Coronavirus: the Latest Outbreak of Fear

Elaine Zhou, Staff Writer 

It’s been a crazy start to 2020 as we welcome in the new decade. We’ve all thought this decade would be better than the last, but there seems to be some deja vu as history repeats itself as a new strain of coronavirus has created a worldwide epidemic inducing an international panic.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause respiratory illness from the common cold to severe pneumonia. Coronaviruses are an airborne disease and can be transmitted through close contact, coughing, or sneezing. Symptoms can include fever, difficulty breathing, and hoarse coughing.   

The first cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) were reported in December in Wuhan, China. In 2003, the coronavirus SARS came from mainland China, similar to the present-day epidemic. The difference is that the new strain has never been seen before in humans, and has become more concerning than SARS, which had a death toll of 349 people. On Thursday, January 30th, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared 2019-nCoV a global public health emergency, as the death toll of the novel coronavirus rose to what is now at least 564 people.

The 2019-nCoV outbreak sparked concern in UHS students in late January. Rumors of a case in Orange County were officially confirmed after a 50-year-old man traveling from Wuhan, China tested positive for the coronavirus.

“It was concerning that [the OC case] did an entire tour of Orange County before getting diagnosed,” sophomore Emily Hsi said. “Now that the person has been quarantined, I am not particularly worried.”

Despite some students’ lack of worry, other students began to wear masks to school after coming back from semester break. On Monday morning, a handful of students walked around with their masks on, while some students kept their masks in their backpacks. However, nobody was met with a happy teacher, and many were told to remove their masks due to the standing administration policy which states that students are not allowed to wear masks to school. However, by the next day, the policy had changed and students are now able to freely wear masks. School administration has declined to comment on the change in policy.

“People are not concerned enough with the virus,” sophomore Eric Xu said. “I think students wearing masks are being unfairly judged for [wearing masks]. In any case of a really infectious virus, people are always too slow to react.”

The school librarian Mr. Dominic Fratantaro does not have a problem with students wearing masks. He said that he thinks the original mask policy was in place to avoid a greater resurgence of fear among all the students.

“I have worked here through some major viruses: swine flu and ebola being the most memorable,” Mr. Fratanero said. “And the administration’s biggest concern beyond preventing infection has been controlling the widespread fear. I don’t mind if students wear the masks, it’s a choice, but it doesn’t help with the fear aspect of this virus.”

“I don’t think wearing masks are necessary. They are not great at prevention unless you have a good quality type of mask.” junior Emily Zhang said. “People don’t know if you’re wearing it because you are actually sick so it might bring more pandemonium.”

In an email sent to all of Irvine Unified School District by Superintendent Terry Walker, students with influenza symptoms, including a fever, a cough, or a sore throat, were advised to not attend classes or participate in other group activities for at least 24 hours after the fever resolves without the use of fever-reducing medications.

“If you are sick from anything, from the common cold to pneumonia, please stay at home,” Hsi said.

For the “real world” the dangers for infection are higher than one would expect, especially for college students in surrounding areas and workers within customer service industries, including fast food and hospitality.

“Most people took the news as a joke, but I took it very seriously being raised by a nurse,” current freshmen at Califoria State University of Long Beach (CSULB) and UHS graduate John Ercetin said. “I also work at the Habit and we changed our hand-washing protocol to wash our hands more frequently since we can’t wear masks. We don’t want to scare away customers.”   

However, the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHCA) said that the risk for school children is minimal. Under federal guidelines, the OCHCA will excuse students under mandatory quarantine from school for 14 days to ensure high-risk students remain out of school.

“Honestly, for school children with good immune systems, we shouldn’t have a problem,” Xu said. “It is something to be aware of. It’s not like you can just write it off.”

Wearing masks may seem like  a common sense solution to some students. However, the most important ways to prevent the spread of disease are staying cautious, washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose, and staying at home if you are sick.