Tags Posts tagged with "coronavirus"

coronavirus

Stony Brook University has changed its class policy during the coronavirus outbreak. File photo

As colleges across the nation have done, Stony Brook University will go to remote instruction for the remainder of the semester, starting on March 23rd. Classes and finals will meet remotely at their regularly scheduled times.

While students will take classes remotely, they can access services on campus, including academic advising, dining services, residence halls, library services, recreation programs, athletic facilities, and hospital and clinical services. Students who live on campus may continue to stay in their residence halls and will receive the same services.

Transitioning to remote learning was something the school did to “curtail large group gatherings and reduce time spent in close proximity with one another in classrooms, lecture halls, dining facilities, and campus residences,” Interim President Michael Bernstein said in a statement. “Our actions are consistent with the guidance of public health agencies on how to limit the spread of Covid-19 and it is also similar to decisions made by peer institutions.”

The school’s business and administrative operations will also be open and athletic events will continue as scheduled until further notice.

The only remaining indoor event is Friday’s America East women’s basketball game. Tickets will remain available through Friday at noon and will be capped to ensure space for fans who would like to watch the game. Outdoor sporting events are unaffected by the changes.

Most non-classroom events and large gatherings will be canceled or postponed starting this week through at least the end of the month.

The school awaits guidance from local and regional public health agencies to determine when to reopen classrooms for face-to-face teaching.

As for the hospital, Stony Brook has developed a revised visitor policy. All visitors have to fill out a health declaration form before entering the hospital. Visitors who are sick will be asked to leave. Stony Brook is also restricting the number of ways people can enter the building. Visitation rules vary depending on the department and are as follows:

  • Adult patients can have one visitor at a time. Visitors have to be 18 and over.
  • Pediatric and NICU patients can have two visitors per patient. The visitors must also be 18 or older. Parents, guardians and support persons only.
  • Labor and Delivery/ Postpartum can have two visitors per patient. Visitors must be 18 and older and are restricted to partners or support persons.
  • Emergency Department will not permit visitors for adult emergency department patient areas. Patients requiring assistance can have one visitor. One visitor per pediatric patient is allowed in the pediatric emergency department and that visitor must be a parent or caregiver.
  • Outpatient and Ambulatory Surgery Center Locations can have one person at the time of visit. The ambulatory care center will make exceptions for pediatric patients and others requiring an aide or additional assistance.
  • Patients who cough or show other signs of illness will be asked to leave.

Photo from YouTube

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We take so much of our life for granted. In some ways, it’s natural and necessary. After all, if we got up and stared out our window and marveled at the combination of sun and shade on the branches rocking in the wind, bent down to admire the dew clinging to the grass and breathed deeply of the newly blossoming trees every morning, we might never get our kids to school and ourselves to work.

And yet, all the news about the spread of this new virus and the ensuing reaction to protect the population — from closing schools to avoiding subways to staying away from large crowds — gives us an opportunity to appreciate the things, people and sensory experiences we take for granted.

No one will miss the scent of urine wafting up through the subways during a hot summer day when switching problems make everyone stand four, five and six deep on the platform, waiting for the next overcrowded and overheated subway car to arrive.

Still, we may miss so many other sensory, social and everyday experiences if and when we have to lock ourselves in our homes, waiting for the “all clear” sign.

So, what are some of those experiences? It depends on whom you ask and what time of year the question arises.

I appreciate the joy of people watching. After living in Manhattan for decades, I’ve learned to swing my eyes across the street inconspicuously, while I seemed lost in thought or even pretended to be on an invisible phone. Times Square, with its superabundant tourists speaking uncountable languages, wearing unrecognizable colognes and walking in all manner of shoes, is a great place to start.

But then, the line for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island offers a similar variety of people from all over the world. Instead of billboards of half-naked and incredibly tone and muscular bodies advertising Broadway shows and underwear, the backdrop for the people watching at the ferry lines includes the unpredictable waves of the Hudson River, which has its own personality, ranging from near stillness to foaming white caps.

