Just one day after the first case of Wuhan coronavirus was confirmed in the US, a middle school canceled an on-campus cultural exchange program with a group of Chinese exchange students visiting the DC metro area, citing health concerns.
Longfellow Middle School, located in Fairfax County, Virginia, made the cancellation announcement Wednesday in a letter to parents.
“While health officials believe the risk of illness transmission of the novel Coronavirus from these students is extremely low, we felt it necessary to make this adjustment,” the letter read.
The group of students are visiting the area from Yi Chang, located in the Hubei province — the same province as Wuhan, where the coronavirus began — Lucy Caldwell, a spokeswoman for Fairfax County Public Schools, told CNN.
The two cities are more than 200 miles apart.
The students of Longfellow Middle School also have an exchange trip to Yi Chang scheduled for early April. The trip hasn’t been canceled just yet, and Caldwell said the district will monitor the situation and make a decision later.
Though the students from Yi Chang will not be able to visit the school, Longfellow Middle School has redesigned the program to facilitate activities in the DC area instead, the letter sent to parents said.
What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses in general are a large group of viruses common among animals — but can be transmitted to humans, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You may have heard of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, or MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome. Both are types of Coronaviruses.
Coronaviruses typically makes people sick with a mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illness. It’s believed that the Wuhan coronavirus is more mild than SARS and MERS, and takes longer to develop symptoms. Though the Wuhan coronavirus has a lower fatality rate than MERS and SARS, it’s still a significant concern globally, said Neil Ferguson, professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London.
So far, no vaccine exists against coronaviruses. Symptoms typically go away on their own, and though there’s no specific treatment yet, experts advice getting care early.
Not yet a public health emergency of international concern
The Wuhan coronavirus does not yet constitute a public health emergency of international concern, the World Health Organization announced Thursday.
“Make no mistake. This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday. “It may yet become one.”
The announcement came shortly after an emergency committee was convened over two days in Geneva to advise WHO leadership on the outbreak. WHO was expected to make an announcement Wednesday, but Ghebreyesus then said he did not have enough information to make a decision, and the committee was asked to reconvene a second day.
Committee chairman Dr. Didier Houssin told reporters Thursday that the committee remained split down the middle on whether to issue the recommendation and ultimately decided it was “too early.”