College taking precautions amid coronavirus concerns

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BENNINGTON — College officials are taking precautions in light of recent coronavirus concerns.

Three Bennington College students traveled to China, where a recent outbreak is believed to have begun, over the college's recent Field Work Term, but none in high-risk areas, said Natalie Redmond, associate writer at the college, in an email.

All three students were monitored through and successfully completed the 14-day incubation period, and none has become ill, she said.

To the college's knowledge, no faculty or staff have traveled to high-risk areas or had exposure to people ill with or under investigation for COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus that was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, she said.

Coronavirus refers to a family of viruses, some of which can infect people and animals.

The viruses can cause the common cold, or more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

As of Wednesday, there were no cases of COVID-19 in Vermont, according to the state Department of Health's website.

Bennington College has shared information regarding COVID-19 via two community emails to students, faculty, staff and families, and plans to continue doing so as needed, Redmond said.

As a precautionary measure, the college continues to ask all students who interact with the Student Health Center whether they have had potential exposures or symptoms consistent with COVID-19, Redmond said.

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The college also has protocols for safely evaluating anyone with risk factors, including testing, isolation and accommodations.

College officials are also taking this time to modify pandemic response plans that have been successfully implemented in the past, as with SARS, MERS, pandemic influenza and H1N1 flu, Redmond said.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infection, and the person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly via respiratory droplets produced when sneezing or coughing. The state Department of Health is urging those who have been in China within the past two weeks or have been in close contact with a person with COVID-19 who develop a fever, cough or difficulty breathing to contact their healthcare provider right away.

Most people develop only mild disease from COVID-19, but some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms.

As of Feb. 18, there were 73,332 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, and there were 1,870 deaths from the disease in China and three outside the country.

Since Jan. 21, 15 people in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, according to CDC data.

Cases have been confirmed in seven states: Massachusetts, California, Washington, Arizona, Texas, Wisconsin and Illinois.

The new virus is believed to have a low level of immediate risk to the American public at this time, according to the CDC.

On Jan. 27, the CDC issued updated travel guidance for China, recommending that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to all of the country.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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