Closer to home and nearer to summer, West Meadow Beach blends the natural with the call of the seagulls across the enormous intertidal zone and the salty, wind-carried scent; and the anthropogenic with the plaintive cry of babies overheated by the hot sun, the sound of music vibrating from sound systems and the sight of happy teenagers taking their first lick of their soft-serve ice cream cones.

I enjoy watching the end of a hard-fought tennis match, when two or four people come to the net and exchange pleasant handshakes and share thoughts about a good match or a good game.

The crowds at sporting events, many of whom we might not choose from a potential lineup of friends, become a part of memorable games and evenings, as we exchange high fives with inebriated strangers, share insights about what we would do if we were the manager of the team, or congratulate the parent of one of the players on our daughter’s team for the improvement in her game.

Despite the fact that I tend to avoid a crowded elevator car, an overstuffed subway or even an escalator with too many tired bodies waiting for a machine to bring them to the top, I will miss the chance to share some of these experiences with the random strangers who might become friends, the fellow sports fans who might offer a game-within-a-game entertainment, or the chance encounter with a long-lost friend whose winsome smile is the same as it was decades ago in an eighth-grade math class.

Sei Ramen in East Setauket is just one Asian restaurant on Long Island that said business is down since the start of the coronavirus panic. Photo by David Luces

The uncertainty of the coronavirus has led many people to avoid public places that see a lot of foot traffic. Some have resorted to hunkering down at home. With the first confirmed cases of coronavirus reported in Suffolk County this past week, despite efforts to sanitize their locations, some local businesses owners have been seeing the impact directly.

Since the outbreak began in China late last year, Asian American and Chinese restaurants and businesses have seen a decline in the number of customers. 

The Great Wall Chinese restaurant in Sound Beach is just one of several Asian establishments impacted by irrational fears over the coronavirus. Photo from Google Maps

Kevin Ma, co-owner of Sei Ramen in East Setauket, acknowledged the drop-off in business. 

Business “for area restaurants, it’s going down,” he said. “I have friends that run their own businesses and they are going through the same thing.”

Since opening last month, Ma believes they have been doing OK and hopes to see an uptick in customers once the coronavirus scare dies down.

“All we can do is let customers know the food is safe [to eat],” he said. “We are making sure everything is clean and sanitized.”  

Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, said the fears of coronavirus are affecting businesses in the area. 

“I spoke to two Chinese restaurants [that are chamber members], they don’t want this to affect them,” he said. 

Pollakusky said misinformation on the coronavirus has caused the reduction in business, especially to the new owners of the Great Wall, a Chinese restaurant in Sound Beach. 

“The fears of the people toward Chinese food are irrational — people shouldn’t be afraid of eating local,” he said. “The Great Wall in Sound Beach has new owners and they are very excited to be a part of this community.”

The executive director said all businesses are taking the proper precautions and safety measures to make sure its facilities are clean. 

Libraries also see a lot of visitors and are trying to stay a step ahead.  

Ted Gutmann, director at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket, said they are closely monitoring the situation. 

“We take the health and the safety of our patrons very seriously,” he said. “We have ordered additional cleaning supplies to clean surfaces, computers, keyboards and other areas.”

Gutmann said if patrons feel sick, he would advise them not to come to the library. 

“We have tried to be proactive, we haven’t really seen a decrease in attendance at the library,” the director said.

At this point, Emma Clark has not decided to cancel any upcoming events but has had internal discussions about the problem, should the overall situation gets worse. 

Debbie Engelhardt, director of Comsewogue Public Library, had similar sentiments. 

“We haven’t noticed a change in attendance,” she said. “We are trying to be proactive, just washing our hands is part of our daily routine.” 

Engelhardt said they already had numerous sanitizers installed throughout the building. 

“We increased signage reminding employees and patrons to wash their hands,” she said. “If employees are sick, we have told them to stay home — we are monitoring information from the state and county. We are trying to stay educated, we have a responsibility as a public service building.”  

“We are making sure everything is clean and sanitized.”

