Spotlight on SARS
As precautionary measure, some campus programs cancel travel to Asia
| 16 April 2003
Ripple effects of the global SARS outbreak are being felt on campus, as health officials gear up to coordinate their prevention and education efforts with local agencies, and disciplines far afield from health rethink their plans for travel abroad.
• UC Berkeley NewsCenter, newscenter.berkeley.edu
• University Health Service website, uhs.berkeley.edu
• Center for Disease Control and Prevention,www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars/
For UHS patients, the Tang Center advice nurse may be reached at 643-7197; urgent care is at 642-3188.
As of Tuesday, the World Health Organization had reported 3,235 cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) worldwide — with 193 of them in the United States; 41 suspected cases are under investigation in California. Given the large community of Berkeley students and scholars who travel internationally — particularly in Asia, where the illness has hit hardest — the campus is closely monitoring the situation. To date, however, there have been no known or suspected cases of SARS at Berkeley or in the surrounding community.
“We were particularly concerned after spring break, since there were more people traveling at that time,” says Peter Dietrich, medical director at University Health Services (UHS). “We’re now past that period where we worried about students who had gone to affected areas — that 10-day incubation period. But we still want to maintain vigilance.”
Task force, Tang measures
Early this month, the chancellor appointed a task force on SARS, which has acted quickly and proactively to coordinate campus response — from health information and clinical services provided by UHS to collaboration with local and regional public-health agencies and recommendations for campus travelers.
Risk factors for SARS include recent travel to an affected area (such as Hong Kong; mainland China; Singapore; and Hanoi, Vietnam) and/or close contact with a SARS patient, and development of symptoms related to the illness, including respiratory symptoms and a temperature above 100.4° F.
The virus is spread primarily through close contact with an infected person who coughs or sneezes, and by contact with contaminated surfaces. The Tang Center has instituted measures to protect patients and staff from potential exposure to SARS and other illnesses, says Dietrich. Any patient with a cough is asked to don a face mask in clinic waiting rooms; for those who have other SARS risk factors, exams are conducted by a clinician wearing protective clothing, in a designated room equipped with a HEPA filter.
Check with CDC
For faculty, staff, and students traveling overseas, or for those planning to visit campus from abroad, the campus task force recommends following current Center for Disease Control travel advisories and/or restrictions. That agency’s advice is not definitive: it is currently telling those planning “elective or nonessential travel” to mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Hanoi that they “may wish to postpone their trips until further notice.” Consequently, dozens of campus programs — from the Haas School of Business to the Cal Marching Band — have been weighing the pros and cons of continuing scheduled trips to affected areas abroad or, alternatively, postponing or even canceling those journeys.
The Haas School has chosen to relocate several summer programs in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing this summer and fall. The school’s Evening and Weekend MBA Seminar will now hold its summer programs in Mexico, Panama, and Cuba, while the Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA seminar will switch its focus to Eastern Europe, says Sebastian Teunissen, executive director of the Clausen Center for International Business and Policy at Haas.
“We are re-evaluating all of our activities around the world,” Teunissen says.
A Haas summer course, “Doing Business in Asia,” also has “pulled the plug” on the travel-study portion of the program, according to director David Robinson. A U.S. State Department travel advisory and concerns about the Chinese government’s forthrightness regarding SARS prompted the decision to scrap the planned two weeks in China and Korea, he says.
Another Summer Session offering, “History of Premodern China,“ has also been canceled. The study tour, sponsored by the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department, had been planning to visit Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an. Summer Session director Gary Penders said the program is closely monitoring the health situation in Asia; for now it is going ahead with a Chinese language course slated for Taiwan.
At present, the University of California’s Education Abroad Program has chosen not to cancel or modify its programs in Asia. Bruce Hanna, director of strategic marketing and communications for the program, says EAP is “watching all of our Southeast Asian programs,” and will decide by May 10 whether to cancel or revise this summer’s Chinese intensive-language program.
Strike out the band
One group not normally linked to either Asia or health issues that was nonetheless thrown for a loop by SARS is the Cal Marching Band, which has canceled a one-week trip to China scheduled for next month. “None of us were willing to take the risk” of going to China at this time, says band director Robert Calonico.
The band, which has been planning the trip for nearly a year, had been scheduled to and perform at three Chinese universities and give outdoor concerts. The group has also canceled an April 25 campus concert that was to preview the performances for the China trip.
Undergrad Patricia Seo is on the band committee that had to make the hard decision. “More than half of the parents were already concerned,” she says, and about 20 out of 80 band members “were already thinking about dropping out.” Besides the obvious health risks to band members, the committee also weighed the potential musical consequences if 15 or 20 players were to cancel because of SARS fears. “We couldn’t have taken the risk of a sub-par performance,” she says.
Response to the decision was mostly positive, says Seo — even from the dozen or so seniors, like herself, who won’t get another shot at thundering “Sons of California” at the foot of the Great Wall.