On Sunday, the Arizona Department of Health Services confirmed that "a member of the Arizona State University community" has been diagnosed with the 2019 novel coronavirus, a deadly disease that has prompted China to issue a travel ban to over 35 million people. (The term "novel" refers to the fact that the current outbreak is due to a new strain of coronavirus.) The infected person at ASU had recently returned from traveling to Wuhan, China, which is where the viral outbreak began.
According to ADHS, the ASU member does not live in university housing, has only a mild case, was not hospitalized, and is currently in isolation to keep the disease from spreading. Yet students at Arizona State University remain panicked about the virus, and a petition to cancel classes launched around 10 p.m. Sunday night has already acquired over 12,000 signatures (ASU has over 70,000 students).
A Reddit post shared on the ASU subreddit around 8:30 a.m. this morning claimed that a class had been canceled over concerns about the spread of the virus. Yet both the post, which contained a screenshot of what the user alleged was an email from a professor, and the username itself were deleted after Phoenix New Times contacted the poster around 2:30 p.m.
"I do not have knowledge of this particular class being cancelled," Katie Paquet, a spokesperson for ASU, said in a statement emailed to New Times. "However, as noted in the message from Provost Searle the university remains open and there is no directive to cancel classes."
The screenshot of the email purportedly sent by an ASU professor states that the instructor has chosen to cancel two classes this week "out of an abundance of caution" and "against the advice of ASU's administration."
"I don't want to alarm anyone unnecessarily, but there was a student from China who showed up a week late with a doctor's note to [redacted] last," the email states, yet the screenshot cuts off the text after that point. Another commenter on Reddit stated that the rest of the sentence was, "Tuesday. It didn't sound like it was from coronavirus but I'll let you know."
ASU Health Services has stated that "There is no indication that any ASU student has the coronavirus."
ADHS, ASU, and the Maricopa County Department of Public Health have not yet explained how the infected "member of the Arizona State University community" is affiliated with ASU, and did not provide clarification when contacted by New Times.
ADHS is investigating any close contacts the infected ASU member may have had to see if anyone else has been exposed to the virus.
"We are working with both the University and Maricopa County Department of Public Health to contact all close contacts that could have potentially been exposed to the disease," Chris Minnick, a spokesperson for ADHS, told New Times. Those contacts will be monitored if they have symptoms."
Asked whether anyone has displayed symptoms since ADHS, ASU, and MCDPH began contacting anyone who could have potentially been exposed to the coronavirus by the infected person on Sunday, Minnick said, "Not that I know of, not as of today."
Cara Christ, director of ADHS, said the risk of the illness spreading in Arizona is minimal for those who have not traveled to China or come into close contact with someone who is confirmed or under investigation for the coronavirus.
Minnick emphasized that the risk of contracting the disease in Arizona is currently low and the situation is under control.
"Both ADHS and CDC considers this a serious disease, but the risk to the general public remains low because to get the disease you would have had to have recent travel to Wuhan, China, and have been exposed to the disease or been exposed to somebody who has the disease here, and again those close contacts have already been contacted by ADHS and are being monitored," Minnick told New Times.
"The students of ASU do not feel comfortable attending classes due to the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus," the petition states. "Until proper precautions have been taken to ensure the wellbeing of the students, such as disinfecting areas the student with Novel Coronavirus was present, ASU students want their classes canceled ... Students just want to know more information about this virus before going on campus. We do not want to risk our lives by attending class."
To date, over 3,000 people have been infected with the virus and at least 81 people have been killed by it. Those considered at risk of contracting the virus include people who have recently traveled to Wuhan, China, or have come into close contact with a person already infected with the virus.
The virus causes symptoms similar to the flu and respiratory illness, including a runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever, difficulty breathing, and a general feeling of being unwell, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The symptoms generally appear within two to 14 days of exposure.
The CDC expects more cases to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the United States. The CDC says "the immediate health risk from the 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time," yet the CDC is still monitoring the situation closely and taking "proactive preparedness precautions."
To prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, the CDC recommends:
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay home when you are sick.
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
The CDC also states that people who think they may have been exposed to the 2019 novel coronavirus should contact their health care providers immediately. ADHS states that anyone who has recently traveled to Wuhan and feels sick with a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing should seek medical care, avoid contact with others, not travel while sick, wash hands frequently and thoroughly, and always cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
Bri Arreguin-Malloy contributed reporting.
Are you a student or ASU member with information about classes being cancelled or the administration's response to the coronavirus? Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.