We are all increasingly aware that the novel coronavirus is spreading rapidly around the world and infecting large numbers of people. Yesterday evening, we learned of the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the United States that could not be traced to a known source of infection. The infected person is a resident of Solano County, which is on the northern end of the San Francisco Bay Area. While currently there are no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus closer to the Starr King or campus anywhere within our nationwide and worldwide school community, we know that the situation may change quickly. We offer the following information and precautions as an encouragement for everyone to be fully prepared in the event of an outbreak.
What is the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)?
Coronaviruses are a subfamily of viruses that normally cause mild respiratory tract infections such as the common cold. The novel coronavirus (often just referred to as “coronavirus”) is a specific viral strain which causes the disease formally labeled Coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19. The virus appears to have begun with an animal-to-human transmission in Wuhan, China, sometime in December 2019.
What are the symptoms of the novel coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and pneumonia. Less frequently, persons may experience other cold-like symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, or sore throat) or diarrhea. In rare cases, the virus can lead to organ failure and death.
How is the virus transmitted?
The virus is transmitted through close contact through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus has a typical incubation period of 2-14 days before symptoms develop and it is possible that it is transmitted when such symptoms are absent.
How dangerous is this?
So far, it appears that about 80% of persons who contract COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms, with the remainder requiring hospitalization. Estimates for fatal cases range from 0.7% to over 2%. While the vast majority of infected persons will recover, it is important to note that the fatality rate for novel coronavirus is significantly higher than the flu (around 0.1%). Persons at greater risk for complications include the elderly and those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease.
What precautions should I take?
If you are concerned about becoming infected or infecting others, please take the following steps:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick and stay at home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze. Try to do so with your elbow or a tissue rather than your hands.
- Wearing a face mask can reduce the chances of spreading a respiratory virus. Obtain a mask with a rating of N95 or higher and make sure it is tightly fitted to your face.
- Persons with a higher risk of complications, or who wish to avoid infecting friends and family with a higher risk, may wish to consider preparations to self-quarantine as necessary. You may want to stock up on extra supplies of food and medicine in order to avoid going out in public at a time when infection appears more likely. As you are able, make arrangements to work from home or for alternate participation in high-residency classes.
What precautions is the school taking?
Starr King School for the Ministry will monitor developments and evaluate options to protect the health and wellbeing of our community. Staff and faculty are already routinely encouraged to work from home when they develop any sort of sickness. We ask students who are registered for high-residency classes to stay at home when you are sick and attend sessions via Zoom. Please make arrangements in advance with your professor so that they can make adequate preparations.
If needed, we will make alternative arrangements for in-person classes as we did in previous terms when the Berkeley area was impacted by wildfire smoke and power outages. Our planned immersion courses in other countries are currently going forward, as these involve travel to areas that are not experiencing an outbreak. We recommend that students who plan to travel should purchase and bring N95-rated (or higher) masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. We will make adjustments for immersion trips if circumstances require and will inform students in a timely manner. Full travel guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control are available here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html.
As we follow updates from health authorities, we will continue to provide more information and, if necessary, implement policies and practices to ensure the safety of our school community.
Finally, the official response we have seen so far from the federal government is a drastic reminder of our broken and unjust “sick care” system. The spread of the novel coronavirus may be exacerbated as persons must consider whether they can afford the cost of critical treatment. May we support our neighbors with compassion during the immediate future and, over the long-term, may we continue the fight for effective and affordable healthcare for all people.