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Fear of SARS infects educational institutions

By: Lele Chen

For many students, study abroad programs allow them the opportunity for hands-on learning. Many describe it as one of the most valuable experiences in their school careers. However, SARS has many universities severely cutting back their summer programs in foreign countries.

Symptoms of SARS include high fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. The most numerous cases have been reported in Canada and Asia. The World Health Organization, WHO, has recently estimated that there have been 64 people infected in the United States, with 32 of those already recovered and no deaths. Globally, SARS has claimed more than 750 lives and infected 8300.

Fear of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, has been rising as more cases develop around the world. As a result of deep concerns from parents, students, and local communities, universities are reacting to the fear and potential risks by instituting the quarantine of specific foreign visitors from infected areas and discouraging foreign families from attending graduation ceremonies.

Educational institutions such as the University of California, Berkeley, have taken a further step by refusing hundreds of summer school students coming from the affected areas. On Harvard University’s “Emergency Communication” web page, it is requested that, “Summer School students, post-doctoral fellows, or other prospective attendees coming from SARS-affected areasÂ…should not plan on arriving at Harvard until after the 10-day incubation period has passed.” The 10-day quarantine time frame, when at-risk people are under house arrest with groceries and other amenities delivered to the doorstep, was suggested by WHO as a necessary interval to determine whether a person is infected. Quarantine has become mandatory in many places. One case involved Carleton College where five students were sequestered in the dean’s residence after returning from a seminar in China.

Despite many of the potential risks and strict rules instituted by universities, some students remain optimistic about their travel plans. Elena Castaneda, a junior in high school attending a summer program in Canada, shows no fear of SARS. Educational institutions do not share in her cheery outlook. Unfortunately, those traveling to or from areas free of SARS do not share in her optimism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, has issued a travel advisory against “nonessential travel” to affected regions. The warnings have disrupted many people’s summer plans, as Ang Li, 17, can attest to. He had been planning to visit his family in Beijing, China, whom he has not seen in years. Although Li himself insists on returning to see his ailing grandmother, his parents and grandmother have strictly forbidden him from traveling.

The looming threat of diseases has a tendency to lead to panic and reckless judgment. The best way to combat SARS is not to exclude and ridicule travelers and foreign students, but to learn and gather information. Fortunately, SARS is difficult to transmit and requires very close person-to-person contact to spread. Also, the disease does not reemerge after being dormant for a period of time. The mortality rate of SARS is approximately 8%. But it’s important to note that SARS has caused less than 1,000 deaths, while the flu decimates 20,000 people every year.

Universities have not indicated intentions to scale back on their preventive measures. Nonetheless, the situation is not hopeless. Worldwide efforts and scientific capabilities have been consolidated to identify treatment techniques. It took officials two years to find the cause of AIDS and only weeks to identify the SARS virus. With preventive measures, SARS is not difficult to contain, and the number of suspected cases have decreased. WHO has declared that SARS is over its peak. As Elena Castaneda declares, and most students agree, “I hope the whole thing is solved soon, and then we can all move on.”

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0 0 246 17 July, 2003 Educational, Health, National, News July 17, 2003

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