As cases of the Coronavirus rise administration begins to worry about the health and safety of all students especially as spring break draws closer.
“We have a readiness plan with many different options,” Principal Kevin Peolker said. “It becomes a question of what we learn about [the virus]. We are paying attention to what the government recommends and what we can do to limit the spread of the disease and protecting ourselves and students.”
100,000+ cases and over 3,000 deaths. That’s how many people the Coronavirus has infected since December 31, 2019 when China first reported a cluster of cases. In comparison, Pandemic outbreaks like the coronaviruses of SARS and MERS have much less global infection rates than the Coronavirus. During the SARS outbreak, which lasted from November 2002 to July 2003, there were 8,098 reported cases and 774 deaths. Since 2012, there have been 2,494 reported cases of MERS and 858 deaths from the virus.
“It is likely we will see a decline in geographies approaching warmer spring and summer months. But for every warm season, there is a cold season. That means while we may see decreasing risk in North America as we ease into spring, we will likely see increased risk in the Southern Hemisphere as they enter the cooler seasons. This is precisely what happens with influenza and why the flu is a very cyclical viral problem,” Scott Schaecher Head of Computational Life Sciences in Biologics at Bayer, who got his P.H.D. on the pathogenesis and molecular biology of the SARS coronavirus. “It is very likely that we will develop effective vaccines for this virus in the next 12-18 months. Governments are doing all they can to help companies fast track the development of a vaccine while still ensuring safety. Fortunately, coronaviruses do not have the mutability and combinability that we see with influenza, so it is much less likely that we will see a need for annual vaccinations”
It is important to note that the fatality rate for these diseases was much higher up to 35% compared to coronaviruses 2% rate. However, this outbreak has a fatality rate of 20 times higher than influenza, but mainly affects the elderly populations with a death rate of .2% for 10-19-year-olds compared to 21% for those over 80.
“Given we have over 105,000 confirmed cases globally as of today spanning more than 100 countries, it is safe to assume this virus will not disappear overnight. The relatively long incubation time, coupled with minor to moderate symptoms for most healthy individuals makes this virus much more likely to spread than more severe coronaviruses like SARS and MERS. Global infection rates will continue to get worse for quite some time before they get better,” Schaecher said. “Mortality rates for this virus are very likely much lower than that reported because most individuals present with very mild symptoms including a fever and/or cough. It is highly likely than many more individuals have gone undetected. As numbers continue to mature, it is very likely we will see this pandemic look more similar to a severe flu in regards to morbidity and mortality.”
There has been one confirmed case in Saint Louis from a 20-year-old woman who came home after her study abroad trip in Italy was canceled. She is in-home quarantine and the family assures the only time she has left the house was to go to the hospital. However, the patient has a younger sister, a freshman at Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School. She and her Dad went to a school dance Saturday night. This violated Health Officials telling them to stay home after the 20-year-old went into testing with symptoms on Friday, but it was not confirmed till after the dance. This has resulted in Villa Duchesne closing down and it is unsure when it will re-open. There are also another 20 suspected cases in Saint Louis and five confirmed in Illinois. Because of this closing down the school for a period of time is becoming a realistic possibility.
“We have the infrastructure to teach remotely with OnCampus. We have plans for teachers to give collect and grade assignments.” Mr. Peolker said. “It varies for every class. It could be reading assignments with follow up assignments, other classes could utilize other online resources.”
The administration is preparing its online services, teachers, and IT department for possible closure. If De Smet were to close many teachers would turn to online services like On Campus, EdPuzzel, and Youtube to continue teaching outside of the school.
“I would set up a live YouTube channel,” Math Teacher Dan Likos said. “I would tell the class what time I would be on so they could go onto the video and ask questions and I could answer them. Afterward, I would put it up on YouTube so anyone who didn’t see it can view it as many times as they want.”
As spring break approaches students like Senior Christian Wright have established travel plans.
“I am going to Cancun, Mexico,” Wright said. “My parents and I have been talking about it. We are concerned that we could become trapped in Mexico or maybe not even be able to go at all. I am not super concerned, but I check the map almost every day.”
A service trip down to Belize, which has no confirmed cases, is one of these trips which could be canceled. Right now all plans to go down are postponed.
“Right now we are not more concerned than normal,” Mr. Peolker said. “If you look at De Smet organized trips, like Belize, the places they are going to are less effected than we are. So our main concern is students becoming trapped in these countries.”
School administration is taking all the precautions which right now include raising awareness for students and teachers. Posters can be found in the bathroom and hallways reminding students to keep up good hygiene.
“This particular illness is new,” Mr. Poelker said, “but we have dealt with H1N1 and so there is a certain level of readiness. We also prepare for situations like this, for instance, if the Flu season is really bad we have plans in place for that.”
This story was originally published on The Mirror on March 6, 2020.