New York campus health official: ‘Yes, we are concerned’
As many watch with worry at the spread of the deadly Ebola virus on American shores – and a new confirmed case of Ebola has popped up in New York City – colleges in New York and nationwide have taken a variety of precautionary steps to prepare for a possible case on their campuses.
At the State University of New York-Purchase College, medical officials told The College Fix that they will monitor students who may have traveled to West Africa, but would not confirm if any students have actually traveled to the affected regions where Ebola has ravaged villages and towns.
Medical staff at Purchase College expressed assurances that the campus is undergoing efforts to ensure greater safety and that there is a low chance of the deadly African virus reaching the school, but there are no guarantees, especially since the virus originally wasn’t thought to even start a mini-outbreak in the United States, they said.
“Everything can change on a dime … we are constantly evolving our protocols, trying to make them better, but yes, we are concerned,” said Dr. Nancy Reuben, the medical director of health services at Purchase College.
Dr. Reuben said that the small staff at Purchase Health Services has ordered advanced personal protective gear to prevent the virus from infecting any of the nurses or staff in the case a suspected Ebola patient, and all arrivals to the health center will be screened for recent travel history.
“We are also having an emergency response team meeting with all departments… to coordinate what to do if someone does bring it to campus,” she added.
Despite broad statements to assure the public that steps are being taken to insure public health safety in New York schools, students – while not panicking – are also not entirely convinced of their safety.
“[Y]eah, me and my friends talk about it, it is kinda scary,” Moriah Ormsby, a senior at SUNY Purchase, told The College Fix.
The World Health Organization on Oct. 12 released disturbing statistics including that there can soon be more than 10,000 cases of infections a week and perhaps more pressing—that the mortality rate of the outbreak is 70 percent, that Ebola kills 7 out of 10 people who contract the virus.
With that, some colleges have suspended their study abroad programs to West African countries. Others have updated their infections disease protocols, purchased hazmat suits and launched campus education efforts. And most campus officials have asked students returning from Ebola-affected countries to check in at the health office to fill out a questionnaire and take home thermometers, another CDC-recommended protocol.
With the sudden exposure on American soil, hospitals and airports around the country are on high alert, as are colleges, where many interactions in tight-knit environments such as dorms and classrooms occur.
Many college officials do not see this threat as a joke. When a San Diego college student claimed she had flu-like symptoms and might have ridden in the same plane with a confirmed Ebola patient, the school went into lockdown and quarantined students before determining the claim was unsubstantiated.
Several of the safety precautions seen on campus are the result of the Center for Disease Control instructing universities recently to “identify students, faculty, and staff who have been in countries where Ebola outbreaks are occurring within the past 21 days” and “conduct a risk assessment with each identified person to determine his or her level of risk exposure.”
“During the time that you are monitoring your health, if you have no symptoms, you can continue your normal activities, including work and school,” the CDC also advised students. “If you get symptoms of Ebola, it is important to stay separated from other people and to call your doctor right away.”
UC Berkeley officials stated that an Ebola case in California is highly likely, and that its University Health Services workers have undergone extensive training on how to respond to those presenting Ebola-like symptoms. But the university also shelved plans to launch a study abroad program in Sierra Leone.
In Texas, where to Americans are recovering from Ebola, university officials have also asked those who have traveled to West African countries recently to contact the Student Health Center.
The University of Oregon also cancelled its global health and development study abroad program in Ghana. Harvard University has launched new travel restrictions. Navarro College will not accept new applications from students residing in Africa.
The global health crisis of the Ebola epidemic had been brewing for months before American efforts, primarily led by the Centers for Disease Control, intensified recently.
Ebola, named after an African river, spread virulently through the primary three countries hit hardest; Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. The American public’s attention however only reached its current height after a man flying from Liberia was diagnosed with Ebola in a Dallas hospital and then accidentally released—potentially exposing others. The man, Thomas Duncan, died. The new case in New York City has also reignited fears.
There are serious concerns among some students across the country that colleges may be caught unprepared if a case of Ebola does hit their campus.
A student group at the University of Virginia is calling on the university to take concrete steps to protect the campus, with one student saying the campus “as a whole has not had a response,” according to the Cavalier Daily student newspaper.
College Fix reporter Michael Sorge is a student at SUNY Purchase.