— Kevin Ma

Several local groups have been canceling events. The Three Village Democratic Club, Three Village Historical Society and Three Village Community Trust have all canceled or pushed off events out of a sense of caution. 

Brookhaven Town has released an executive order canceling all town events for senior citizens due to coronavirus concerns. Those events are suspended beginning March 12. Meals on Wheels deliveries will continue to homebound seniors, while those previously served by congregate nutrition programs at senior centers will be offered meal delivery at home.

Residents can call 631-451-8696 for more information.

Despite the preparation, other businesses said they haven’t seen much of an impact so far.

Bobby Suchan, general manager of Port Jeff Bowl, said besides less people coming into bowling alleys in general, they haven’t seen a change in business as of now. 

“We have installed more hand sanitizer in the building and just making sure everything is clean, which is something we always do,” he said. 

Charlie Ziegler, director of operations at Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, said it’s business as usual at the hotel. 

“It’s not having an effect [on us] — the number of customers coming is the same,” he said. 

Despite that, Ziegler said they will continue to make sure everything in the building is cleaned and sanitized. 

“We had a meeting recently with the staff and we told them to make sure to wash their hands constantly,” he said. “We want to keep areas clean … we are disinfecting areas like the great room, telephones and door handles.”

Ziegler said they don’t anticipate any further disruptions from the coronavirus situation. 

Photo from Metro

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Concerns about a human coronavirus, better known as COVID 19, is raising fears for a global outbreak. The good news is that although COVID 19 may have its origins in a coronavirus found in bats, THERE IS NO EVIDENCE AT THIS TIME that the known canine and feline coronaviruses can spread from animals to humans. The risk of spread of COVID 19 is human to human at this time.

Coronavirus in dogs typically causes enteritis, or inflammation of the bowel. Most of the cases cause a mild, self-limiting diarrhea that lasts for a few days and does not even require a trip to the veterinarian’s office. Less commonly, more severe diarrhea, loss of appetite, or vomiting occur. 

More recently, a canine coronavirus respiratory virus has been isolated in association with other respiratory viruses into a disease termed Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC). Again, the symptoms are usually mild and self-limiting rarely causing death.

Coronavirus in cats is much more serious. Most coronavirus in cats also cause self-limiting gastrointestinal symptoms similar to dogs. However, there is a particular strain of feline coronavirus that leads to a disease process called Feline Infectious Peritonitis, or FIP for short. 

This FIP strain of the coronavirus appears to be a mutation of one of the more benign strains of the enteric (gut) coronavirus. Rather than a self-limiting diarrhea, the deadly FIP develops. FIP has two forms: a “wet form” and a “dry form.” In the wet form a high fever and effusion develops. This effusion, or protein rich fluid, usually develops in the abdomen causing a peritonitis. Less commonly the fluid develops in the chest cavity causing a pleural effusion. In either case the outcome is severe and always fatal. The symptoms develop rapidly (over a few days to, at most, a few weeks). The patient stops eating and is usually humanely euthanized if he or she does not pass away on their own. 

There is also a less common “dry form” of the disease. The dry form of FIP is a slower developing sequela of the disease. Rather than a rapid progression of disease over a few weeks, the dry form takes months to years. The dry form produces a granulomatous response and produces deposits of a specific type of scar tissue in internal organs. These internal organs then begin to dysfunction and ultimately shut down. 

My experience has shown patients usually are humanely euthanized or pass away from kidney failure secondary to the dry form of FIP. The kidneys, unlike some other organs, do not regenerate cells or repair damage. Once a certain percentage of the kidneys stops functioning the rest of the body quickly shuts down.

There are both feline and canine coronavirus vaccines but their actual efficacy is questionable. There are so many strains that the single strain in the vaccine protect against them all. It would be like having a single flu vaccine that is never modified year to year. The good news is that most cases of both feline and canine coronavirus are mild and self-limiting. Also, I have found no information at this time that states that the canine or feline coronavirus poses any threat to human health. 

