Coronavirus: The Hardest Test of the Semester

by Pete Janny, Sports Editor

As coronavirus spreads across the globe, campuses around the world are making plans in case the virus strikes close to home. For the Manhattan College community, one L.O.V.E. trip has been canceled, professors are preparing for the possibility of online classes and students abroad are anxiously waiting to hear what comes next.

How Widespread is Coronavirus? 

As of the afternoon of Saturday, March 8, the number of coronavirus cases in New York State has risen to 76, according to reporting by the New York Times. 57 of the cases are concentrated in Westchester County, which is the state’s biggest county north of New York City in terms of population. Home to over 900,000 people, Westchester County is a significant feeder of students for Manhattan College. 

According to The Riverdale Press, a 50-year-old man from New Rochelle became the second person in the state diagnosed with the illness last Monday night and has been staying at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan. This news caused panic across Westchester County and New York City. 

Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy and Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy High School in Riverdale closed their doors starting last Tuesday after word spread that the infected man is the father of a student who attends one of the schools. Business Insider has reported that by Friday, at least 28 people with direct or indirect connection to the man were also infected, including his wife, son and daughter. According to the Jerusalem Post, both schools will remain closed until at least March 12, and have already implemented Zoom online classrooms as a temporary way to keep students engaged. Both schools are located a little over a mile from the college. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, was first detected in humans this past December. Coronavirus originated in the Wuhan region of central China and has developed into a global crisis. Johns Hopkins University says that more than 101,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed and that more than 3,450 people have died from the illness as of March 6. 

With colleges and universities around the world on high alert, the college publicly addressed the coronavirus for the first time in an email to students on Jan. 27. Sent from the Office of Health Services, the message opened with, “Given the news about the recent Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan City, China, we want to assure you that Manhattan College is taking steps to help keep our students and community healthy.” 

The email continued.

“The New York Department of Health has provided updates from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention and has given reporting protocols to healthcare providers across the state, including Manhattan Colleges Health Services office.” 

The announcement concluded with a list of tips for prevention, urging students to wash their hands with soap and warm water, avoid touching their face with unwashed hands, and to receive an annual flu vaccine if they haven’t already.

In light of a Feb. 25 CDC report that revealed the coronavirus had been contracted by a person with no known association to a person or place infected with the sickness, the Office of Health Services sent another email to the MC community on Feb. 28. 

The email stated: “This is a rapidly evolving situation. The immediate risk at Manhattan College is low but here in the Office of Health Services, we are actively monitoring developments. We have been on weekly calls with the New York City Department of Health and are closely following the messages sent by the CDC.”

Shortly after the father from New Rochelle made headlines early last week, President Brennan O’Donnell issued a public statement on March 3 in an email sent to students, employees and parents to assuage fears of the coronavirus among the college community. 

 “We continue to closely follow the potential public threat posed by the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, especially in light of today’s confirmed case of the virus found in a Westchester County resident,” O’Donnell wrote in the email. “That individual’s child attends a nearby secondary school that closed today out of an abundance of caution. There are still no confirmed or suspected cases of this virus at Manhattan College. We have no plans to interrupt classes and other normal business, but do want to prepare for the possibility that the coronavirus may cause a public health threat to our community.” 

How Has Coronavirus Impacted the MC community? 

On the same day of O’Donnell’s email, a group of students involved with the L.O.V.E. program, the college’s social justice immersion program, received an update they had been hoping to avoid. Those who signed up to travel to Bethlehem this spring break were informed via email that the trip was cancelled due to the threat of coronavirus. As recompense, the students were given the option to use their initial down payments to instead join the group heading to Tucson, Arizona for spring break. 

Sophomore Sydney Waitt was a member of the team preparing for Bethlehem. To Waitt, the decision to cancel was frustrating, but not surprising. 

“We invested so much time into it and we became so close as a group and as friends so it was very upsetting,” Waitt said. “The other team members felt the same way because we were hoping to see this beautiful place together.”

With no end in sight to the problems caused by the coronavirus, Waitt felt the program made the right call. Waitt pointed to the current panic in Bethlehem to buttress her point. 

“As much as I hate to admit it, I do think it was the right decision to cancel,” Waitt said. “The city of Bethlehem is shut down and closed their schools and churches and businesses. Everyone is being quarantined.”

Although disappointed, Waitt has no regrets about the time and energy she sacrificed to prepare for the trip. For her, the new friends she made and the knowledge she gained about the current state of Bethlehem outweighs the sadness of not being able to see the trip through. 

“It was rewarding getting to meet new people and that made it more special,” Waitt said. “I learned a lot about Israel and Palestine and I also learned a lot about educating myself on border issues and race issues.”

With Bethlehem no longer an option, Waitt’s attention turns to Tucson, a trip whose aims parallel those of her original trip. 

“I do plan on going to Arizona now,” Waitt said. “There’s actually a campaign with Mexico and Palestine that advocates for the issues of each other’s border. It’s a wonderful opportunity to make a comparison.”

