Coronavirus testing at Miami: Officials try to calm fears as students stay isolated

While numerous Miami University students wore medical masks around campus Tuesday afternoon, university and Butler County and state health officials tried to calm fears about the testing of two Miami students for possible novel coronavirus infections.

The students, who traveled to China over the six-week break between semesters, returned to Oxford for the start of classes Monday and showed potential signs and symptoms of coronavirus, which has killed 106 people in China. There have been five confirmed cases in the U.S. and none in Ohio.

>> Coronavirus: Symptoms, prevention, treatment

The two students are doing “fairly well,” and they’re isolated in their residences off campus as testing is performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Jennifer Bailer, health commissioner of the Butler County Health District. She interviewed the students and said they didn’t need to be hospitalized.

Officials declined to say where the students live or release their names or ages.

She said three samples — a blood draw, nasal swab and respiratory sample — were taken, shipped to the Ohio Department of Health and then to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She said the CDC is the only department that can test for the virus, 2019-nCoV, which started in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in December. Because of the volume of tests being performed, it may take 48 hours for the results to be known, she said.

If the tests are positive, the students will be treated in much the same way as the flu, she said.

“This is what we do,” said Bailer, who added she has “complete confidence” in the university and county and state health officials.

Until then, Bailer and others stressed during a press conference Tuesday at the university that 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.

Travel history or direct contact with someone who has a travel history in the Wuhan area are key in investigating potential cases of coronavirus, said Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

She said the virus is still very new.

“We don’t have all the answers,” she said.

Acton said she understands the fear this type of virus may create for a community, the students and their parents. But she stressed there is a “low risk” of contacting the airborne virus.

Bailer asked that anyone who has a travel history and is concerned that they may have coronavirus to call ahead before going to urgent care or the doctor to see if there is a specific entrance or procedure that needs to be followed.

Officials also stressed that the public remain compassionate with others as the cases are investigated.

Jayne Brownell, vice president of student life, said of Miami University’s 17,000 students, there are about 2,900 international students, though she didn’t know how many are from China. When students left for winter break in December, the coronavirus wasn’t on the “radar screen,” she said.

Miami also announced its men’s basketball game scheduled for Tuesday and women’s basketball game scheduled for today have been postponed to a date to be determined later. Gregory Crawford, president of the university, said that decision was made by the opponents and the Mid-American Conference and not by Miami officials.

University officials said Tuesday they do not anticipate canceling classes or any on-campus activities.

Students on campus said Tuesday they were concerned by the reports.

Justin Maschmeyer, a senior from Chicago, said the situation is “absolutely terrifying,” and he went out to buy a mask once he heard the reports.

He said the situation is “scaring the town right now.”

Matt Reinberg, a senior from Illinois, was also wearing a mask on campus. He said it’s a “wait and see time” while the tests are being performed. He said he wanted to do “what was best” by wearing a mask.

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

Experts at the Ohio Department of Health recommend these tips to avoid the virus:

• Practice good hand hygiene.

• Follow appropriate cough and sneeze etiquette.

• Don’t go to work or school when you feel ill. Stay home and rest.

• Avoid exposure to others who are sick.

What happens if a case of the 2019-novel coronavirus is reported?

• A case or suspected case of 2019-novel coronavirus is reported to a local health department.

• The Ohio Department of Health reports to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, if indicated, patient specimens will be collected and shipped.

• Currently, testing for this virus must take place at CDC.

• ODH will work with local, state and federal partners to investigate reports of 2019-novel coronavirus order to identify cases and prevent the spread of infection.

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