If you have questions that are not answered in this article, or are concerned about the health of your individual pet please contact your regular veterinarian for an appointment.  

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to [email protected] and see his answer in an upcoming column.

Stock photo

*Update* This post has been amended to reflect new cases of coronavirus in Suffolk County as well as new info from town and county sources.

In the same week the World Health Organization called the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, Suffolk County recorded its first six positive tests for COVID-19.

The first four people to have the virus contracted it through community transmission, which means that none of them traveled to countries where infections are more prevalent. The patients include a Brookhaven Town man in his 20s who is in isolation at Stony Brook University Hospital, a Southold resident who is in her 20s and is under home isolation, a man in his 80s who is in isolation at St. Catherine’s Hospital and a man in his 40s who is in isolation Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. 

At the same time, eight people were under mandatory quarantine while the New York State Department of Health is monitoring 72 people under precautionary quarantine because of their travel abroad, according to officials from the Suffolk County Health Department.

Dr. Gregson Pigott, commissioner of the county Department of Health Services, said the patient is “getting better” and expected that he will “be fine.” 

Pigott said several area facilities have developed the ability to test for COVID-19, including LabCorp and Northwell Health Labs, which received state and federal approval to start manual testing for the virus. Northwell is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to use semi-automated testing within the week, which could boost the number of tests to the hundreds per day and into the thousands in the near future, the health lab said.

Pigott said Suffolk County was “on top of” the virus “for now” but that the circumstances could change, which is why several facilities have taken steps to protect various populations.

Stony Brook University told students this week that it would transition to all online classes starting on March 23, according to a letter sent out to students. The online version of the classes will continue through the end of the spring semester. Stony Brook is one of several colleges throughout the country that is taking steps to protect students through online versions of their classes. Princeton University, Stanford University, Harvard College and the University of Washington, to name a few, are also teaching classes online. Hofstra University canceled classes this week as well.

On March 10, Stony Brook’s Staller Center canceled all events for March “out of an abundance of caution” due to the coronavirus, according to a release.

Meanwhile, the New York State Education Department and the State Department of Health issued updated guidance to school and community health officials, which includes requiring schools to close for 24 hours if a student or staff member attended school prior to being confirmed as a positive COVID-19 patient. Additionally, during that period the school is expected to disinfect the building or buildings where the person had contact prior to testing positive. The departments also urged schools to work with community feeding organizations to plan for distribution of food to students who rely on the two meals served at schools each day.

The local health department will notify schools if and when they are required to close because of the virus and when they can reopen. Schools are not expected to decide about closing or canceling events on their own.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has canceled all public events, including lectures and on-site visits, through April 30.

Brookhaven National Laboratory, responding to guidance from the U.S. Department of Energy, has suspended all international business travel, with an exception for mission-essential international travel. Staff returning from China, Iran, South Korea and Italy are required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Staff will also have to self-quarantine if a household member traveled to those countries. All in-person visits of people from those countries are postponed.

Meanwhile, county Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) suspended all contact visits with prisoners. Noncontact visits can still be scheduled in advance, while visiting hours will be 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and will be limited to 30-minute sessions.

To protect the most vulnerable population, the U.S. State Department also made recommendations to senior facilities. Following those guidelines, Affinity Skilled Living in Oakdale started screening staff and visitors earlier this week, which includes taking their temperature. The facility also has restricted visiting hours.

File Photo

Shoreham-Wading River school district officials announced Monday the schools would reopen Tuesday following their closure over fears a staff member had contact with someone with the virus.

On the district’s website a notice from Superintendent Gerard Poole read:

“Please be assured that the decision to close today was not one that the district made lightly. The information we received early this morning was limited and initially indicated that a member of our security team might have been exposed to an individual with the coronavirus. In many of my messages to you, I have stressed how the safety and security of our students and staff is our district’s top priority. Those are not just words to us — we truly mean them, and thus was the basis for our decision this morning. As we were waiting for further clarification from the Department of Health and the start of the school day was imminent, we felt it prudent to close in order to be overly cautious and in the best interest of our students/staff health.  Please note that it was further confirmed by the Department of Health that no individual in our district has tested positive for the coronavirus as of this writing.

