Kristal Herrin

(Rock Hill, S.C.) – Winthrop University is encouraging students to take proper precautions to stay healthy in the wake of the recent coronavirus outbreak, but officials say there is no direct threat to the campus or the state at this time.

According to the World Health Organization, there have been 46,997 confirmed cases in 25 different countries, as of Feb. 13, with most of those originating in China.

WHO reports 1,368 people have died from the coronavirus, however, only one of those deaths has happened outside of China, which was in the Philippines.

In the U.S. there have been 14 confirmed cases, as of Feb. 12, in six states, including Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC estimates there are another 66 cases that are currently under investigation.

“While this virus doesn’t pose a direct threat to South Carolinians at this time, our public health agencies are working tirelessly to ensure that we are prepared for the worst, while we hope for the best. Team South Carolina is at the ready,” said S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster in a statement.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control said it’s investigating reports in the state by looking into the travel history and symptoms of people, on a case-by-case basis

“None of the reports in South Carolina have met the criteria for testing and there are currently no confirmed cases of (coronavirus) in South Carolina,” a DHEC spokesperson told the Palmetto Report via email.

DHEC says, currently, their ongoing goal is prevention.

At Winthrop, Mary Jo Barreto, assistant director of Health Services, said the school has prevention protocols in place for dealing with a potential case of coronavirus.

“We ask any student coming into Health Services if they have traveled recently and where the travel took them,” Barreto said. “Also, if they have had any potential known exposure to anyone that has traveled abroad.”

If a student had connections to Wuhan, China — ground zero for the outbreak — which may have resulted in exposure to the virus, then that student would be “isolated” and DHEC would be contacted, according to Barreto.

If there were a confirmed case in South Carolina, DHEC said it would work to ensure the patient and his or her health care provider are properly handling the situation.

DHEC has also advised that all nonessential travel to China should be avoided.

Officials are stressing the importance of hand hygiene, as a means for the prevention of the coronavirus or other ailments, including influenza, which has also proven to be deadly.

For example, the CDC reports that during the 2018-2019 flu season, in the U.S., there were an estimated 35.5 million people sick with flu-like symptoms, 490,600 hospitalizations and 34,200 flu-related deaths.

“While a new virus is scary, influenza is a virus that can cause people to get really sick and possibly die,” Baretto said.

Students living in dorms may also come into contact with other students who might be sick on a daily basis, which could be cause for concern.

Winthrop commuter student Khaura Day, a senior integrated marketing communication major, said she doesn’t spend much time on campus for that very reason.

“I’m already a germaphobe, so I hold my breath a lot on a daily (basis) whenever someone is coughing next to or near me,” said Day.

However, Carl Johnson, a sophomore music major at Winthrop, said he isn’t too worried, because “keeping our hands clean and doing the simple cover-your-cough approach” can prevent the spread of disease.

Barreto said people should take normal precautions to prevent illness, such as washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes — preferably in one’s elbow — and making sure to throw away used tissues.

People exhibiting symptoms of an illness should stay home, in order to limit exposure to others, and sanitize areas that may have been exposed to germs, she said.

Finally, Barreto recommended getting the flu vaccine and eating healthy to promote a stronger immune system.