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Monday, April 19, 2021

First Cases of Coronavirus Spread Among College Students — Can it Spread?

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While a full recovery may take months, the state-mandated three-week exposure to one of the world’s most notorious diseases shows progress for community colleges across the state. More than 8,000 college students have already been tested — some since Wednesday — and no clusters of infections have been found.

Within days of the first instances of a particularly virulent form of the virus that can afflict birds and even spread in household animals, schools in New York and other states began offering free screenings of their student populations.

The state is offering free screening to the first 50 people — up to 500 — admitted to the QuickCheck clinic inpatient at Cornell University Health Sciences Center. Testing there will begin on Wednesday and be provided until the patients’ bodies go through three weeks of immunization and recovery.

That is good news for the start of a semester when students are eager to see friends and colleagues, many of whom they haven’t seen in months.

There are 1,300 campuses where college students live at any given time. None have been found yet to have infections. There are almost 500 colleges and universities in the state with 1,418,000 students on campus, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Since all students — both in dorms and in nearby apartments — will have passed through the clinic, tests there show what the virus looks like and how much of it is present. Tests also provide basic clues about the effects of the virus, such as how long it has been there, and more complicated information about how it works.

Testing will begin at a school’s emergency services hotline on Wednesday, Oct. 10, provided by the New York State Department of Health and with assistance from other agencies such as Cornell University, York University and other colleges.

The New York State Health Department said college students in dorms, apartments or complexes with other uninfected students should not return home until three weeks have passed. Classes would be declared “effective once three weeks have passed,” the Health Department said.

The CDC has declared the Coronavirus strain to be “probable” and not “confirmed.”

Here is how they are looking at it: “It was deemed probable because we are seeing the same strain at multiple sites in multiple states, so it has to be widespread for us to say ‘probable.’

“This is a surveillance alert that we started to offer public health services for influenza, but it’s still under further evaluation as we get more data from other states,” said Dr. Ramanathan H. “Rod” Pachauri, co-director of the New York State Department of Health’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section.

The center at Cornell University said new patients at its clinic have declined screening, though they will continue to treat them if they need to.

Health officials have never recommended that people stay away from healthy individuals with the virus, as happened with the H1N1 virus in 2009. In fact, people who are exposed to the virus may end up with a milder case of the flu, compared with those who are infected.

The CDC says the virus is caused by a virus that infects birds and can also infect domestic rodents. The virus shows up in the gastrointestinal tract but not on the other part of the body. The cases reported to the CDC are from poultry farms and other locations.

A man who visited a chicken farm in the United Kingdom and is infected with the virus — though no other case has been confirmed by the CDC — developed the virus from “food animals” at the farm. He left the farm in September and has not been on a date or place where the other people who should have been exposed are.

For colleges, becoming involved with the Coronavirus screenings has been a task with broad and complicated implications.

Three of the four school districts that include this area of Ithaca, New York, where the first illness of the virus was identified, have contracted the disease.

On Friday, the Ithaca College campus became another health concern, with staff fighting a suspected case of the virus that is now under investigation. More than 20 staff members have reported symptoms of the virus and about 100 people from the campus are getting vaccinations.

Dozens of hospitals across the state also are on alert.

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