While the situation today developed, please be assured that the district worked internally to take several proactive steps to further our past efforts. We once again completed a thorough and deep cleaning of all surfaces in our schools and our buses went through a deep disinfecting process. All afterschool activities for today will remain cancelled, as our custodial staff prepare our schools for tomorrow.”

*Original Story

Shoreham-Wading River school district has closed all schools early this morning as a coronavirus case was confirmed on a High School staff member’s spouse. The call went out to parents in the early morning as some students were on the bus on their way to class.

Residents in the Shoreham-Wading River school district reported receiving a robo call from Superintendent Gerard Poole in the early morning of Monday, March 9. Students that were on the bus by a little after 7 a.m. were being kept on the bus, then being turned around to have students dropped off at home. First bell for the high school is 7:20 a.m.

“The Shoreham-Wading River Central School District is closed today due to a potential suspected case of coronavirus with a high school staff member’s spouse,” Poole said in a statement. “The district has been in contact with the Suffolk County Department of Health and while we await confirmation and guidance from them we have decided to cancel classes at all schools today out of an abundance of caution.”

The district has not yet released information about how long they expect school to be closed, but in a letter on the district website, officials confirmed the first two days of school being absent would eat up the last remaining snow days. Any days schools are closed after that would impact the school calendar, including spring break which runs April 6 through 14, superintendent’s conference day, April 28, and the friday before Veterans Day, May 22.

The district also confirmed they were considering plans for online learning options in the event schools were closed due to the Covid 19 fears. 

The options include using Google Classroom and learning platforms such as I-Ready. The district encouraged parents to confirm the logins for I-ready and Aleks are functioning on home computers.  Those log-ins can be found in the parent briefcase in the Infinite Campus Parent Portal. 

District officials also said they have placed an additional cleaner in each building to disinfect surfaces. 

Yesterday, Suffolk County confirmed its first case of coronavirus. A man described in his early 40’s is being hospitalized in the Stony Brook/Southampton hospital.  

As of Sunday, the total number of confirmed cases of Covid 19 in New York has jumped to 105.

This story will be updated when more information becomes available.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has halted all public events until April due to the Coronavirus. File photo

With six cases of coronavirus Covid-19 in New York state confirmed as at March 4, state, local institutions are preparing for the potential spread of the virus.

New York lawmakers earlier this week passed a $40 million spending bill. The funds will allow the Department of Health to hire staff, purchase equipment and gather additional resources to address a virus for which a travel ban no longer seems sufficient to ensure containment.

A 50-year old Westchester man tested positive for the virus, even though he didn’t travel to areas of contamination, which include China, South Korea and Italy, and didn’t have known contact with anyone who has traveled to those areas. Through the so-called community spread of the virus, which has a mortality rate of more than 3 percent, can infect a wider range of people.

Northwell Health Labs said earlier this week it expects to begin testing for Covid-19 within a week. The health facility, which announced the future testing at a news conference March 2 with U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), said manual testing could involve 75 to 100 tests each day. After it automates the tests, the facility could process hundreds and even thousands of tests on a daily basis. Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson is part of Northwell Health group.

Meanwhile, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Stony Brook University have made recommendations to staff who might travel to areas of infection.

BNL is following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and the State Department regarding health notices and travel advisories. The U.S. State Department has a do-not-travel restriction on trips to China and Iran, along with specific areas of Italy and South Korea, while it also recommends reconsidering travel to Italy, South Korea and Mongolia.

Also, BNL is asking visiting scientists if they traveled to China or live with someone who visited China within 14 days. If the answer to either question is “yes,” these individuals have to complete a 14-day period away from China without symptoms before returning to the lab.

BNL canceled the International Forum on Detectors for Photon Science conference, which was scheduled for March 29 through April 1 at Danfords Hotel in Port Jefferson. The conference was expected to have 40 participants.

