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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you are concerned about becoming infected or infecting others, please take the following steps:
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.