On Wednesday, all members of the Hope College campus distribution list received an email in their inbox from President Scogin responding to the question that everyone has been asking: what is Hope doing to combat one of the major outbreaks of the millenium? This address comes after Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, made its first appearance in Wuhan in Hubei province of China. What originated as a small collection of cases turned into what the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared on January 30 as a full-on public health emergency. Critics claim this announcement came several weeks too late, as the virus had been rapidly transmitting since what was likely early January. Since then, COVID-19 has spread to over 70 international locations, including but not limited to Japan, Australia, India, France, Egypt, Algeria, Brazil and the United States. With such a vast and speedy escalation of the virus, concern is becoming increasingly apparent, especially in environments where the transmission of disease is facilitated by large concentrations of people in a small amount space, environments such as a college campus.
When prompted for an interview on Monday, the Director of the Hope College Health Center, Cindy Sabo, redirected any questions about the theoretical case of an outbreak to Affairs and Marketing, who sent out the President’s official statement two days later. In his address, President Scogin gave an update on the situation and provided several resources for information on the virus including both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. He was sure to explain the necessity of subscribing to reliable information instead of common media reports which can sensationalize the situation and conceal the truth of the matter.
Another key point of President Scogin’s address was that leaders within the Hope community on the Risk and Responsibility Team have been tracking COVID-19 since many of the earliest cases appeared. Unfortunately, this team (whose members are not publicly identified) is not available for comment––their only contact information is reserved for strict, emergency-only use. At present, campus will remain operating as usual, though this may be subject to change in the case of new developments in the situation. There is no current information available regarding how the operations at Hope would adjust in the case of an outbreak on campus.
Many questions have been raised about what will happen to those students currently studying off-campus and even future travel programs like May and June terms. To date, only two Hope-run programs, the China May term and a California immersion trip, have been cancelled. Students currently studying off-campus are under the responsibility of the program providers that they are traveling with. These providers use CDC and U.S. Department of State travel warnings and advisories as well as their local knowledge to determine how best to move forward. Many programs in directly impacted areas such as China, South Korea and Italy have been either cancelled or adapted to an online format to adhere to these advisories and lower the risk of participants contracting the virus.
Lastly, President Scogin urges the Hope community to help by doing their best to prevent the spread of any possible illness. Most students have seen a handful of nifty signs popping up all over campus, especially near the dining halls, urging students to “wash your hands!” and “stay home when you’re sick!” While this is a good practice this time of year––or really all the time because otherwise it’s just gross––this little poster campaign does little to ease fear among community members.
At this time when people are seeking reassurance from their leaders, so many questions remain unanswered. What will happen if there’s a serious outbreak on campus? Will it shut down? How will you feed the students that are dependent on meal plans? Will you send students home? What if home is somewhere the virus has already spread? While COVID-19 is not incredibly lethal for those in good health, it’s still a cause for unrest. On one hand, the response was calculated in a way so as not to heighten fear, but on the other, it has failed to answer the burning questions that the people are asking, leaving them largely in the dark on that which matters most to them: their safety and security.