CSHL has canceled or postponed all upcoming conferences and courses bringing participants to campus through April 5th. The laboratory will reevaluate future offerings on a rolling basis.

Also, CSHL is cleaning common areas including bathrooms, counters and dining areas more frequently, is providing more hand sanitation stations, is enhancing the readiness of its Center for Health & Wellness and is providing secure transfer protocols for at-risk people with potential symptoms of the virus.

SBU discouraged school-related and personal travel to China, Italy, Iran and South Korea. The school also created a mandatory preapproval requirement for all publicly funded university-sponsored travel plans to China, Italy, Iran and South Korea. SBU has not canceled the Florence University of the Arts program, since the university is continuing classes as usual and the Tuscany region doesn’t have any reported cases of the virus.

On a national level, the Federal Reserve, in a move similar to decisions from other central banks, cut interest rates by half a percentage point, the biggest cut since the financial crisis of 2008. The cut was designed to stave off an economic slowdown caused by business disruptions from the coronavirus.

“The coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity,” the Federal Reserve said in a statement.

Updated March 5 to reflect most current CSHL procedures regarding conferences and courses.

Stock photo

The spread of the new coronavirus has become increasingly likely in the United States, public health officials suggested, as the sickness that started in China has infected people in 39 countries including Italy and South Korea where an American service member has contracted the virus.

During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Nancy Messonnier, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said it was “not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illnesses.”

Messonnier’s warning included a suggestion that people start asking their schools about plans for dismissal and for conducting classes online if the coronavirus, now called Covid-19, affects their communities.

Stocks fell sharply lower on Monday and Tuesday amid concerns about the effect on the global economy.

As of earlier this week, over 80,000 people had tested positive for Covid-19, which claimed the lives of over 2,700 people. In the United States, the number of confirmed cases, including those from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, had reached 57. None of those cases is in New York, where 26 tests have come back negative and one is still pending, according to the New York State Department of Health.

Bettina Fries, the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, said the infections in Italy and South Korea signaled a new phase in the epidemic.

“We are now having these new cases where we can’t even link them” to exposure to people who have traveled to China, Fries said. “The genie is out of the bottle. Once that happens, it’ll be that much harder” to contain the virus.

Fries described the virus, which health officials believe is transmitted through droplets from people carrying the infection, as “behaving much more like the flu,” which is why the CDC is preparing for cases in the United States.

With other coronaviruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome, the majority of patients who transmitted these diseases had symptoms like high fevers. That may not be the case with Covid-19, as patients that are “asymptomatic could be shedding the virus,” making it more difficult to contain, Fries said.

Medical professionals don’t have any medication or vaccine, while the world population, which hasn’t been exposed to this new virus, also hasn’t developed any kind of resistance.

If pockets of the outbreak appear in the United States, it is “conceivable that schools could shut down and that there could be rules where people self quarantine” for the required 14 days, Fries said.

Fries added that it’s important to protect health care providers who are on the front lines in this battle. Stony Brook is continuing to make contingency plans in the event of confirmed cases of this coronavirus, which includes making space available if necessary. In the event of an outbreak, the hospital would change its policy of having trainees, residents and medical students go in and out of rooms with doctors on rounds, she said.

Fries added that the warmer weather may not cause a reduction in the incidence of the virus. “Every virus is different,” Fries said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced several measures to prepare New York for the potential spread of the new coronavirus, called Covid-19, to the Empire State. Cuomo announced a $40 million appropriation for the New York State Department of Health to hire additional staff, procure equipment and any other resources necessary to respond to the spread of Covid-19. The governor is also proposing legislation to grant authority to the Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker to make sure local health departments and private and public hospitals take necessary actions in response to the virus. The department will bring together local health departments and hospitals statewide to review protocols, practices and procedures to make sure they are prepared to combat the spread of Covid-19.
Cuomo is also asking the federal government to authorize the Wadsworth Center and NYC Public Health Laboratory to test for the virus, which would speed up the test results. New York State has developed and validated a test using the protocol of the Centers for Disease Control. Once Wadsworth receives Food and Drug Administration approval, it can test people under investigation in New York and other northeastern states.
The Department of Health will coordinate with the Mass Transit Authority, Port Authority and airport operators and the workforces for these public transit systems to ensure workers are trained and can access supplies such as cleaning and protective equipment, that they need to operate mass transit and airports. New York is working with all state agencies to prepare for the potential pandemic.
Updated Feb. 28 to include information about Cuomo’s measures.

File photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Fear can be a great motivator. Fear of failing a test can lead someone to study harder, to pay attention in class and to do whatever is necessary to learn the material.

In many movies, the lead character has to face his or her fears to accomplish something. Luke Skywalker from the “Star Wars” films had to face his father, Darth Vader, to become a Jedi.

Fear, however, can also bring out the worst in people, especially when that fear is misplaced and misdirected.

Last week, the University of California’s Tang Center, in Berkeley, listed a set of normal reactions to the new coronavirus on its Instagram account. Among other reactions, like feeling anxiety, worry or panic, the school suggested that xenophobia, or “fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia” was also normal. The Instagram post went on to add that having “guilt about these feelings” was normal, too. Chances are, if you’re feeling guilty about a feeling, it’s probably misdirected and uninformed.

Amid an enormous backlash from alumni at the school, whose current freshman class is about 43 percent Asian, the university has since apologized and taken down the post.

The school hopefully learned, and also offered a valuable lesson.

People in the United States are no more likely to contract a virus that currently has a 2 percent mortality rate from an Asian person than they are from anyone else who is sniffling and coughing.

In fact, at this point in the year, someone near you who is sneezing, coughing or looks sick is exponentially more likely to have the flu.

Yes, the vast majority of the almost 25,000 cases of the coronavirus — with about 3,200 critical — are located in China and, yes, many countries, including the United States, have taken strong steps to limit the possibility of turning this epidemic into a pandemic, causing the virus to spread to two or more continents.

Where someone’s ancestors come from, or where they themselves were born, is much less relevant than where they themselves have traveled in the last two weeks.

And, on top of that, even if someone — Asian, Caucasian, African American, Native American or otherwise — has been to Asia in the last month, if that person has been back in the United States for more than two weeks without showing any signs of illness, then he or she falls into the same category as anyone and everyone else with whom we ride the Long Island Rail Road, sit in a movie theater or stroll through a mall. The mandatory quarantine period for people returning from Wuhan, the Chinese center of the outbreak, is two weeks.

Fear of this virus shouldn’t encourage any of us to avoid people with a specific heritage because the virus doesn’t care about the small genetic differences that create races. It only seeks the receptor in our cells that allow it to get inside and cause respiratory infections.

So, how do we manage our fear of the virus? We tackle it the same way we do our fear of getting a flu. We wash our hands regularly, we try not to touch our face, and we don’t shake hands with anyone who has a stuffy nose or is coughing.

We can also boost our own immune system by getting enough sleep and eating the right foods.

The coronavirus, for which there are currently no treatments or vaccines, has generated a steady drumbeat of horrible news, from the number of people infected to those who have died, which has climbed to almost 500 but with more than 1,000 recoveries.

Fear of the virus can be and is healthy, motivating countries to protect their citizens and limiting the spread of the virus. The fear, however, of any group will never be “normal” and certainly isn’t acceptable.

Stock photo

As the number of people infected with the new coronavirus climbs in China and countries limit travel to the beleaguered country, the incidence of infection in the United States remains low, with 11 people carrying the respiratory virus as of earlier this week.

“While the risk to New Yorkers is still low, we urge everyone to remain vigilant.”

— Gov. Andrew. Cuomo

American officials stepped up their policies designed to keep the virus, which so far has about a 2 percent mortality rate, at bay in the last week. For the first time in over half a century, the government established a mandatory two-week quarantine for people entering from China’s Hubei Province, which is where the outbreak began. The United States also said it would prevent foreign nationals who are not immediate family members of American citizens from entering within two weeks of visiting China.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the viral outbreak an “unprecedented situation” and suggested that the American government has taken “aggressive measures” amid the largely expanding outbreak.