What Happens to the Study Abroad Programs? 

On March 6, O’Donnell offered more updates in a second email. At this point, it was clear that the college did not want to take any unnecessary risks that may lead to exposure to the coronavirus. 

“Manhattan College is canceling and prohibiting College-affiliated or sponsored international travel until further notice for all employees and students,” O’Donnell wrote. “Employees and students currently traveling or studying abroad internationally, who are in a country with a level 3 CDC warning, can continue to do so, but must follow the protocols designated upon their return.”

The countries with level three health warnings are China, Iran, Italy and South Korea. For the Spring 2020 semester, Manhattan College is affiliated with study abroad programs in Spain, France, and Hungary. The Office of Study Abroad prepared a statement on the matter per The Quadrangle’s request. 

“The Office of Study Abroad has been continually monitoring the public health threat posed by the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. The health and safety of our students is always the top priority in all study abroad programming. We form part of a larger, campus-wide Emergency Management Team and are guided by the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), US State Department, World Health Organization (WHO), and other national/global agencies and organizations,” wrote Dr. Ricardo Dello Buono, director of study abroad. 

Dello Buono’s statement continued. 

“Earlier this week, the CDC recommended that sponsors of study abroad programs carefully “consider” how to minimize risk to students studying abroad in international locations. In addition to providing our students overseas with information about basic prevention measures, we have urged students to curtail their travels in Europe until further notice. Students that prefer to return home at this time are now being offered logistical assistance. We now encourage each student and their family to make their own evaluation of the situation. Just as in our own campus, we are exploring the possible ways that students can avoid losing any course credits in the event of a disruption to the day-to-day functions of our partners abroad. Until and unless facilities are closed, students are expected to continue to attend classes unless they are sick. The overall situation is dynamic and we will continue to respond to the situation as conditions warrant. We encourage all students to learn and adopt all CDC recommended health practices.”

Among the group of students in Madrid this semester are sophomore Rosy Moody and junior Andrea Gorrin. According to reporting by The Guardian, there are 430 cases of coronavirus in Spain with a death toll of 10. Given that most of these are in the northern part of the country, Gorrin said Madrid has felt normal. 

“The attitude towards the virus is surprisingly calmed and organized,” Gorrin wrote to The Quadrangle via email. “Of course, there [are] people who are kind of anxious and worried, especially if they’re older or have children…but the general spanish community in Madrid is very organized and has managed to keep people informed and aware of the evolution and state of the virus.”

This sense of organization among the Spanish people is manifested by the meticulous cleaning job that has been done where students are staying at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

Even in our resort, the staff is doing everything in their power to keep everything clean and sanitary for our safety and health,” Gorrin said.

Italy has been hit the hardest in Europe. On Saturday, March 7, the Times reported that Italian authorities and the World Health Organization have measured 5,800 cases and 233 deaths. 

“I have not been to Italy and I do not plan on traveling to Italy,” Moody wrote to The Quadrangle via email. 

Moody said she has not witnessed anything out of the ordinary that suggests she should be worried. From now until the end of the semester, Moody is placing her full trust in the study abroad coordinators and government officials in Spain that they will make the right decisions.

“I have not considered leaving the program because according to the study abroad coordinators, Spanish government and all my professors, the coronavirus is not an emergency,” Moody said. “Leaving at the moment is based on personal preference. My preference is to remain for the entire semester and finish out the program.”

Gorrin expressed ambivalence when reflecting on her future in Madrid. While some doubt has crept in, Gorrin does not want to let go of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

“Of course I’ve thought about going back home to be close to my family and friends, I think it’s normal to do so,” Gorrin said. “But this has honestly been a dream come true. It’s been such an amazing and enriching experience, that staying here and finishing the semester does not bother me at all.”

Moody thinks the school should take a situational approach when assessing the feasibility of traveling to certain destinations abroad. After all, Moody is comfortable being in Madrid amidst this global crisis. 

“I do think cancellation should be on a case by case basis as there is only a crisis in certain areas such as the level three countries,” Moody said, referring to China, Italy, South Korea, and Iran. “I have no regrets about choosing to study abroad. I have enjoyed this experience and I will continue to enjoy Madrid. Coronavirus has not ruined my trip but the hysteria around the virus has certainly been an element to deal with during my time abroad.”

In the United States, the two most impacted states are Washington and California. On Friday, the University of Washington and Stanford University informed students that classes will move online, according to the Times. In the case of the former, the school has committed to online teaching through March 20 out of precaution. Online education has already become a common practice across Europe and Asia. It remains to be seen if Manhattan College joins other schools in the growing movement of remote learning. A decision of that magnitude figures to take on greater meaning once spring break commences and school officials reconvene for further planning. 

In Riverdale, Waitt and other students on campus are finishing off final academic responsibilities with spring break less than a week away. In Madrid, Moody and Gorrin, both in good spirits, ended their interviews before getting ready for sleep after an enjoyable Saturday exploring the city. In both places, students await the next developments in one of the largest viral pandemics in recent years.