An outbreak of a novel coronavirus (COVID-19) stemming from China has infected thousands of people, including some in the U.S. In response, the Aggie Health and Wellness Center has taken steps to address the questions and fear surrounding the virus in the New Mexico State University community.
Information from the New Mexico Department of Health’s website explains that a new, or novel, strain of the coronavirus was identified in December 2019 coming out of Wuhan, China. The site lists zero confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New Mexico as of Feb. 13.
In a situation report released Feb. 13 by the World Health Organization, 46,997 cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed globally, with 1,017 deaths in China and only one confirmed death occurring outside of China as of Feb. 11.
Carol MacDonald, nurse supervisor at the Aggie Health and Wellness Center, said the center has released information in line with the Centers for Disease Control and the state’s health department to educate people on the safety precautions they should take. She also explained the screening process for people presenting with symptoms is similar to that of the flu.
“Travel history is the biggest thing right now,” MacDonald said. “It’s tough because coronavirus is like the flu. The symptoms are pretty much the same; the cough, the fever, sore throat, congestion.”
She said if people have similar symptoms, they are asked to wear a mask to prevent the continued spread of a virus through droplets because any respiratory virus, such as coronavirus or flu, can be mild, but can also turn into pneumonia.
On Jan. 30, the WHO’s Emergency Committee declared the novel coronavirus “a public health emergency of international concern.” MacDonald said the announcement can spread fear, but it can also encourage more people to take the disease seriously.
“I think everyone needs to realize it is a communicable disease, meaning it can be spread [from] person to person,” MacDonald said. “It becomes a public health threat, but it’s very similar to flu. So there’s a lot of people that don’t take flu virus very seriously.”
MacDonald recommended that people become more aware of the various viruses being spread and take general precautions for all of them. She also said New Mexico is currently in the middle of its flu season, which is from around January to March or April, and it appears that the flu is more dangerous than the coronavirus at this point.
“I think just because coronavirus is so new and they’re trying to isolate exactly which animals it came from, that kind of thing. And you know, of course it’s causing fear in people, but if you look at the number of deaths, flu way surpasses the number of deaths than coronavirus.”
MacDonald explained that people with underlying health conditions as well as the young and the elderly are more prone to developing complications if they contract the virus. Due to the risk of contracting the virus when visiting the area of Wuhan, China, the CDC has issued a travel warning recommending people avoid “nonessential travel to China.”
Mary Jaspers, program manager in the NMSU Office of Education Abroad, said no students were sent to China this spring semester, and students participating in programs in other countries were not affected.
Elvira Masson, director of the Confucius Institute at NMSU, said due to the institute closing, the university “will no longer be supporting NMSU and UTEP students [studying] abroad” in China. However, she said she has colleagues from China who cannot return to China for some time because of the coronavirus. The educators affected by the travel restrictions could not be reached for comment.
Galilea Gutierrez, a senior at Arrowhead Park Early College High School taking dual-credit classes at NMSU, said she is more concerned about the coronavirus than the flu, based on “the way that the media shows that.”
Joseph Mangome, a junior studying at NMSU, said he knows little about the virus and doesn’t see it as a big concern. “I would assume that there would already be multiple cases that happened around campus if there was someone with the coronavirus,” Mangome said.
He said he was more concerned about the flu right now because he had just gotten over a case of the flu recently. He said he usually got the flu vaccine, but not this season.
A vaccine for the novel coronavirus is not available at this time, but MacDonald said the Aggie Health and Wellness center still has about 25 doses left of the flu vaccine. They are available now for $15, but once the supply runs out, there are no more vaccines for the rest of the flu season.
The Aggie Health and Wellness Center is open to students Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can be contacted at 575-646-1512 to make an appointment.