President John Fry announced in an email March 2 that as of Monday, Drexel University is preparing contingency plans in the event of a coronavirus outbreak in the area.
The disease, formally known as COVID-19, is not currently an imminent threat to the Philadelphia region, but over 60 cases have been confirmed in the United States and have led to two deaths.
According to the World Health Organization, the coronavirus is part of a large group of viruses known to cause respiratory infections. Symptoms include fever, tiredness, dry cough, aches and pains, nasal congestion and sore throat, and they are typically mild in beginning stages before increasing in severity.
Statistics from the WHO show that 80 percent of those infected recover without any special treatment, whereas one of every six infected becomes seriously ill and experiences breathing difficulties. Ultimately, only about 2 percent of the over 90,000 confirmed cases have led to death.
Death numbers in China, which is under a “very high” risk assessment by the WHO, have risen to almost 3,000. Total deaths reported in 72 other countries, including the U.S., have reached over 150.
Nonetheless, Drexel has drafted plans to protect members of the university community should an outbreak occur in the Philadelphia area.
These plans come as a coordinated effort between Drexel’s Public Health Advisory Committee, which includes professionals from the College of Medicine, School of Public Health, College of Nursing and Health Professions, Real Estate and Facilities, the Office of Counseling and Health Services, Student Life and Public Safety.
“As the number of coronavirus cases grows in the United States, I want to ensure you that Drexel University is enacting contingency plans to ensure that students, faculty and professional staff are safeguarded, while continuing to provide for learning and research, and critical campus functions,” Fry wrote.
Most notably, travel restrictions by the university to China, South Korea and Italy are in effect, unless approved by the provost, Fry said. Per recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Drexel also is considering cancellation or postponement of all foreign exchange programs.
Student Life is reminding students to maintain healthy hygiene habits, teaching them about the disease and informing students of what to do should they fall ill.
The Office of the Provost is also working with Information Technology and Deans to discuss moving all University courses online, if that measure is warranted.
While there are currently no positive coronavirus cases at Drexel, Fry said a small number of students have been placed in empty rooms in residence halls as a precautionary measure, as advised by the CDC and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
“[Parts of] our campus residences have been set aside as student quarantine locations, and we have the infrastructure in place to fully care for these students,” Fry said. “We can [also] scale-up these programs if needed.”
Drexel is supporting students who are off campus as well, according to Fry’s email statement.
“The Office of Global Engagement is in contact with all students abroad, either through Study Abroad programs or international co-ops,” he said. “We are assisting each of these students with travel, housing or wrapping up early, as needed. […] We are doing our best to support them.”
President Fry advised all members of the Drexel community to be cautious and conscious about daily hygiene, as well as spring break plans.
Fry also urged students to review the information provided about COVID-19 from the WHO or the CDC prior to taking any trips and to consider travel restrictions that might be in place during spring break that might inhibit ingress and egress to the United States or the Philadelphia area.
“Drexel is an inclusive community, with students, faculty and professional staff from all over the world,” Fry wrote. “We must take care not to make assumptions based on perceived symptoms, ethnicity or national origin. We are committed to preserving and maintaining the health and safety of all members of our [University] community.”