Since that clip went viral, Wang has received death threats and hate mail. On social media, people point to the abnormality of the delicacy as the reason why the disease originated in China. Videos about the virus are further linking it to other odd foods and suggesting that Chinese people “deserve” the illness as retribution for eating “weird” dishes.

The xenophobic panic has also spilled beyond the Internet. Asian people are barred from some public shops in Italy due to their association with the disease. A rumor on Whatsapp tanked the business of the well-known San Franciscan bakery, AA Bakery and Cafe. Across America, Chinatowns have seen a sharp drop in customers, even though there have only been 15 cases out of the 327.2 million people that live in the U.S.

Although the media is trying to provide new facts about the outbreak, they are only feeding fears. A French newspaper ran the headline “New Yellow Peril” in response to the 11 cases that have popped up in France. The coverage surrounding the San Francisco Lunar New Year parade was centered around the COVID-19, although there have been no cases diagnosed in San Francisco.

“It is scary to think that a virus is spreading so quickly and so easily. We already had someone from the U.S. die from it, and we have only had very little affected here. The media and how much attention it is getting is honestly blowing everything out of proportion,” said Serena Weiss, a sophomore at Carlmont.

None of this is helping the outbreak: not the constant media coverage, not the unsubstantiated rumors, nor the finger-pointing. Chinese people, both in the mainland and abroad, are just as worried, if not more, than Westerners.

In the Bay Area, 19% of the population is of Asian descent, the majority of whom are Chinese. As flights to and from infected regions are canceled, American travelers are being halted at the airport, fearing that they may be stranded in China. Others are trying to send highly-sought-after face masks to relatives in China.

“My friend’s grandparents in Hong Kong have a mask shortage, so she mails them masks every week. People at my school are required to wear masks on public transportation too,” said Kailey Hua, a student from Proof School in San Francisco.

We can’t help fight the outbreak; we are not medical professionals, nor are we government officials. What we can do, as regular people, is avoid illness. We can practice basic hygiene: washing our hands, coughing, and sneezing into our arms. We can stop spread these racist remarks. And we can come together and hope for the best for people fighting the illness, and those helping to combat the outbreak.


Should I be worried about the virus?

Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak coverage, it has been hard to tell whether this is truly an emergency that Americans need to worry about. Much of the panic comes from the unknown: a lack of understanding of the virus, how it spreads, and where it comes from. Digging deeper into the issue, there is a clear message: the illness is serious, but it isn’t more urgent than other common illnesses, like the flu.

As mentioned above, WHO has declared the illness a global health emergency. In this announcement, they simply acknowledged the virus’ risk to other countries and called for a more coordinated effort to limit the outbreak. However, they tempered their announcement with a clear message to not restrict trade and travel to China. Although the phrase “global health emergency” seems dire, the actual announcement is not a major shift in strategy to combat the virus.

Looking at the numerical implications of the virus, there have been 15 reported cases of the virus out of the 329 million people that populate the U.S. In China, there have been 60,000 cases. But, in the context of China’s population of over a billion people, less than .01% of the population has contracted the disease.

Not to mention, there have been nearly 7,000 recoveries, compared to the 1,000 that have died. The estimated fatality rate of the virus, according to Business Insider, hovers at around 2% globally, although it is slightly higher in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Likewise, Chinese officials report that most of the patients who have died were either elderly or had compromised immune systems.

Compared to this year’s flu season, whereas there are 22 million cases and the fatality rate is around 7%, COVID-19 doesn’t seem as scary. Nicholls, the clinical professor at the University of Hong Kong interviewed above, has studied coronaviruses for over two decades. He isn’t worried about this particular strain of the virus.

“People are saying there’s a 2.2% to 2.4% fatality rate total. However, recent information is very noteworthy — if you look at the cases outside of China the mortality rate is less than 1%,” Nicholls said.

He continued, “There are two potential reasons for the lower rate. One, China’s healthcare isn’t as good, but that’s probably not the case. Two, the more likely case just as with SARS, is that there’s probably much stricter guidelines in mainland China for a case to be considered positive. So, the cases in China are probably only the severe cases, the folks that actually went to the hospital and got tested. The Chinese healthcare system is very overwhelmed with all the tests going through. My thinking is this is actually not as severe a disease as is being suggested. The fatality rate is probably only 0.8% to 1%. There’s a vast underreporting of cases in China. Compared to SARS and MERS, we are talking about a coronavirus that has a mortality rate of 8 to ten times less deadly than SARS or MERS. So, a correct comparison is not SARS or MERS but a severe cold. Basically, this is a severe form of the cold.”

If you’re not panicking about the flu, there is no reason to be hysterical over COVID-19.

Coronavirus Recoveries by Brianna Cheng

This story was originally published on Scot Scoop News on February 17, 2020.