The actions, Messonnier said on a conference call earlier this week, were designed to “slow this down before it gets into the United States. If we act now, we do have an opportunity to provide additional protection.”

The number of deaths from coronavirus, which has reached almost 500, now exceeds the number for the sudden acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003. The number of infected patients worldwide has reached above 25,000, triggering concerns about a pandemic. More than 1,000 have recovered from the virus.

The CDC, which has been coordinating the American response to the virus, has been testing potential cases of the disease. Symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

In New York, 17 samples have been sent to the CDC for testing, with 11 coming back negative and six pending. New York created a hotline, 888-364-3065, in which experts from the Department of Health can answer questions about the virus. The DOH also has a website as a resource for residents, at www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/coronavirus.

“While the risk to New Yorkers is still low, we urge everyone to remain vigilant,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement.

The CDC sent an Emergency Use Authorization to the Food & Drug Administration to allow more local testing during medical emergencies. Such an effort could expedite the way emergency rooms respond to patients who they might otherwise need to isolate for longer periods of time while they await a definitive diagnosis.

By speeding up the evaluation period, the CDC would help hospitals like Stony Brook University Hospital maintain the necessary number of isolation beds, rather than prolonging the wait period in the middle of flu season to determine the cause of the illness.

As for the university, according to its website,  approximately 40 students have contacted the school indicating they are restricted from returning to the U.S. With university approval, the students will not be penalized academically for being out or for taking a leave of absence.

“The most important thing is to keep your hands clean.”

— Bettina Fries

Testing for the new coronavirus, which is still tentatively called 2019-nCoV, would miss a positive case if the virus mutated. In an RNA virus like this one, mutations can and do occur, although most of these changes result in a less virulent form.

The CDC, whose website www.cdc.gov, provides considerable information about this new virus, is “watching for that,” said Bettina Fries, the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. At this point, there “doesn’t seem to be much mutation yet.”

In the SARS outbreak, a mutation made the virus less virulent.

Fries added that the “feeling with SARS was that you weren’t infectious until were you symptomatic. The feeling with this one is that you are potentially infectious” before demonstrating any of the typical symptoms.

Fries assessed the threat from contracting the virus in the United States as “low,” while adding that the danger from the flu, which has resulted in over 10,000 deaths during the 2019-20 flu season, is much higher.

In the hospital, Fries said the health care staff puts masks on people who are coughing to reduce the potential spread of whatever is affecting their respiratory systems.

While Fries doesn’t believe it’s necessary to wear a mask to class, she said it’s not “unreasonable” in densely populated areas like airports and airplanes to wear one.

Masks don’t offer complete protection from the flu or coronavirus, in part because people touch the outside of the masks, where viruses condense, and then touch parts of their face. Even with the mask on, people touch their eyes.

“The most important thing is to keep your hands clean,” Fries suggested.

Fries believes the 14-day quarantine period for people coming from an area where coronavirus is prevalent is “probably on the generous side.” Scientists come up with this time period to establish guidelines for health care providers throughout the country.

Fries suggested that the only way these precautions are going to work is if they are aggressive and done early enough.

“Once the genie is out of the bottle” and an epidemic spreads to other countries, it becomes much more difficult to contain, Fries said.

The best-case scenario is that this virus becomes a contained problem in China. If it doesn’t spread outside the country, it could follow the same pattern as SARS, which abated within about eight months.

While there is no treatment for this new coronavirus, companies and governments are working on a possible vaccine. This, Fries estimated, could take about a year to create.

Looking out across the calendar, Fries wondered what would happen with the Olympics this year, which are scheduled for July 24 through Aug. 9 in Tokyo. Athletes who have been training for years certainly hope the virus is contained by then. A similar concern preceded the 2016 Olympics, when Zika virus threatened to derail the games in Brazil.