School officials and health officials at Miami University and Butler County talked to the media on Tuesday regarding the possibility that two students may have come into contact with the coronavirus that is affecting thousands in China after recently traveling there.

Butler County official on coronavirus response: ‘This is what we do’

Jennifer Bailer, the county health commissioner, delivered this message: “We are going to be prepared for it.”

On Monday, the first day students returned after a six-week break between semesters, two Miami students who had traveled to China complained of flu-like symptoms to health services staff. When the staff learned the students just returned from China, where the coronavirus outbreak was reported in December, they were tested, and those tests were sent to the Ohio Department of Health, then forwarded to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Bailer said the students showed “concerning” symptoms of coronavirus.

She said the Butler County health agency “trains and prepares for events” similar to the coronavirus virus that led the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency after it spread to 18 countries.

“This is what we do,” Bailer said. “We are professionals in health care response and investigation.”

The results of the three-part test — a blood draw, a nasal swab and a mucus sample — were expected to be released by Friday, but there was no word from Miami, the Ohio Department of Health or the Butler County Health Department, whether the students tested positive for coronavirus.

Starting in the city of Wuhan, the initial outbreak reportedly had some link to a large seafood and animal market but is now spreading person-to-person, according to the CDC.

Health officials worked last week to calm fears at Miami University as they awaited the results of coronavirus tests.

“We are on it,” said Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health. “We stand prepared. Only with that travel history (to China) or with a direct contact with someone under investigation are you truly at risk.”

Until the results are known, Bailer said students and residents should frequently wash their hands, avoid touching their nose and eyes, cover their mouth when they cough and sneeze and don’t go to work or school if they’re ill.

Jennifer Bailer, Butler County health commissioner, speaks during a press conference held at Miami University in Oxford Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020 regarding two possible cases of coronavirus in students who recently returned back from China. The cases are not confirmed but precautions are being taken. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Miami University and Butler County health officials, concerned about possible profiling of international students on campus, declined to release the names, ages of the students or where they were living until the results were confirmed. Officials used the word “compassion” several times during a Tuesday press conference.

Miami has 17,327 undergraduate and 2,607 graduate students on its Oxford campus. Students from China are the university’s largest population of international students with 2,334 enrolled.

About a dozen Miami University Regional campus students in Hamilton and Middletown list their home residence near the area in Wuhan City where the outbreak began in December, according to school officials. It’s unclear how many of those students returned home for winter break and how many remained in the U.S.

When students left for winter break in December, the coronavirus wasn’t on the “radar screen,” said Jayne Brownell, vice president of student life.

On Thursday, Miami announced it has restricted university-sponsored travel to China for all faculty, staff and students for several weeks amid coronavirus concerns, officials said.

Also, Miami announced that three summer China programs this year will be redirected. One Miami student studying abroad in China has returned to the Oxford campus, and another student who planned to study in China this semester is staying in Oxford, officials said.

CDC officials said Thursday that a woman diagnosed earlier this month as having the 2019 novel coronavirus had infected her husband. The Illinois woman, in her 60s, was doing “quite well” in the hospital, while her husband, also in his 60s but suffering from other health issues, was in stable condition, according to the Chicago Department of Public health.

The couple had been in frequent contact with each other since she returned to Chicago from Wuhan, according to health officials. They are tracing his steps to determine with whom he had contact since being infected, but officials have determined he attended “no mass gatherings.”

The Butler County Emergency Management Agency has a 24/7 hotline residents can call with questions regarding coronavirus. That number: 513-785-5800.

Miami has set up a call center for those seeking more information. That number is 513-529-9000.

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